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news & tips

A collection of helpful articles on teachers and teaching

Update on the Virtual Missions

A couple of months ago, I shared how a young fourth grade teacher at my school got hooked on the idea of doing the annual California missions project using Google SketchUp instead of the traditional plaster-and-red-painted-lasagna-noodles method. She frequently has her students working in my lab during one of my prep periods on a Monday, so I took some pictures and played “fly on the wall” during their efforts today.

Student mission work in Google SketchUpFirst of all, I have to share that my colleague admits that she never thought her kids’ work would look as good as it already does. She’s only 24 and quite a techie, but she has only gotten “so far” with SketchUp. The kids, on the other hand, are busy inventing ways to create fountains and bells, and several of her students have become the official experts on certain elements. They’ve really exceeded our expectations, and I think that when we share their work with the school community, everyone will be very impressed.

That brings me to the second great revelation we’ve been experiencing: whereas kids tend to follow adult direction at every step when building the traditional physical models… and they tend to rely on adult judgment a bit too much… in the virtual 3-D modeling world, these fourth graders are all too willing to just try stuff and see what happens. If they don’t like the results, there’s always Ctrl-Z to allow them a second, third, or four hundredth try at getting it “right.” Today in the lab, I heard the teacher having kids consult individual experts on stairs, bells, fountains, crosses, and curved accents to the buildings. Only one child in the class had ever used SketchUp before this project. Another spent a lot of time during Christmas break honing his skills. And then there’s the girl who just joined our school this week. I bet you would struggle to identify her work among the pictures I took today.Student mission work in Google SketchUp

But it hasn’t been all sunshine and butterflies. Some students are struggling with this just as much as they struggle with other academic areas. The kids are building a model from two-dimensional pictures, without the benefit of a floor plan to work from. That makes visualizing the solid building difficult. Many of them also are trying to visualize and create in a 3-D environment for the first time, and it’s a big challenge. On the other hand, this group of kids enjoys being out of their regular classroom and out from behind their regular desks – and they love that they are the first ones in the whole school to do this. So they’re motivated but also very challenged. Most of them are not getting overly frustrated, though. It seems they are rising to the challenge.

Student mission work in Google SketchUpAs I moved around the lab, asking them to show me some part of their work for the camera, they were really proud to show off what they had done. I also made sure they knew that I have never used SketchUp and don’t have the foggiest idea how to even start with it. They’re getting an important lesson in perseverance, visual-spatial thinking, and trial and error. The life skills they’re gaining now will help over the next four and a half years that they still have technology classes with me, so I gain something here too. Typically, my most successful students are those who are willing to try and fail, and then try some more. I can already confidently predict that this group of students will lead the pack on that front.

If you would like to see a few more pictures of the students’ works in progress, click HERE.

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