The way most students learn the concept of buoyancy involves dropping a chunk of clay into water and watching it sink. The next step is to retrieve the clay, mold it into a boat shape, and watch it float. But that’s not how Brian Donnelly’s eighth-grade class does it. His students design a boat digitally; then they use a 3-D printer to make a model of it. That’s what they put in the water to float.
Sounds like a project only the most well-funded schools could support, but as a teacher in the Unified School District of Davis, Donnelly is participating in the educational initiative Design the Future, offered by the software company Autodesk, which grants all secondary schools in California free access to some of the world’s leading 3-D design software for entertainment, manufacturing, engineering, construction, and civil infrastructure.
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The free software helps students learn modeling for products and cities, artistic digital sculpting, visualization—which makes digital designs appear more realistic—and simulation. The company also offers curricula, online training, and certification to enable teachers and students to use the software.