Course Curriculum: Computer Applications:CAD

After my quick reflections on the Tea Box project and my computer science course, I’d like to take a spin over to my most successful, challenging and rewarding class(es) this semester.  I had the opportunity to teach 2 CAD courses with a great, energetic group of young men (and one woman).  As the year progressed my classes split into three distinct groups – a developmentally young (think elementary-school-age brains) group, a progressing (middle-school-age brains) and a developmentally-ready (high school or middle school) group.

My CAD course description:

In this course, students will create and build physical and digital representations of the world around them. Piaget’s four stages of cognitive development will frame the instruction to the appropriate cognitive developmental level for each student. Computer Assisted Design is the use of computers and specialized software to create digital objects; be they animations, skyscrapers or the interiors of engines. Students will use Google Sketch Up 8 to re-create and re-imagine the world around them, beginning with a floor-plan of their bedroom and ending with a self-directed project.

What made this course successful?  My answer after the jump.

I made three decisions early on which made for smooth(ish) sailing:

  1. I realized I was in over my head and asked for help.  I did this early, willing and often.
  2. I knew exactly what I wanted my class’s “narrative” to sound like.   I wanted kids to go home and say “Mom, I learned how to design a _____ in only two weeks!”
  3. I developed this rubric.  And wash, rinsed, repeat until the process was seamless for student and teacher.

Early on, a colleague of mine suggested I start by developing 2D lessons and work my way into the 3D CAD environment.  He explained to me that 3D drawing and the ability to draw in different perspectives (as you do in technical drawings) isn’t just a matter of technique or skill, but an outgrowth of a students spatial awareness & math reasoning. If my students weren’t developmentally ready then my teaching would go over their heads and would result in unengaged students

For example, I have a student who, due to visual issues and/or developmental delays, cannot put things in order.  It looks like this:

Notice how the sticks sort of go smallest to biggest, but he gets confused in the middle somewhere.  So how can he possibly build something in  CAD program when he struggles with this task?

The short answer is he can’t, not with true mastery.  So why teach him CAD?  Well, the course teaches computer literacy and spurs the child’s mental development (spatial awareness & math reasoning), not necessarily teaches a skill (the nuts and bolts of Sketch Up or CAD design).  You could say I mislabeled the course.  I think this realization meant I focused my efforts on engaging, developmentally appropriate visual puzzles, tasks and projects rather than worrying about whether or not my students could perform a skill and understand the task.  It freed me up to use the technology the most developmentally-appropriate way, rather than trying to match that course description.  And doing this required help, lots of help – which I took willingly.  I think this approach worked.   I had a student work on a six-piece CAD puzzle in the beginning of the year.  It took him a week to complete – roughly two to three hours.  By the end of the year, he completed a 10-piece assembly project in under and hour.  An incredible jump in developmental ability, teaching effectiveness and task-processing.  It was one of my proudest teaching moments of the year.

With all that fluidity, I think my original vision of the course remained a strong one.  My original vision centered on a series of projects which built up to to a set of CAD skills: the knowledge of a semi-professional program (i.e. Google Sketch-Up or such) and ability to perceive and recreate an object in 2D and 3D space.  I decided the students should create floor-plans, then learn to create 2D technical drawings and finally create a full scale 3D object, such as the ones seen in the below slideshow.  I really enjoyed its progression with my developmentally-ready group.  They, in short, blew me away.  My students blew through those three projects in short order.  Our final project was to create radial objects – vases, spires, gears, etc.

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Lastly, I had the good luck and thought to develop this rubric.  I’ve since used it different ways in different projects.  I like that the rubric focuses on the student’s products, rather than their “participation” or “process”.  Many rubrics I see have things like “clearly demonstrate forethought and planning” or “using time wisely”.  By definition of their neurological a-typicalness my student’s struggle to do these things.  Why grade them on it?  On the other hand, my rubric asks for products which indicate the ability to do these things.  3 drafts means a student spent an hour creating his designs.  Using a pen to draw the final copy means he had to concentrate and focus to minimize mistakes.  Entering a blog post into the student blog means they reflect, for a short while, on their success or failure.  “Participation” and “time management” — executive functions — can be inferred through a product’s quality, not a more subjective and confusing metric.
The classroom finds a very smooth rhythm with these four products.  I found I’m very active during the drafting phase.  By the time my students enter the CAD or build phase, they have put so much time imagining that the product is built very quickly and without my input.  I need to revise my blogging section for stronger reflection questions and procedures, but I feel very good about the initial results:

11/17/11 Hey this is John of the 3rd hour math/sci pod. Recently my CAD class and I had to choose objects to make on the computer. I chose a strange object for my CAD project.  No one knows what it is. The first and hardest thing that I had to do was to draft the object onto graph paper while making sure that I had the correct measurements. I moved on to the computer for Google Sketchup 8 to start the best part.  It took me awhile to complete the model and I enjoyed every moment of it. Mr. Patrick said that I would be unable to make my object so I had to build a tool box instead. After almost three weeks of hard work I finally finished my project:)

All through out the project I worked with my classmates a lot. Since I used Google Sketchup 8 before I had to help some of my classmates a few times like Ben and Kenna. During this project I learned how to change the view style of Google Sketchup 8 which I found fun.  Next time I’ll do an object that I can actually make out of wood.

As for teaching resources, I used Dropbox, SpiderScribe and Classjump as communication tools for both students and parents.   While my students used Google Sketch Up 8, I’d also reccomend AutoDesk’s Homestyler for floorplans and 123d for CAD application.  Eventually, I will move away from Google Sketch Up and into 123D, as I believe 123D is a more industry-standard program.  Finding a way to do 3d printing will be my priority for the next version of this class.  If you have any feedback or questions, drop a line.

Make it safe & keep the rubber-side down.