Merging Art with Technology through CAD

By: Martha Glenn

As educators we are constantly looking for ways to inspire our students to create, think outside of the box, and aspire to be someone or something they never thought possible.  I found this to be especially true during my first few years of teaching.  When I was initially hired at my first school, I was asked to teach my least favorite subject, Geometry.  However, they also asked me to teach an Introduction to Engineering Design class which focused primarily on creating and cultivating ideas through drawings and computer aided drafting (CAD) through the Project Lead The Way (PLTW) program.

For those who may not be familiar with CAD, it is a program that allows you to construct any object you can imagine on the computer.  For instance, if you want to create an iPhone holder for your side table, you can.  You create 2D images that can be extruded and crafted into 3D images. You can even make multiple parts and compile them into one final project.  The best part is that you can then send these files to a 3D printer and watch your idea become a reality!

As you can imagine, I was incredibly scared to take on a class I had no formal training in.  Luckily, my district received a grant that allowed me to attend a two-week training at a local college.  Along with a fellow teacher, we set out for this new adventure.  I must brag that both of us are females – not your typical norm when you think of engineering teachers.

The program we attended was tough.  It required a lot of time and had a huge learning curve.  I admit, I initially struggled with the CAD component of the course.  But my instructors were incredibly patient and encouraging.  In fact, they even sacrificed their lunches to stay and help those of us who wanted the additional support.  (I later learned that this is common practice for a lot of teachers.)

At the end of the two weeks, I was able to draw an idea on paper, accept constructive criticism from my peers, create a 3D representation of my idea on a computer, and generate a report showing all its components and measurements.  I was amazed that something I imagined was capable of being produced.  Best of all, it merged my two favorite hobbies – art and technology.

The PLTW engineering program at my school was a hit.  We started out with a modest enrollment but when the other students saw all the cool projects and events we attended, they naturally wanted to join.  My students loved being creative.  The coolest part – most of my students had no artistic background or experience with technology.  It was amazing!  I eventually started holding open lab hours on Saturdays for my students to come in and finish their projects.  This quickly turned into a playground of creativity where students were bringing their friends and teaching them how to use the software.

Saturday Open Labs lead to class CAD competitions.  Students would create/design a product on paper, create it on the computer and then the school would vote on the which product they liked the most.  The winner got their product printed on our small 3D printer.  I would print one for the student and one for our ‘trophy’ wall.  It instantly became a wall of accomplishment and pride.

Now, I am not ignorant and am fully aware that not every school can afford these types of programs.  I later taught a school that would not even entertain the idea of a drafting club, let alone a drafting class.  This is when I remembered that AutoDesk, a CAD platform, offers FREE CAD software to download for anyone (teachers and students) with an educational email.

I started introducing this idea to students when we would discuss post-high school options.  Places like ITT Tech and other Tech/Vocational schools offer degrees in this field.  For many students who cannot afford a four-year traditional university, this is a great option.  Not to mention, a job in drafting can lead to many exciting careers – animation, automobile design, architecture, engineering, interior design, and the list goes on.

My students were slow to pick-up on how amazing this field is.  However, once one student started talking about it, everyone seemed to start gaining interest.  Needless to say, my students were hooked.  I knew it was infectious when a parent emailed me over the weekend thanking me for introducing this to his daughter.  She was exceptionally quiet and withdrawn but found CAD incredibly exciting.  She would come in with files on a flash drive for me to inspect.  Mind you, this young girl could barely look teachers in the eye but was now excited to get feedback.  I couldn’t believe the impact this outlet could have on someone so young.  It warmed my heart.

I could go on and on about how many students and even parents thanked me for introducing CAD into their lives.  But this blog post is not to brag about my success with the program; it is to inspire you to consider sharing it with your students.  Make a bulletin board about it.  Talk with your CTAE or technology teachers about how to introduce it in your classroom.  More often than not, students are not fully aware of all the potential careers and hobbies that are open to them.

I’ve included some links and resources below to help you in doing so.

Autodesk is a community of awesomeness!  You and your students can get access to various free software downloads, along with free tutorials.  A wonderful place to begin.

Project Lead The Way (PLTW) is an amazing program for schools and communities to implement for students of ALL AGES!  Various programs and grants are available.

A great article on careers with a CAD degree.

YouTube channel with free tutorials in CAD.

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