3D in the Classroom

Many high schools have offered computer related design classes for years, giving students a boost in the ever-growing technology field. Like woodshop and welding, these classes have helped to develop real-world skills. But the real world is changing. More and more 3D-related jobs are being added to the list of bankable skills. I am happy to be a part of this industry today, but I have often thought about how different (and likely, easier) my path would have been if I’d had an earlier introduction to 3D modeling and computer-aided design.

After joining two local chambers of commerce over the summer, I started to attend more community events. In August, the Yorkville chamber had a special event to welcome new teachers into the community. I’m not exactly sure why I chose to go, since I don’t foresee interacting with teachers much, but it interested me. I was impressed by the cause, making teachers feel welcome and appreciated, so I decided to sign up.

At the event, I was seated next to a technology teacher. I was pleased with the arrangement, but could never have imagined just how wonderful talking to this man would be. As much as I was interested to hear how he would be introducing 3D related lessons to his junior high students, he was also interested in hearing my background and how I had been educated in my field.

In my small high school, there were no computer design classes offered. It wasn’t until community college that I learned Photoshop and Illustrator, and that was only an introduction. After getting my bachelor’s degree (and learning 3D modeling), I decided to get an architectural drafting certification so I could create architectural renderings. Before my first drafting class, I had never touched AutoCAD. I found out very quickly I was the odd one out. I struggled for the first semester of the program, trying to wrap my brain around something I did not expect to have any trouble with. My teacher was used to teaching students who’d already learned the basics in high school. Everyone else seemed miles ahead of me. And to further frustrate me, I had already learned 3D, which is essentially a step beyond the mostly 2D world of AutoCAD. I felt like Luke Skywalker in front of Master Yoda, telling me, “You must unlearn what you have learned!”

My sister was four years behind me in school and I was happy to hear that they’ve added some of these studies. Even as schools are pulling back on the arts, they’re adding computer design and engineering classes, which are more in line with the popular STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). As much as I hope parents and teachers will fight to keep the arts alive, I am glad to see that computer design and 3D modeling are thriving, and even being introduced to middle school and grade school students. Learning 3D modeling can give students a lot of advantages in life including greater computer literacy, spatial training, problem solving and creativity.

In this day in age, most kids can operate a smart phone before they can even talk. Even though most kids have at least a basic computer literacy, there are still many households that don’t have access to the internet, or even a computer. Being as familiar with computer technology as possible can only help a child as they grow up, from future jobs to managing their personal interests. The more they know how to do with a computer, the more opportunities are open to them.

Spatial training and problem solving are two huge skills emphasized in all childhood development, but they’re not always the easiest to teach or to hone. When I first learned to model, 3D was weird to get used to. In drawing, photography, and graphic design, artists work on a two-dimensional plane. Adding depth is like opening up a new world of possibilities. It’s strange to navigate at first, but pretty easy to get the hang of. Once you start building in 3D, you start looking at the world differently. Suddenly, complex things like buildings and machines break themselves down into simple shapes. Being able to build models can help relay ideas, solve problems, and simulate innovations.

Growing up with the ability to draw, many people have told me they wished they were artistic. I understand being jealous of other people’s creativity. I have a long list of people I’ve envied in the past, but the point is there are so many different types of creativity. I can draw well, but I’ve never been good at coming up with things from pure imagination. I’m much better at drawing from real life, like portraits and landscapes. Some of the people I’ve envied have looked at my work and said they wish they could do what I can do. But, what if we couldn’t draw at all? That doesn’t mean those individual talents would go away. 3D modeling can present an opportunity to be creative in a way some kids probably thought was impossible. They can recreate what’s in front of them or imagine something completely fantastic, regardless of traditional artistic ability.

These disciplines can be intimidating to parents. But between free and easily downloadable applications like Blender, TinkerCAD, and Google Sketchup, free student offerings of AutoCAD and other Autodesk products, and the wide world of online education from Youtube to Lynda.com, learning the basics of 3D and/or introducing them to children has become easier than ever. Kids see 3D everywhere, including TV, movies and mobile devices. Many of their favorite characters are now 3D animations, from Sofia the First to Optimus Prime. 3D modeling is cool and helps make computer technology less intimidating. One particular quote from an article on cadalyst.com hit particularly strong: “When it comes to fostering students’ interest in a subject – or stated differently, averting a disinterest in it – current wisdom says the window of opportunity is closing by the time students finish middle school. That, together with an emphasis on the importance of teaching process and critical thinking, is what’s driving the push to introduce CAD technologies to students in the third through twelfth grades.”

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