Augmenting Reality with Google Sketch Up in Math Class

Augmented reality (AR) is high on the "wow" factor chart. If you're a fan of 'Star Wars' or 'Avatar' like me, you've seen the future play with a mixture of reality and holographic images. I thought that creating and using technology was for experts in digital media, namely, not me. Well, not any more.

I had used Google Sketch Up over the years in math when working with area and volume. I've had students do some PBL where they had to design a bookshelf or house with a given amount of material and apply their understanding of surface area and volume to making a product. However, the product seemed to remain in the virtual world. Could we make it "pop out" to become more real? Could we blur the line between the digital and physical world so that students could see what their creation would look like in reality?

I got the idea of taking such products after watching videos like this:

The virtual textbook seemed cool as it brought to life what was in the text. My goal was for students to design a product and impose their design on the physical world. For example, I wanted students to build a bridge with curricular objectives in mind, but then superimpose their bridge across the local river to see what it would look like. Another thing I had in mind was to resurrect the bookshelf project, but show how this piece of art might look in their rooms back home.Through a simple screencast, they could record themselves sharing, analyzing, or critiquing their piece with curricular objectives in mind.

Learning and Implementation
Google Sketchup has it's own blog that it has has good post to show what AR looks like. However, Charlie Mahoney has an even better screencast to walk you through the process of installing the AR media plug in required to connect Sketchup to AR. Inglobe technologies offers a trial version for free so you can see what it looks like in a 30 second snippet. If you want to buy the full version, it's 99 Euros. If all students upload their models to the model warehouse on sketchup, you can download them and run them from the teacher's or classroom computer. I'm not extremely tech-savy, but was rocking and rolling with this after an hour of playing.

Example of Bringing the Bookshelf to Life
The bookshelf project is a project based learning (PBL) initiative wherein the students have to design a piece of furniture but apply their understanding of cost to raw materials. We do the project in stages but the resulting product (in this case) is a bookshelf from which students have a good understanding of the square feet of material and resulting cost, and the volume of it to indicate how many books can be stored there.

With AR, after finishing this project, students can do the following which I've demonstrated in the video below:
  • Make a commercial to sell their product
  • Explaining the surface area or volume
  • Reflecting on the project, rubric or evaluation

Applications for Teachers
I usually like to have student examples of work in such videos, but I don't intend to revisit the bookshelf project until March. I thought that by showing any interested readers some examples now, that would give you time to explore this to give you time before implementing it with your students. Some ideas that I see educators are doing with AR:

Art: Creating a virtual art gallery with student paintings that you can walk around in an explore.

Architecture: Discussing famous virtual work through style and proportion.

AR is already around us and is starting to permeate into the market through products like "Google Goggles" which give virtual information about the physical space around us. Two years ago, augmented reality was a pain in the ass, as you had to scan objects and upload them through a very cumbersome process. As it's becoming much easier, I wonder where it will take education.

A reader tweeted the other day: "A bad teacher with expensive technologies is nothing more than an expensive bad teacher". Very good point. Many technologies have short lives and fleeting applications as they're replaced by newer, easier to use versions. As consumers look for virtual ways to gain information about the physical world, it seems like teaching students how to access and utilize the AR interface will give them an edge in innovation in their future.

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