Students create their own 3D content

“This is entirely dependent on the students teaching themselves and each other. And it is this kind of active learning that is highly engaging for students and delivers a high rate of retention,” he said. “This is the type of animation that students are regularly seeing in the movie theaters. For them, this is fascinating to be doing the same thing as Hollywood.”

“I like the class,” said Ethan Frazier, Daniel’s son. “Everyone sits in the library looking at tutorials and trying to work with the program. Every quarter, we submit two projects we have been working on. I’ve turned in a small video game, in the style of a maze, along with a hand that I’ve been working on extensively over the past 3-4 weeks.”

But even such a gifted student as Frazier admits that the open-source program is “pretty hard,” and there are still things to learn.

That’s why the district hired support.

“[Strohmyer] is a full-time teacher whose primary job it is to teach our teachers how to instruct with their technology assets,” said Frazier. “He speaks the language of the teachers.” Strohmyer also assumes the duties of teacher of record for the VREP study class; meaning “he had the time to take kids to some outside training to get them started. With his flexible schedule, he is available to the class throughout the day.”

Strohmeyer, who checks in with students every other day, says the students use whatever program they feel comfortable using, including Blender, Creo, and CryEngine 3. Some programs are free (Blender) and some have been given to the VREP program for educational use.

“When we initially invested into VREP—around $3,500 for the equipment—I took six students to a knowledge workshop where other [college] students taught beginning Blender skills,” said Strohmyer. “They learned enough at the workshop to get started and know where to go if they have questions.”

Strohmyer said he was purposely not taught how to use Blender so students would have to search out the answers to their questions from other students (nationally) or find the answers online.

So far, he’s had students make games, puzzles, simple animations, and some very complex animations. The process of creating animations, he said, can be difficult, but the techniques learned are those used by Pixar and other computer-generated environments. Most gaming companies also use something similar. For example, CryEngine 3 is a platform used to develop many games for Playstation 3 and X-Box 360.

“I encourage the student to create a project that would push their ability level and spark their interest,” he said. “They have gone from making simple animations and models to making a ‘fly-though’ of Iowa State College of Engineering with all of the buildings.”

But not all of the challenges with 3D programs rest on the software’s learning curve. Challenges like funding, content implementation, and assessments are still a factor.

“While the software and hardware are easy to maintain, funding is always a challenge,” said Epps. “We use free teacher and student licenses provided by AutoDesk, and we used the free version of Unity until Unity graciously gave us extended trial pro licenses.”

Richmond County’s Epps also explained that integrating 3D content into the curriculum is an “uphill battle.”

“Because the technology is so new, a formal curriculum has not been established. However, I am working with a team of teachers to establish one,” he said.

And though Strohmyer has noticed increased student engagement, the VREP program is only four months old for Sioux Central, meaning no formal assessment can be given.

Meris Stansbury

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