It is the blessing and the curse of teaching technology that there isn't much of a fixed curriculum. The few documents that do exist (usually in perpetual draft form) are broad and unhelpful. The textbooks are laughable. They're the equivalent of reading about basketball in gym class without ever actually touching a ball. Then again, your typical principal isn't going to pay a visit to my room and ask why I'm teaching what I'm teaching.
So, there I was, facing a brand new subject area and students who were 8-10 years older than the ones I was used to teaching. Needless to say, I was nervous. So, one fine summer morning I was walking around Barnes and Noble back when book used to exist as physical objects and you needed to go to a store to buy them. I came across "Google SketchUp for Dummies." I came to understand that SketchUp is a free program that was mostly for architecture (no longer owned by Google, FYI).
Architecture was always one of those professions that held a sort of mystical awe for me, as though the people who practiced it lived on some higher plane. This book made it seem like architecture was something accessible to me, the proverbial common man. I was transfixed. Two hours later, sitting in my living room, using the book and the accompanying YouTube videos (by Aidan Chopra and highly recommended), I was creating basic shapes and structures. For someone who never considered themselves artistic or creative, I was had a powerful experience. Right then, I knew that one of my units would center around SketchUp. And so it has for each of the last four years.
The basic premise of the program is thus: you draw flat two-dimensional shapes and "pull" them into the third dimension. This simple concept has surprising power. The wonderful thing is that my students have the same reaction to the program as I do. The typical response to my "does anyone know what architecture is" usually sounds like "archi-what?" Before the first period class is out, though, students have created their first house.
The simple house students create in a single class period
- Technology is powerful and allows us to do things we otherwise couldnt' do
- You are powerful and can create beautiful things from nothing
- Being artistic and creative is so much more than "being able to draw"
One young lady's interior design project
For fun, we use some of the tools that allow the designer to create terrain. We talk a little about geology as we do.
A mountainous terrain created by a student
The final project culminates with student designing their dream house, both inside and outside. We use various tools to create cross-sections and live animations to show it off. Here's a good example (couldn't convince him to change his bedroom decor!).
SketchUp has become an integral part of my teaching. I can't think of another unit that inspires the students more. If you're interested in giving it a try, it's a totally free download. I'll include my first video tutorial below that will help you to create your own simple house.
I simply must show off this image. It's one of my favorite examples of student work during this unit. I've lost touch with this student, but I like to think she's on her way to becoming an architect.
As we enter the era of 3D printing, the possibilities of using this technology are endless. I can't wait to see what's coming next.
One of my favorite student creations