At Lincoln School, a group of 3rd graders is building houses without any nails, wood, or drywall. Instead, these students are building in a virtual world using Google’s SketchUp design program. Their toolbelt consists of a cursor, a toolbar, and the help of their own classmates. Under the direction of local architect Mark Klancic, the 3rd graders are learning some basics of house design and architecture as part of OPEF’s Architecture Adventure program.

Click here to see the class’s virtual neighborhood tour using SketchUp, and here to see photos of the class working on SketchUp.

Matt Kuntz, GTD teacher at Lincoln, is working with Mr. Klancic for the second year in a row. Mr. Kuntz said, “Mr. Klancic is teaching one group of students on SketchUp and then that group teaches the next group. It also works across grade level. The 4th graders who did it last year want to come back to help out.”

For instance, Jacky N. had completed her house design the previous week so she was helping Rayne L. add features to her house since this was Rayne’s first time working with the program.

A similar collaboration was going on between Jack K. and Miguel S. Mr. Klancic’s first question for Jack was “Are you comfortable in the virtual world?” since it takes a bit of time to learn to use the different SketchUp tools and manipulate the building in 3D space.

“Mr. Klancic takes a pretty complicated program and makes it simpler for these kids,” Mr. Kuntz said.

The kids, however, very quickly adapt and learn the “tricks” to the program, such as the “push-pull” tool to bring the bottom of the house below grade. Max H. exclaimed, “Look! I’m making a basement!” Similarly, because the houses around Oak Park have a ridge, or pitched roof, on top, Mr. Klancic taught them how to go from flat to pitched, with the click of the mouse.

As he was helping Miguel, Jack realized he had forgotten how to do this “trick,” so he went to a classmate for help. A great deal of teamwork was going on throughout the room–kids sharing their new-found expertise, their excitement, and their creativity.
Lots of creativity. Consider Lawrence S., who had practical design features such as a porch awning and a double front door, but also included a telescope on top of his house!
As Mr. Kuntz explained, “The things Mr. Klancic is teaching them are not only in SketchUp but also design techniques, his area of expertise.” Here, SketchUp really helps, since it has specific tools to create straight lines, parallel lines, and other architectural basics.

Morgan V. admitted that you can get quite creative with SketchUp, but “you can’t just put random stuff anywhere, like 40 windows, because then it doesn’t even look like something you could live in.”

Mr. Klancic told the kids, “The cool thing is that as I’m helping you guys I’m learning too. I’m getting something out of this–other than just the fun of working with you.”