I printed a 3D model of my city

I’ve seen some great models of topography at Thingiverse. Below is a model of the U.S. that I use in schools regularly.

USA Terrain

I decided to make a model for my city- Appleton WI. I used Terrain2STL to get started. It is an easy to use website that lets you select an area on Google Maps and create an STL for download.

Terrain2STL at http://jthatch.com/terrain2stl/
Terrain2STL at http://jthatch.com/terrain2stl/

From here, I could have sent the file straight to the printer but there is a problem with my city- it’s SO flat.

To make my city’s model a bit more exciting, I needed to exaggerate the elevation so we could see more of the features around the river. To make the adjustments, I used Meshmixer from Autodesk. Meshmixer is an essential multitool for modifying 3D models.

First, I adjusted the scaling in the vertical so it was 20 times larger than the longitude and the latitude by using the Transform tool in Meshmixer.

Transforming the vertical
Transforming the vertical (click image to see full size)

This made the base of the model 20 times larger too. I used the Plane Cut tool in Meshmixer to trim down the base.

Trim the base with Plane Cut tool (click image to see full size)
Trim the base with the Plane Cut tool (click image to see full size)

That’s it! I exported the file and sent it off to the printer. You can download your own copy.

3D Model of Appleton WI
3D Model of Appleton WI

Moving from 2D to 3D using Tinkercad and Google Drawings

The concept of 3D modeling can be a challenge for young students. They may have little to no experience with the idea of 3D. To change this, teachers can build upon the prior knowledge students already possess.

An Introduction to Dimensions (Get these slides)

However, almost all of our students have experience with crayons, markers, and colored pencils. Creations done with these tools are done in two dimensions. Starting with a drawing is an excellent place to introduce the term dimension and the directions labeled X and Y.

The next step is to give students an experience with computer aided drawing (CAD). I like to use Google Drawings because it is free to use, easy to learn, offers a vast variety of fonts, and is already available to many schools as a part of Google Apps for Education.

Before diving into a tool like Google Drawing, I feel it is important to have a discussion with students about how the features in computer aided drawing (CAD) programs can help the creative process. For example, last year I worked with fourth graders that were creating a variety of U.S. maps. We encouraged the students to experiment with different styles and colors. The students learned that trying out different ideas in a digital drawing was much easier since it didn’t mean that that they had to start over.

To move to the third dimension, students need to move their 2D drawings into a 3D modeling tool. For 3D design, I like to use Tinkercad. It also is free and easy to use. Works created in Google Drawings can be saved as a .svg file that can be imported into Tinkercad. Once in Tinkercad, designs can be stretched in the third dimension- the Z direction. Below is a video demonstration of this process.

Fewer students feel overwhelmed when they enter gradually into the world of 3D designing and modeling. By providing students a way to transition from drawings on paper to Google Drawings to Tinkercad, they develop a foundation that often strengthens their confidence to attempt more complex designs.

3D classroom? Is this really what we want?

Geekdad at WIRED asks, “Is 3D in Classrooms Just a Gimmick?

The post includes a video touting new 3D technology that will change your classroom forever. The video claims that 3D technology is the interactive tool that will improve behavior, increase attention, raise test scores, gets students working together, and create their love for learning.

What did I see? Dark classrooms full of students watching a teacher lecture.

They could be sleeping behind those dark glasses.

The video references student engagement seven times but if recall and remembering are your evidence for engagement, why even bother integrating new technology? We can do that with any old chalkboard, worksheet, or textbook.