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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

3-D Design in the Elementary Classroom

A technology that I've been incredibly passionate about in the past couple of years is 3-D modeling. Integrating 3-D modeling activities into the elementary classroom is a powerful way to bring alive concepts that may have been difficult for students to conceptualize in the past. And in the process of creating models or visualization, 3-D design requires students to think spatially, measure in different units, work with scale, manipulate shapes, demonstrate number sense... to name just a few of the math, science and engineering standards aligned with 3-D design and modeling.

So you're interested in getting started-- what tools should you use? 

There are quite a few choices, but I definitely have a couple of favorites...
  • Tinkercad (Chrome)-- Easy to use; provides intuitive, self-paced lessons for learning the tools; and allows students to sign in with their GoogleEdu accounts, which is huge if you work in a GAFE district. 
  • SketchUp-- A design tool used by the pros, with a free version called SketchUp Make. Don't let this app's pro-status intimidate you. There are plenty of tutorials out there on the web, and once you learn a few of the basics, you can create amazing things! 
  • 123DDesign & 123DCatch-- 123DDesign lets you create your own designs from scratch, while 123DCatch converts photos of objects/people into 3D images on your device.
  • Google Drawings-- Create a 2D drawing in Google Drawings, export the file as an .svg file, then upload that file into a 3D modeling program for additional work or printing. 
Animal cell in TinkerCad

What should you make?

Anything and everything! If you can think it, you can make it! Here are a few of the ways that I've used 3-D design in classroom lessons:
  • Cells
    • Our cell design project with 5th graders was the culminating task in our plant and animal cells science unit. Students worked in partner teams to design either a plant or animal cell, making sure to include all parts of the cell. After years of building cells with food in my class, this was a significantly less messy way for students to demonstrate their learning about cell parts!
  • Atoms
    • A 5th grade class recently asked me to come in and show the students how they might create atoms models in 3D using Tinkercad... would I?! After just a couple of the lesson tutorials, most students were already designing the atom of their choice-- protons, neutrons, electrons and all!
  • Fraction Bars
    • I originally designed this lesson for a 3rd grade class, but quickly realized that there was quite a bit more math involved than I'd originally thought about. I certainly think 3rd graders are still up for the task, but I also am realizing that this could potentially be a fantastic task for grades 3-6! 
    • Students first choose the units and dimension on the work plane that they want to use-- which they'll discover is actually a much more important task then just arbitrarily choosing any dimension (breaking something down to a 1/3 or 1/6 is going to require certain measurement capabilities!). 
    • Then have to make a decision about what size their whole is that they'll start with (also important, because creating a bar that is exactly 1/2 or 1/4 or 1/3 of the original is going to be easy or challenging depending on the length of the 1 whole bar that the student creates).
    • After creating the 1 whole representation, students can create a bar that is exactly 1/2, 1/4, 1/8 and so on...
  • Design your own Structure
  • Buildings in SketchUp
    • This was a fun task that I completed with 4th graders. The class was working on multiplication in their math class, and how multiplication relates to area. So, the teacher decided to have students work with area and perimeter by creating sketches of a structure (any structure that they could dream up). 
    • I then helped her add the 3-dimensional piece by asking students to take their drawings and create a 3-D model in Sketch-up (we used Sketch-up because students could create their models using large units of measurement, ie. feet, yards, etc.). 
    • Students were required to use dimensions that were realistic to the type of building they created and then solve for the surface area of the walls and floors (to buy paint and flooring). 
  • Rulers
    • Ruler Design
    • We use Eureka Math in our district and in the 2nd grade measurement module students begin learning about standard measurement units by creating rulers. Students can use a 3-D modeling program to create those rulers, utilizing the grid and measurement tools to make sure that their rulers are created with precision (math practice standard #2)! 
  • Prosthetics
    • A middle school class in our district recently signed up for a design challenge in which they create and print prosthetic arms. Although I didn't work directly on this project, I've had a chance to see some of their work and it is amazing! What a great way to connect their science and technology learning to a real world problem.
  • Garden Boxes
    • Garden box in SketchUp
    • In one of my geometry lessons, students were asked to create a garden box that met specific measurement and volume requirements. A couple of my students decided to use SketchUp to create a 3-D model of their design, rather than sketching on paper. 
  • Spelling 
    • Have students practice spelling and writing using the 3-D letters and symbols
    • Students in younger grades can create their own name plates (and potentially print them out for their desks!)
  • Explore Geometry 
    • Students in grades K-2 can:
      • Demonstrate understanding of the names of 3-D shapes by drawing them (Kinder math standards)
      • Explore the relationship between squares and rectangles
      • Combines shapes to compose new shapes
    • Students in grades 3-6 can:
      • Create shapes with x-number of vertices, edges, or faces
      • Create models with x-area, surface area, or volume
        Exploring similarity
      • Students copy shapes and resize the copies to model similar shapes
      • Students can also model reflections, rotations, translations
      • Create congruent shapes
  • Historical Artifacts or Fossils
    • Teachers or students can download a 3D model of a historic artifact from a Smithsonian's X 3D site and print it out to get a feel for what the real thing may have looked or felt like
    • Or students can design their own artifacts using pictures of the artifact as a guide (or students can trace a picture of an artifact in Google Drawings and export the drawing into a 3D modeling program for additional modeling or printing)
  • Create prototypes of...well, anything!
    • In any subject or unit that students are asked to create something, 3-D modeling tools are a great way for students to prototype their ideas. 
    • During a clean water engineering challenge, one of my students used 3-D design tools to sketch his prototype for a machine that would help bring clean water to impoverished areas in 3rd world countries. 

To print or not to print?

3-D modeling projects do NOT require a 3-D printer. Printing was never even a thought during those first few activities that I introduced to students. Even without a printer, 3-D modeling tools can help students visualize concepts that they struggle to understand on a 2-D pieces of paper.

What are some other ways that you can have students share their work?
  • Take a screen shot of the model 
  • Take multiple screenshots and create a movie about the design using iMovie, WeVideo, or other movie making tools
  • Import the screenshot into Seesaw, Google Drawings, Explain Everything, etc. to annotate the screenshot with details about the design and the thought process behind the design
  • Use Screencastify, or a similar tool, to have students explain their designs in a screencast

Additional Resources

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