Learning How to Use Sketch Up 8

Had some extra time at the end of the day, so I decided to knock off a task that I’d been putting off a while: learn how to use Sketch Up.

Sketch Up is 3D modeling software that I first came across a few years ago. It was originally developed as an add-on for Google Earth, but eventually developed into a stand-alone product. I have no time for it in the general classroom, as I already struggle to cram the whole curriculum into the year, but as I have one student who is ahead on the course, I thought that 3D modeling would be a great extension for the Area and Volume unit.

I found a great 15-minute YouTube tutorial on Sketch Up 8, which is the paid version that is installed on all the computers at school. I followed it and tried to replicate all the functions shown in the video:

This was the end product. Not much to look at but I admit that it was fun. I’m not much of a designer, but I can see great potential for students to get creative. I’ll still need to come up with a written assignment, but my student will have great fun with it.

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Introducing Geogebra

Back in the fall, I was thankful to have a one-on-one training session on Geogebra. A math professor whom I’m in touch with at the University of Nipissing generously offered his time to teach me how to use this free, open-sourced math software. It’s quite versatile and it can be used to create functions and draw geometric shapes.

Unfortunately, I’d forgotten about the software … it had always been on the back of my mind, but as other tasks piled up, it fell down on my priority list. Luckily, in February, all the high school math teachers were asked to attend a Geogebra training session. We were given three hours of “sandbox time” to play around with it and the principal made it a priority to get IT to install it in the computer labs … finally!

The week after my PD, I got my students onto the program right away . As each of our class periods is 50 minutes long, I gave them two short tasks to work on. The first task was quite simple: make a line drawing. Kids picked up pretty quickly on the difference between a line and a segment. They learned how to turn on/off the grid lines and/or the axes. They coloured the lines in, changed the thickness and figured out how to correct their mistakes and save their files.

Here’s one of the products by my student, J.:

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The second task required making an equilateral triangle. At first, I would just tell students to try making one on their own. Most of them would start with three line segments, and quickly realize that the side lengths vary far too much. Using the cursor, the sides could easily stretch, the side lengths would change and it would no longer be equal lengths on all three sides.

Subsequently, I showed them an easier way – we created two overlapping circles of the same radius, then drew the radii to form an equilateral triangle.

Altogether, our first session was a success. Next year, I will have to build some assignments for them to follow and have tasks that are presented within each of the units.

Extra tip: Some kids are awesome at picking new software up. It’s always a good idea to figure out who these kids are and space them around the classroom whenever you’re doing a new task. They can be great peer mentors and work as an extra helper when you find yourself running all over the place!

SMART Notebook Issues

Last year, SMART Notebook made an update to its user license agreement. Mac users on the latest iOS were no longer supported … unless you decided to pay for a single-user license at $800 a bang! That meant lesson plans we’d been using on a daily basis were suddenly no longer accessible. This brought a lot of frustration to educators, including myself.
For the past year, I stopped teaching with my Notebook files on a regular basis. I admit I occasionally transferred files on a memory stick to my computer at work, but reviewing lessons at home were now impossible.
The increase in price for a single-user was a terrible marketing move; if the license was under $100, it would easily fit on a classroom  budget or the school budget. Even a desperate teacher might even scrounge up the change to pay out of his/her own pocket.
But nearly a thousand dollars just to edit existing files you’d had no trouble with before? No, thank you!

Nonetheless, I decided my students stay better engaged with the Smartboard and that they benefit from the lessons. In November, I purchased a Windows-based HP laptop ($625) and transferred all my lesson plans over. I had to repurchase a Planbook by Hellmansoft license ($43, expensed to the school) so that it links to my Dropbox.*

The transition has actually made my life a lot easier. No more memory stick tag!! That was a lot of work, transferring files back and forth every day. There were numerous technical hurdles** over the last two months, but I’m finally properly hooked up in January!

This morning, we watched a video on gears and wheels on my laptop. It went well. Yay for efficiency!

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Of course, my desk is still a mess … not much I can do about that, it happens every day!

*Dropbox is where I store all my lesson plans, so that I can access them anywhere.

**Some of the hurdles were small, such as figuring out how to link up to the Smartboard. Others took a bit more time, like downloading drivers on terrible bandwidth. Still, the worst hurdle was not being able to transfer my lesson plans from Mac software to Planbook. Sadly, I had to start from scratch and retype my lessons!!