Thursday, February 20, 2014

Fostering New Ideas by Adding "Perspective" with Google SketchUp

American author, Chuck Palahniuk once said, “The trick to forgetting the big picture is to look at everything close up.”   But finding new perspective whether it be about life or solving a problem is never easy.  We sometimes need to look to new tools and techniques to give us a different viewpoint.

Image Labeled for Re-use on Flickr  by Sadie Hernandez
Although Palahniuk was not speaking specifically about design projects, I feel this quote is an appropriate segue to talking about an amazing program I am now using in my Middle School Design classes; it is called Google SketchUp.  Google SketchUp, a free downloadable program, allows users to create 3D models in an engaging 3D environment.

One of my motivations to learning how to use Google SketchUp is to teach and coach my design students how to take their 2-dimensional architectural drawings to a new level.  As part of the design cycle, students are asked to create several feasible designs for a solution to a problem or challenge.  These usually involve sketching various 2-dimensional ideations/versions for a specific model in form of blueprints like the ones seen here of a model train car.

2-Dimensional Blueprint of a possible Indian Train Car
Then, students are asked to analyze each labeled sketch or blueprint and justify which one they might build.  From here, students pick one solution and elaborate a bit more on it's form and function by putting in further details and features before they move to creating the product.  This is often a difficult step for students as they have a hard time coming up with new ideas to further enhance their detailed blueprint.  However, with Google SketchUp, students might now take one of the 2-Dimensional drawings and create a 3-Dimensional version of it in Google SketchUp.  This is a superior approach to elaborating on their proposed solution.  When expanding a model into a 3-Dimensional program like SketchUp, students will be forced to have new "perspective".  Google SketchUp has several features that will empower young designers to look at their possible solution from  "new eyes".  Some new understandings that students may develop from expanding their proposed solution into a 3-D drawing are:

1.  What does my product dimensions look like  when in 3-Dimensional format?
2.  What does my proposed product look like from various angles? (top view, side view, etc)
3.  What are some of my aesthetic options?  Color, texture, shape
4.  Where is the most effective/strategic location for this  seat, coach, fountain, etc.?

My son and I worked together with Google Sketchup on building a model of the Alberta Legislature Building.  You can see the finished product here:



We had to pay attention to several details in order to make the model historically accurate.  As we were translating our ideas into a 3-D model, a fresh perspective enabled us to learn far more than we imagined.  For example, there is a large circular fountain  at the entrance to the building.  When we sized and created the fountain, we noticed that made it difficult to walk around the fountain to get to the entrance to the Legislative Assembly.  We both wondered why the designers would want to make the journey so narrow and difficult.  After much discussion about security, we realized that this might be intentional for security reasons.  Furthermore, from above we noticed that the Building is in the shape of a cross, which  has significance based on the religious affiliation of the original designers and architects. 

Stepping back, taking a breath and finding a new perspective is often a difficult mental task.  Yet, with the right tools, we can teach students to see things differently and therefore develop allow them to develop new ideas.  What techniques and tools do you employ to help students develop new perspective?

If you are interested in using Google SketchUp to give your students new perspective here are a few sights that might be helpful:

1.  Google SketchUp Download

2. Free video tutorials to learn Google SketchUp

a) http://www.sketchup.com/learn
b) Google SketchUp for Dummies by Aidan Chopra

3. Sample Lesson Plans using Google SketchUp

4. For the complete PDF version of the 3DVinci Google SketchUp Teacher Guide, go to:
http://www.3dvinci.net/teacherguide/teacherguide.pdf

5.  Video Presentation by Joe Donahue on the use of Google SketchUp in the Classroom

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