Monday, February 15, 2016

Bytes from Jerlecki’s Tech Lab

Today's blogger is Matt Jerlecki,Technology Educator at Concord Junior High School. You can connect with Matt by email at or on Twitter @Jerleckitechlab.

Our students are already enamored by the animation and visual effects that are appearing in their everyday life. Virtual Reality, CGI, and 360-degree imaging are all the rage and will be completely taking over our viewing experiences--not in the near future, but immediately. This relationship is also evident in our students’ desire, and, more importantly, in their expectation to see video evidence of a concept we are teaching them. They would like any and all instructions to be provided with visual aids. In the very near future, they are going to want to see those in 360 degree/VR type format. With the prevalence of these videos being produced for YouTube, Google Cardboard, etc., we need to provide an opportunity to build upon this curiosity and allow students to create these types of 3-D drawings that could lead to some future creators of this content. We, as educators, can capitalize on this “cool” factor by introducing SketchUp Pro into our curriculum and by allowing our students to create this type of content.

First, let's discuss the principal of three-dimensional design from the student’s perspective. All of our students have had the experience of playing first person video games and viewing video animation in numerous situations; but the understanding of how this really works, and, more importantly for me as an educator, is how they can create these images themselves. This also relates directly to the fact the geometry is really the only universal language that we all can use, and this drawing process will further demonstrate this fact. More on this will come later; let's look at how I use it in the lab.

Teaching at the junior high level, my students have had the X and Y axis pounded into their lives through algebraic graphing for several years, but the simple idea of what the Z axis is has escaped them. To introduce this concept and before we would attempt to use the 3-D modeling software, we work through the “rules” of how to produce a professional drawing. We produce a multi-view [orthographic] drawing on standard 4x4 graph paper. The focus of this exercise is examining an object, looking for the best view--the view of any object that provides us the most detail of that object. An example of this is a mailbox; we may easily say that the front of this object is where we put the mail, but if I were to draw the mailbox from that particular perspective, would I be able to tell what it “really” is? Probably not, but if I use the “side” view as the front, it is much easier to draw and provide my “viewers” a more realistic perspective. Next, we discuss SCALE and how it relates to the size of the finished drawing. Lastly, we examine proportionality. As we draw the object we must keep all aspects of the item within a proportion that presents the object in a realistic and understandable view. We will use these same criteria to produce an isometric drawing of the same object. I use an 8-pin LEGO and a simple 5-piece LEGO structure to produce these sets of hand drawings. By using LEGO pieces, this also allows the students to manipulate the objects that they are drawing and compare it directly to their work. I also have the students construct a 13-piece LEGO structure using an actual multi-view drawing. This allows them to see that if the drawing is correct, anyone can and should be able to build their object. This further emphasises the universality of geometry, the importance in understanding these concepts, and that everyone needs the ability to read these types of drawings. Regardless of whether you are on the design side of the process or the actual production of the item, it will all be centered around these drawings. If you are going to be doing any construction on your home--installing a pool for example--at some point you are going to presented with a drawing of the finished product, and you must understand it enough to approve it before construction can begin. I strongly suggest providing several examples of how these drawings are used. Constructing 3-D realities in the movies, animations, the design and production of EVERYTHING we use EVERY DAY are and is done with these types of drawings.

Having this basic understanding, we will “draw” these same objects using the SketchUp Pro software. With my Level 1 students, I do not require the drawing to be in exact measurements of the LEGO pieces, but I do expect them to be proportionally correct. Then the real fun begins; I ask them to build a house with some very simple architectural features. They can have the freedom to design this house in any manner they choose. We then can add components such as furniture, vehicles and maybe even Justin Bieber to the model from the 3-D warehouse that is virtually limitless.

In Level 2, we produce an exact model of an 8-pin LEGO to the .01 of a millimeter. Upon completion of that project, we then create a unique LEGO piece that will meet the measurement criteria of a standard LEGO. They must produce a hand drawing of the object that includes all of the measurements needed to produce the model. At this point, we then construct the model in SketchUp Pro. Then, the entire design process comes together when we utilize our MakerBot 3-D printer and produce the unique part. They love holding onto something that they created and that “works” with other real LEGO structures.

Having used this software for the past eight years, I have continually found ways to use this by the students in other academic disciplines. In science, they can draw plant cells, diagrams of the solar system, and molecules. In math, they can draw a variety of shapes and use them to calculate perimeter measurements, volumes, and even demonstrate proportions. In social studies, by adding the Google Earth plugin, students can create virtual maps, draw realistic historical settings, and even add artifacts from the 3-D warehouse. Using the software in language arts, allows students to create “living” book reports or visual histories of the characters they are reading about. All of these examples allow for collaborative learning as students can work on components of the drawing and import them together to create one large tapestry for presentation.

Regardless of your computer literacy or “design” background, I strongly suggest giving SketchUp Pro a try on any project for which you are requiring students to produce an image, a model, or a representation of ANYTHING! SketchUp Pro offers an extensive training library and excellent video resources for your use. Put those colored pencils and erasers away and get your computers out and get going.

**Thanks to a grant from SketchUp, Indiana public schools can receive SketchUp Pro for free. If you are a public school teacher or tech director and would like SketchUp Pro for your classroom or school, please contact Meri Carnahan for more information. 

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