Google Sketchup in the Classroom

built by Shan Pesaru

One of my pet peeves with educational technology is the fact that so much teacher tech training is just about how to use one little thing — PowerPoint, maybe, or one website. It’s as though there were a workshop on art for the classroom, and you spent the whole time working with a red crayon. Unless you are actually teaching a course in some particular piece of software, you need to be able to choose from among a number of different programs and applications according to the lesson you’re teaching at the time.

However, taking one application as an example of ways to incorporate technology into the curriculum without making your life harder makes sense. And it also makes sense to add one tool at a time and learn to get the most from it.

SketchUp has some advantages for classroom use:

  • It’s free. There is a fancier paid version, in case you love it and want to write a grant, but you can do a lot with the free version.
  • It’s easy. While SketchUp in the hands of an artist or engineer is a powerful tool, anyone at all can enjoy it after five minutes with the tutorial.
  • It’s versatile. While basic computer skills, math, and art are the obvious connections, there are lots more possibilities for creative use, especially when you combine it with other Google applications.

I also like the fact that SketchUp operates in three dimensions. It can be hard for some of us to think that way, so you should build in some time at the beginning of any lessons with SketchUp for your students to play with the mouse and get their brains to see the screen three-dimensionally.

Do you remember those “Magic Eye” pictures, where after a bit of staring the two-dimensional abstract image resolves itself into a three-dimensional picture? If you’ve forgotten, click on that link and have a look. I’ll wait for you. Some people see the depth immediately, while others need more staring time. SketchUp is a little bit like that.

Since the mouse has three special things it can do in SketchUp (zoom, pan, and orbit), you can have students take some time getting familiar with those three terms and functions, and that will give most kids enough time to get their eyes to accept the screen as three-dimensional.

In fact, SketchUp is my current favorite choice for plain old using-the-mouse lessons with kindergartners. You can click and move the cursor in the usual way, but the additional functions make it more interesting, so the kids can concentrate on mouse practice longer.

Once you’ve gotten that down, have students make flat shapes. SketchUp divides objects into “surfaces” and “edges,” and I know you feel a geometry lesson coming on. You can click on a rectangle or a circle icon to make surfaces automatically, and then you click on a push-pull tool which allows you to manipulate your shapes and make them three-dimensional. So if you’re doing shape lessons, you can continue that good mouse work by having kids place their shapes and then play with them. You’ll never want to do a multiple-choice shapes worksheet again.

This is about as far as you can go with mere descriptions of SketchUp. Go download it and try it out, and then you can come back and continue.

Got it? Okay, we’ll go on.

All geometry lessons will benefit from having SketchUp in the room. It’s also perfect for architecture, from your first grade geography lesson on “Houses are different in different places” to your senior high adventures in design. Designing a vehicle is another great project, and that will fit into your first grade community lessons, or into your high school physics lessons, as the case may be.

But these obvious connections are not all you can do with SketchUp. Check out these online resources:

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  1. Pingback: Rapunzel Lesson Plans | My Fresh Plans

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