Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 129 / MAY 1991 / PAGE 98

Rad CAD: CAD has helped build our bridges and fly us to the moon. (computer-aided design)
by Michael C. Perkins, Kelly Rivers

CAD? In the schools? Educators who have enjoyed success with innovative computer simulations like VOYage of Mimi, Balance of Power, or The Oregon Trail shouldn't be surprised to hear that computer-aided design (CAD) is moving into the schools, starting in kindergarten.

CAD was once the exclusive province of engineers and architects. But the aerospace, machining, and electronics industries now share this versatile technology with such diverse fields as clothing and interior design. Even archaeologists have found a use for this tool in the reconstruction of ancient ruins.

Since CAD use is so widespread in the working world, its use is coming to be seen as a basic skill, as important to conceptualizing as English is to communicating.

Kids are discovering that design work can be as competitive and fun as videogames. Teachers are finding all kinds of new ways to put CAD to work in helping students conceptualize, organize, manipulate, and learn. Canned CAD What kind of CAD program is right for young people? Since the introduction of the CAD concept begins early, a canned" CAD program such as Stickybear Townbuilder (Optimum Resources) is used. This program lets a child as young as five construct his or her own town. When the town is completed, the student can drive around in a simulated car to get the feel of the layout.

Slightly older children get into design with Car Builder (Optimum Resources). It's organized similarly to Stickybear Townbuilder. Car Builder challenges students to select components from a database until they have assembled a simulated car. Then the car can be modified and tested for wind drag and overall performance.

Junior high and high schoolers are crazy about SimCity (Maxis Software). Just about everybody seems to like it. This award-winning software has been a bestseller for months. Based on the American Urban Architecture model, SimCity allows students to construct a city in an area ten miles on a side. In their simulated cities, students can bulldoze land and place roads, parks, airports, police and fire stations, stadiums, factories, and residential areas.

Once the city has been constructed, the user must act as mayor and deal with afl the classic problems of a growing city, including not only predictable urban headaches such as tax flight and pollution, but also disasters like earthquakes and fires and even a marauding sea monster. Learning to Love Design But how do the kids react to these simulations? Do they approach the software as something challenging and fun, or as just one more boring school activity?

The best person to ask is a teacher. David Ellison is a long-time user of introductory CAD programs as a computer coordinator and classroom teacher at BarnardWhite Middle School in Union City, California.

"Initially, many of the students balk at the CAD programs when they discover that more thought is required than is needed with most videogames," he comments. "Once they get into it, however, they start to appreciate the value of the computer as a design tool. We even have contests to see what team can design the fastest car or the most efficient city."

Employing a more open-ended format, Lockart Middle School (grades 6-8) in Orlando, Florida, has students use a CAD program called AutoSketch (Autodesk) to design monorail trains and then build physical models based on their CAD designs.

AutoSketch allows them to create perfectly symmetrical drawings that can be moved, stretched, copied, mirrored, scaled, or rotated as needed in a two-dimensional format. Using CAD, the Lockart students' drawings are cleaner and more accurate than hand renderings. As a result, they develop more successful physical prototypes of their trains.

Eighth graders at San Jose Middle School in Novato, California, will be using the same kind of CAD software to learn drafting. The plan, however, is to extend these skills into subjects beyond drafting. Principal Nancy Cooley says, "Our goal for the 1990-1991 school year is to develop a more interdisciplinary approach in which, for example, a social studies class studying ancient civilizations could use CAD software to draft up a working model of a Sumerian city and its various structures."

On a high school level, two schools in Ohio-Perry High School in Massillon and the Libby Skill Center in Toledo-have been using a more complex design program, AutoCAD (Autodesk).

At Perry, students learn the CAD software by copying shop documents; then they practice creating architectural, electrical, and other types of drawings. The second year of CAD involves real-world drafting assignments that include three-dimensional drawings, shading, and isometric views.

At Libby, students work with flow charts and assembly drawings to develop work-cell models for use in industrial automation.

Students at both schools are assisted in getting summer jobs and internships where they can put their CAD skills to use. Synergy Taking a different approach, tenth graders at Sir Francis Drake High School in San Anselmo, California, like their counterparts at San Jose Middle School in Novato, will be exploring the virtues of computer-aided design through an innovative new program. The program, the Marin Education Collaborative (MEC), was organized by Autodesk, whose company headquarters is in Sausalito, California.

Rather than working in a strict engineering and drafting context like the high school students in Ohio, students in the program at Sir Francis Drake work with data from their biology, math, and English studies.

One proposed project involves a study of the evolution of costume design. Students using CAD software would learn how to create costumes in much the same way modern clothing designers use computers to construct and generate garment patterns.

Students then study changes in costume and fashion in various historical periods and cultures in the light of physical environmental factors (for example, colder weather in Northern Europe or desert climates in the Near East). Once the study has been completed, students will draw upon their English skills to write a report on the project and make an oral presentation.

Another proposed project involves a study of water conservation at Sir Francis Drake High School and in the San Anselmo community at large. Students will use CAD software to re-create and study the current layout of water pipes. They'll use animation software to study the flow. The students seek to discover how much water is being used, whether the water is being used in the most economical way, and how the use of water can be improved.

Ron Fortunato will be serving as a consultant to the MEC program. Currently he's a technology consultant with the Glenbrook High School District in Glenview, Illinois. As coordinator of the NORSTAR Student Research Institute in Norfolk, Virginia, he helped develop the first spaceflight program run by high school students.

According to Fortunato, the main goal of the MEC programs is "to create an educational environment in which students are using technology-including CAD-to generate new data that can ultimately be used to solve real-world problems."

Fortunato will also be assisting the MEC programs to develop ties to NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, and the Christa McAuliffe Center at Stanford University.

Barbara Granicher, principal at Sir Francis Drake, characterizes the program's multisubject, interdisciplinary approach as an experiment in thematic problem solving, rather than a strict computer program limited solely to drafting projects. Other CAD-related ideas include projects focused on urban development, transportation, and pollution control.

The project instructors hope to bring in other computer applications such as database, word-processing, and desktop-publishing software in order to store the data generated by the projects, to produce the reports, and to serve as graphic aids in the presentation of the results. In the Material World Ultimately, the use of CAD by kids can achieve a number of practical goals. It helps all students better understand the use of computers in the everyday working world, and it helps them discover aptitudes in their own use of the computer as an instrument of design.

Student designers should learn CAD for the same reasons budding journalists must learn word-processing skills and future financial analysts must learn the power of the spreadsheet. As students decide to become architects, engineers, molecular chemists, city planners, cartographers, and designers of all kinds, they must learn to use the appropriate CAD program.

Though school computing was once looked down upon as the exclusive province of nerds and dweebs, it is now becoming a basic necessity for all students to have computer skills.

Stickybear Townbuilder

and Car Builder

Optimum Resource

Weekly Reader Software

1 0 Station Pl.

Norfolk, CT 06058

(203) 542-5558

$49.95 each


Maxis Software

1042 Country Club Dr., Ste. C

Moraga, CA 94556

(415) 376-"

$49.95 for PC, black-and-whde Macintosh,

and Amiga

$69.95 for color Macintosh

AutoCAD and AutoSketch


2320 Marinship Way

Sausalito, CA 94965

(415) 332-2344

3,000 for AutoCAD

$3,300 for AutoCAD 80386 machines)

$249 for AutoSketch