Dec 082012

Last month I wrote about a procedure for combining models from the 3D Warehouse with Google Earth in order to augment virtual landscapes. I’ve refined the method in order to avoid students or teachers having to grapple with SketchUp itself. The latest version has proved difficult to run on our school network, creating delays that tend to infuriate the impatient. The refinement is simply that the teacher downloads models from the 3d Warehouse as Collada files before the lesson and students add them into Google Earth directly. Both tasks are extremely quick and easy, letting the students focus harder on the learning, and the teacher on being outstanding in front of inspectors! The method has been tried and tested with Year 7 and Year 10 groups.

We’ll take the issue of wind energy as an exemplar topic. Here are the three steps required by the teacher…

  1. Go to the Trimble 3d Warehouse and find a suitable model wind turbine. I like this one. (Note that not all models will have a download link)
  2. Download the chosen model to your computer as a Collada zip file. One of the extracted items will be a folder called ‘models.’ Inside this folder will be a file ending in .dae
  3. This file can be saved somewhere that’s easily accessible for the class. Give it a suitable name.

Instructions for the students are short and fail-safe…

  1. Open Google Earth and navigate to a suitable spot.
  2. Tilt the view so the camera is looking down at the intended site. From the menu bar in Google Earth, choose Add / Model and then browse for the relevant .dae file.
  3. The model will appear in Google Earth surrounded by a yellow box. This means that it is editable.
  4. The position of the model can be changed by clicking the middle green cross marker (handle) and dragging. Rotate it using the handle with a little diamond on the end.
    Avoid moving any of the other green handles or the scale of the model will be changed.
  5. With the dialogue box still open, a title and an explanation of why the site was chosen can be added. Click OK to exit the dialogue box and fix the model in place.
  6. If you need to edit the model again, right click it from places panel on the left hand side and choose Properties (Windows) or Get Info (Mac) Some models may float in mid air. Fix this by adjusting the altitude using the tool provided.
Extending the activity
Compare the impact of wind turbines with a conventional power station like Rugley B, Staffordshire. A tip when locating models with a photographic base layer is to place them a few metres below the ground surface so that the photo disappears.
In some cases a model may be downloadable from the 3D Warehouse, but there is no option to save as a Collada file. Open it in SketchUp and immediately export as a 3D file. The .dae file can then be extracted.
I get students to save a screenshot of their proposed wind farm and upload it to the Magazine Cover tool from Big Huge Labs. I then challenge them to produce the cover of a magazine that is either for, or against wind turbines.
Here’s an example…


Creating Virtual landscapes in Google Earth and SketchUp

 3D visualization, Google Earth, Google Earth lessons, INSET, Teaching resources  Comments Off on Creating Virtual landscapes in Google Earth and SketchUp
Nov 012012

A demonstration of how easy it is to use pre-made SketchUp models from the 3D warehouse to augment Google Earth. I’ve mentioned this idea before. The rationale is to get students thinking more creatively in decision making exercises, environmental impact assessments etc. by incorporating Google Earth imagery and other data into the learning.

An imaginary quarry redevelopment on the Isle of Portland

The activity allows some interesting “what if”? hypothesising. The Burj Dubai in Wellington, Somerset for example…

The point to be made is that it’s not necessary to have much more than a basic grasp of SketchUp, though I’ve found that some students will not be able to resist improving their skills in 3D design once they have been introduced to the software.

Scribd has done it’s usual hatchet job on the notes, but they also be downloaded here.

Creating Virtual landscapes in Google Earth and SketchUp.doc

Some ideas for using SketchUp in the geography classroom

 Google Earth, ICT, Teaching resources  Comments Off on Some ideas for using SketchUp in the geography classroom
Jun 292012

As I mentioned in the previous post, I played a little with SketchUp when it first appeared. Having learned how efficient the process of simple geo-modelling is, with the help of  Beryl Reid and Allyson McDuffie, I thought about how I might use the application with students, possibly in conjunction with Design Technology or ICT colleagues.

