Google Sketchup is a free graphical modelling program that enables you to create 3D representations of buildings and structures on your computer screen.
I would consider it to be quite a complex, 'professional' piece of software but I have found that children in upper KS2 can be taught enough of its basic tools quite easily for them to create quite pleasing models with.
I cover Sketchup with Year 6 each year and I always like seeing the reactions on their faces as they turn their designs into 3D and rotate around their constructions for the first time. Usually some of the children are so amazed by the capabilities of the program that they boast about how they intend to download it at home. Last year, for instance, I had one boy demonstrate some outstanding work that he had done adding fine interior decorations to a house and this year I had one child discover how to create a square-based pryamid by himself!
I've found that two lessons is normally sufficient enough to cover Sketchup because it gives the children enough time to see what its potential uses are without having to dwell too much on getting their designs perfectly accurate - something which I think is unnecessary at this age and which would likely take away the 'wow' factor of the program from them. Briefly:
- in the first lesson, I give the children a quick tutorial on how to build a simple house before then letting them have a go at exploring building their own, encouraging them to try out different tools to find out what their effects are (e.g. the zoom/navigation controls);
- in the second lesson I ask the children to create a future representation of our school which they can temporarily place onto Google Earth at the end (I have a snapshot of the aerial photo already loaded into a template Skechup file for them to build on with the: X, Y and Z axes already correctly positioned).
The older versions of Sketchup used to contain a pre-installed gallery of items that children could add to their designs - such as: flowers, trees and benches - but sadly the newer versions force you to connect to their online store to download them which I've found to a little fiddly in a whole class situation. Nevertheless, the children enjoy being given the task of adding features to their design which can only be achieved with a little thought - for example: panes of glass can be done by filling a rectangle shape drawn on a wall with a translucent fill colour, a fence can be constructed by drawing a cuboid, erasing the top and bottom faces and filling the outside faces with a fence texture, and a lawn can be made by filling a rectangle with a vegetation texture. I like to prompt them with few ideas and let them come up with a few of their own too - this year for instance we had outdoor pools and jacuzzis!
During the second lesson in Sketchup, I progress the children's skills by requiring them to build their model of a school up to a specific height (either by entering the desired height when pulling a flat face up or by using the tape measure tool afterwards to help find out where any adjustments need to be made). Inspired this article, this lesson hopefully helps them to appreciate the importance of keeping to a design brief and ensures that their models look as realistic as possible.
I ask the children to create a model of a school for the more purposeful task, however it could be adapted to link in with lots of specific class topics - I've seen work from children in other schools who've managed to successfully build: churches, African huts, Aztec/Egyptian pyramids and WW2 Anderson shelters. The Isle of Man also encourage their schools to use Sketchup to plan D&T models by filling the faces of a model (representing a box container of sorts) with custom images/art work to great effect - see here. As a rough guide, I think that at primary school level, buildings with no curves on them are perhaps the easiest and most effective models for the children to build whilst they are still learning about the full capabilities of the program - although this could involve tracing aerial photos of buildings using the pen tool as illustrated here. If your children are very confident though, this video of what some year 6 pupils created at one school is just phenomenally inspirational if you want to set them a bit of a challenge.
Throughout their work in Google Sketchup, I regularly ask the children to try out alternative designs and to use the undo tool to make any modifications - this links in perfectly with the 'modifying and reviewing work as it progresses' strand of the current ICT National Curriculum here in England.
Google Sketchup is a brilliant program that never fails to get children enthusiastic about doing CAD (Computer Aided Design) work and hopefully helps them better appreciate/understand the work of modern-day architects, including the benefits of and challenges they face with using such software in their occupation. I can't recommend it highly enough that you teach Sketchup to your children!