3D Design and VR – Integration into Social Studies

I am always eager to discover ways to integrate what we do in the Design+Code+Make classes into other curricular areas. It is an opportunity to collaborate with a colleague on a fun, engaging unit of study, and makes the work that students do more meaningful.

Over the past couple of years, the 6th graders learned 3D design and printing through a unit I called the Autonomous Vehicle Design project. The students and I enjoyed this project, but it was an isolated event, having little or no relevance to what they were learning in other classes. And while I believe there is potential for integration in the future, when I was approached by our social studies teacher to do something different, I jumped on it.

In sixth grade social studies, students learn about the ancient wonders of the world as part of what is called the Silk Road project. In previous years, students would each select one ancient wonder that they would research and ultimately build a presentation around. Students also worked in small groups to design and build a board game representing elements of what they have studied and expressed their learning through the game.

The selection and research of one ancient wonder per student seemed an ideal fit for 3D design and printing to complement. Students could use Tinkercad for their ancient wonder designs. Using photo references and any specific research into the architectural design, students embarked on their creations. Here is a sampling below: 

With models created, students could then print these out for inclusion into the end of project board game. I should point out that the printing process is the most time consuming aspect of this entire project. With 54 models to print, at around 2 hours each, it took a few weeks. When all was said and done, however, the time was worth it. Here are some of those models printed out.

These models will ultimately play a role in the board games students design. However, before we reach that point, I wanted to develop a way for students to view each others work, and to view their own work, in an easy and fun manner.

CoSpaces.io is a multi-platform tool for creating virtual worlds, including the ability to import models designed elsewhere, like Tinkercad. CoSpaces.io is many things, and if you haven’t seen it before, here is a great place to start learning about it.

With CoSpaces.io, you can build worlds and then explore those worlds through the web, through VR glasses, and through AR using a tablet or Merge Cube. You can design virtual museums, create interactive games, and build guided walk-through tours with cameras you control. You can use code blocks, similar to Scratch, to make characters animate and interact in the virtual world.

For a Silk Road add-on, we built three virtual tours, one for each 6th grade section. You can move through these worlds using the WASD or arrow keys, and use the mouse/trackpad to rotate left and right. Take a tour of our project here. (If you are on a mobile device, you may need to download the app. If you are on a computer, you visit the site directly via the web.)


We aren’t finished with the Silk Road project yet. I am now taking students through 2D design and we are laser cutting additional game elements such as coins, scrolls, cards, and characters. I look forward to their completed project in the Spring.

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