Google SketchUp: 3D Modelling Software

Teacher Editorial | By Steven Montgomery (BOLT student)

Sketch Up is part of Google’s collection of programs available for industry and education.  Sketch Up is available free to Alberta teachers through a provincial purchase licence, talk to your division’s tech department to get an activation code.  Your code will allow students and teachers to use the full professional version of Sketch Up.

Sketch Up has many possible uses for students and teachers in the classroom.  It boasts an impressive warehouse of downloadable files covering many different subjects and items.    There is an extensive bank of tutorial videos available on YouTube for all levels of ability and skill.

For Example:

CTS:  Obviously Sketch Up is an excellent drafting program for beginners, intermediate users and expert uses.  It is suitable for small to very large projects and can work with both SAE and metric units.  Files can be exported into several formats for using different CNC equipment.  (ie. it can be used for 3-D printers, routers, or other compatible equipment).  It is suitable for woodworking, construction and fabrication (metalworking).  Students can see their project in 3-D before trying to make or assemble their project and see what it looks like and to make sure that all of the pieces will fit, or have the proper clearances.

Math and Science: Sketch Up can be used to visualize 3-D models.  No longer do teachers need to try to draw 3-D models on a blackboard, whiteboard, or smartboard.  Using the warehouse, you can download a 3-D model of an organic model, dodecahedron, or pulley system and rotate it for students to see in full 3-D.  Students can use unit conversions to change between metric or SAE units, use fraction addition and subtraction to determine distances using inches and feet, 2-D and 3-D visualization, measuring and drawing angles using a protractor, draw 3-D plans for investigations and labs.

Social and English:  Additionally, this digital tool can be used to show sites or historical objects.  Take students on a tour of the palace of Versailles or examine Shakespeare’s globe theatre!  It is possible to walk through a building to see the actor’s or character’s setting.  If a class is doing a drama production, the students can plan the sets and plan blocking on a model of their stage.

Why use Sketch Up?

Ease to use – Sketch Up is fast to learn and easy to use.  Like all of Google’s products, it will work on PC and Mac computers.  Students will be able to draw their first basic shapes extremely quickly.  The control is straightforward and intuitive.  With two clicks, students and teachers can make a basic 2-D shape (rectangle, circle, or polygon).  You simply draw the shape and type in the measurements to make the shape the exact size that you want.  Users then use the push/pull tool to change it into a 3-D shape, and then type in the desired depth.  Quickly using the orbit or pan tool, you can zoom in or out and rotate the object to see it from any angle.  Dimensions can be added with a couple of clicks, and labelled on the diagram.

Tutorials – A quick YouTube search will show over 800 thousand videos.  There are many different tutorials for all of the basic and advanced features including shortcuts.  Students can quickly look up what they want to do and find a lesson of how to achieve their goal.  Students can use the video makers YouTube channel to contact professionals willing to share their skills and maybe even be a mentor for students interesting in pursuing further skills. Teachers don’t have to be an expert and students develop the independent learning skills and higher order thinking skills and 21st Century skills that teachers should be encouraging in students.

Warehouse – There is an extremely large database of downloadable example files.  Teachers and students can easily search for whatever they need.  There is a huge selection of files made by teachers for teachers, as well as students.  For students there contain 3-D models of famous landmarks, different woodworking and metal fabrication projects.  Teachers can find models for demonstration use – for example 3-D models of cubes, rectangular prisms, pyramids and especially compound shapes.

Extensions – A large number of extensions are available to speed up complicated tasks.  You can resize objects, add all dimensions measurements, and render animations in 2-D and 3-D, in addition to over 200 other options.  The extensions are just like browser extensions that can be imported quickly and easily into Sketch Up.

In the Classroom

As a classroom teacher, I have used Sketch Up with a couple of math classes and found it very useful.  I used it with Math10-3 to demonstrate the use of fractions with imperial units for SAE units (inches and feet).  An actual blueprint and 3-D model make it far more real for students to see when fraction addition is really used and how most blueprints are missing every dimension because the last length can be easily calculated.  As many of these students will proceed to the trades, this real world application will be something that many of them use throughout their careers.

For surface area in Math 8, students find 3-D paper models useful but there is a limit to how many nets a student can make.  Using 2-D nets a student can quickly draw multiple nets, print them and then try to assemble them into 3-D shapes.  After looking at several students start to see the relationships between 2-D and 3-D shapes.  Using this relationship students understand how the edges of one shape from the edge of the adjacent side allowing them too quickly and easily determine the surface area of different shapes.  This allows them then to adapt to compound shapes with multiple prisms and pyramids.


About the Contributor

Steven Montgomery is a math and physics teacher at Barrhead Composite High School.  During his 18 years of teaching, Steven has taught a variety of course in Math, Science, French and Physical Education from grade 5 to 12.  He was seconded to the Distributed Learning Branch as the project manager for the online Physics 30 course.  Steven has presented many professional development sessions on integrating computers into the classroom and helped teachers develop their computer skills. He is constantly looking for new ways to improve his students’ learning using technology.

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