Monday, January 27, 2014

There Are Three Kinds Of People In The World

Those who can count, and those who can’t

Porcupine – Cooper

So goes the joke currently making the rounds at lower-schools everywhere. This joke comes to mind because I’ve found that there are three types of interests motivating students to excel in 3D classes. I refer to these three mindsets as the Explorer, the Artist and the Engineer.

Explorer – The Explorer is in awe of the images and open-source projects other designers have posted on Thingiverse, Google Images and in the Tinkercad gallery. Explorers spend their time rummaging through these sites expanding their own imaginations in the process. 

Artist – Wow, 3D really does bust the doors open on kids’ imagination! Every kid’s an Artist. Though some come to class with more natural talent than others. A well designed and properly run 3D modeling class offers a wide path to success for all young Artists.

Engineer – The Engineer is a creator, a builder and an inventor. They are generally more aware of details and more structured in the way they work. I was surprised at first by how few engineers I found when I first started teaching 3D to lower-school students, then surprised again by how many there in middle and upper school classes.

In truth, most every kid has a unique mix all three points of view. My son was a Lego enthusiast from ages 2 to 8. Yet he never once followed instructions or built a contraption pictured on the box. Inventors are like that. One of my fifth-grade students, Cooper, has designed and programmed 2D and 3D video games, though he’s also a very talented and imaginative artist. Every 3D designer, myself included, has played the Explorer spending countless hours rummaging through other people’s designs for tips and inspiration.

As a new teacher, I was at first resistant of kids spending so much class time just looking through other people’s work. But I recognized that explorers tend to be younger students with less experience and not as in touch with their artistic selves. I eventually saw that the successful projects these kids eventually completed were those derived from ideas they’d picked up while exploring. Now I give more license for students to explore in between their projects. The creativity and polish of their work evolves much more rapidly as a result. 

Vector modeling environments, like Tinkercad, 123D Design and SketchUp, which are all viable tools for use in various K-12 classrooms, are fairly structured and provide discreet step-by-step design processes. Most kids respond well to these tools. Yet the artist inside some kids are more successful in more free-form tools such as 123D Creature and 123D Sculpt. I offer access to both sets of applications in my classes.

Consider the following graph. It depicts a loose approximation of the level of interest groups of students of all grades have for playing the Explorer, the Artist and the Engineer in 3D class.

Student Interest Levels By Grade

Younger students tend to be initially drawn into 3D first as Explorers. Why? Because every interested student can explore other peoples’ work. I train students in my lower-school introductory modeling and printing classes on what to look for by providing hundreds of one-page sheets showing my work and that of other designers. These sheets are grouped into general skill areas as diverse as simple 3D navigation, joinery, multi-color projects, geometric patterns, creatures and so on. If I find a student casting about for their next project, I’ll refer them to a particular section of my “skill development sheets” for them to choose from. They’re then expected to complete that project before beginning another.

As students mature developmentally with age and hands-on 3D experience, they’re better able to express themselves, whether it be as Artist, Engineer, inventor or something else. This graph shows that we shouldn’t generally expect students in the lowest grades to be anything more than Explorers. (Though every child is unique.) Artists emerge in a classroom full of kids before Engineers do. But each individual develops their interests based on their natural talents, viewpoints and experiences. 

The distinction I’ve made between Artist and Engineer is admittedly more abrupt than we find in nature. After all, there is the inventor, the game developer and other digital artists/engineers. Yet, unless the makeup of a class is unnaturally skewed, a teacher could reasonably expect middle-school non-introductory classes to consist of a pretty even distribution on a continuum of Artists and Engineers.

Is this the progression and distribution of interests others are experiencing?