The first step would be to teach the basics of Sketch Up with a view to getting students to create a 3D model of the school. Maybe getting them to model their own house is a good place to start. It worked for me!

Rewarding though this activity may be for some students, I’d want to be sure that geographical thinking remains integral to the learning. With that in mind I came up with a couple of ideas:

Environmental improvements: 

Using Sketch Up components students could populate an existing 3D model of the school with ideas for environmental improvements, for example, new trees, litter bins and furniture. This would be a great introduction activity. (Actually the 3D model is not a pre-requisite now that the UK is entirely covered in high resolution imagery.)

Plotting spatial data as polygons / SketchUp components:

Once a 3D model has been created, there are opportunities for studying spatial phenomena like micro-climates, weathering processes, ecology etc. These results can be displayed directly in Google Earth using proportional polygons to represent data, or by plotting data inside place marks using Rich Chart Live or GE Graph (Windows only) I believe that Tom Biebrach of Pencoed School was first to exploit this idea. Of course, it would be possible to use SketchUp components to generate complex pictograms drawn precisely to scale.

Building redesign:
Students could redesign existing buildings, maybe to visualise the impact of solar panels, alternative lighting or different exterior renderings on buildings.
Here’s our Sports Hall with added renewable energy features…

The impact of a new building on the surroundings can also be evaluated using the shadow tools.

I’ve mentioned before that my Visualizing A Safer City lesson using Google Earth as a GIS to identify the site for a new hospital could be extended by modelling the proposed building in SketchUp. This activity would lend itself to an homework extension activity for 3D enthusiasts.

Finally, it would be great to make a 3D model of the school that can be shared on the public website. Extra information could be added to the building place markers, and linked to department web sites, video clips etc.

An excellent series of video tutorials for geo-modelling in SketchUp can be found at this Google site.

Google Teachers Institute

 Google Earth, INSET  Comments Off on Google Teachers Institute
Jun 232012

I was lucky enough to be invited to the Google Teachers Institute held in London over 20/21 June at Google’s new London office. Unfortunately I could only attend on the second day which was broadly devoted to SketchUp. I really wanted to learn more about this application having briefly dabbled a few years ago.

My own presentation (no PPT) focussed on the value of Google Earth as a decision making tool, and as a great vehicle for student created content, such as this example from a current project where the student has created proportional bars to represent the depth of sand on each side of groynes at Dawlish Warren.

The files I used are here.

Highlights of the day…
There were super presentations from the enthusiastic Google Outreach team as well as other teachers. One outcome of the day is that I’m now confident at geo-modelling in SketchUp. Here’s my classroom block at school:

Beryl Reid who took us through the techniques for geo-modelling also mentioned AR-media. I was familiar with this augmented reality application, but hadn’t realised that there was a dedicated iPad app which makes downloading and displaying AR models a cinch…

Le Mont-Saint-Michel augments my desktop…

It was great to hear Richard Allaway talking about some of his Google Earth work. I was very much taken with the elegant simplicity of his Imperial Airways to Cape Town activity, which I’d like to use myself.

Julie Brown from the National Geographic Education Program took us on a spirited trot through the latest educational materials on the National Geographic website and highlighted some wonderful resources that I’m looking forward to exploring further.

Many thanks to the Google Outreach team for organizing the event. Come back soon!


Oct 272011

I can’t remember the original source of the Earth Art idea, and I suspect several people would claim the honour (though NASA is in pole position) but Searthing offers some pretty spectacular examples and the chance to contribute to the site.

A few years ago I was enthusiastic about getting learners to find interesting angles in Google Earth, adding a suitable caption using Big Huge Labs’ Motivator tool. Who can forget the classic “Cabbage of Jub”?

Oct 152011

This is a presentation I gave at the Somerset Geographers conference. I’m exploring how to incorporate social networking into my GCSE teaching, while encouraging the learners to make the best use of online resources.

Accompanying this presentation was a video by Oasis:

and a Google Earth file incorporating Gavin’s unofficial OS maps overlay (not to be used in Google Earth!)

Thanks to the students whose work is featured in this presentation.