I spent some time this morning playing with Google SketchUp, Google's 3D drawing program that integrates with Google Earth. I had played a bit with the program a few months ago, but this time I went through the 3 online tutorials that are available under the help menu. They offer step by step instructions that have you creating structures in no time. In just a few minutes I had a good understanding of the tools and how to manipulate them to create a drawing.
The image to the left is a rendering of the outdoor classroom that we are currently building at Lewis Elementary in our Outdoor Center. I created the pilars and footings, but what I found really cool was that I was able to search the SketchUp 3D Warehouse for the vegitation and the for the trusses. I didn't exactly replicate the real structure (note the trusses on the real structure extend over the beams), but then again it only took about an hour of playing around to get this far. I still have to roof the other side of the building... :-)
Sketchup offers all kinds of tools for manipulating and visualizing your structure. The shadow tool is really pretty slick. You can interactively adjust the shadow cast for date and time. Want to see what kind of shadow your structure will cast on the shortest day of the year, just adjust the date and SketchUp casts the shadow in real time.
SketchUp also integrates with Google Earth. You can navigate to a place on the globe in Google Earth and then back in SketchUp, under the Google menu, you can inport the image as a template. From the template you can draw your structure exactly in the spot where you want it and then when finished export it back as a placemark in Google Earth. The example below is a quick and dirty rendering of my school along with our new outdoor classroom space.
SketchUp is an amazing free tool that I believe will have students and teachers doing many amazing things. Imagine students visioning the rebuilding of their neighborhoods, taking vacant and abandoned lots and creating structures that provide a vision of what their neighborhoods could become. Thanks Google!