BlockCAD: Modelling Onscreen with "Lego" Style Blocks

I have had lots of fun playing with BlockCAD in between my other dabblings this week. This freeware tool has been pointed to for a while now by colleagues, with referals through feeds from and my colleagues on Twitter. Having seen it used in school on a Teachers TV programme this week I thought it was time to have a play for myself.

BlockCAD, is a computer aided design (CAD) environment allowing its user to build onscreen, 3d models using LEGO type bricks.

Screenshot From Anders' Corner of the Web home of BlockCAD

On opening BlockCAD the user is presented with an empty base board in the main design window onto which bricks can be laid. The dimensions of this board are not fixed and can be changed by typing the desired dimensions into text boxes to the bottom right of the window labelled base. To the right of the design window is a component gallery. To begin your creation, select your block clicking and dragging it to the baseboard. Clicking the left mouse button locks it in place. Rotating a block is achieved by right clicking the mouse before placing it. Within the gallery are a wide selection of blocks, that include many familiar components including wheels, windows, doors and so on. The colours of these components can also be changed by clicking the colour pallete above the component window.

I found that it was easiest to place bricks accurately if the baseboard was rotated to a plan view. Rotation tools on the tool bar allow the models you build to be turned through 360 degrees in both vertical and horizontal planes at any time during the construction process. There is no undo button. Deleting a brick requires the use of a mouse and del key combination. Pressing the del key before clicking on the brick in question, highlights the brick with a frame and hitting the del key again removes the brick from the model.

Throughout the making process the 3d model as a whole structure can be viewed from diffferent perspectives using the rotation tools. Using the capture tool, images of these various perspectives can also be captured and saved. Clicking the capture tool opens a dragable window that can be dragged around like a camera viewfinder to frame the image and view of the structure you want. These in turn can can be saved in a number of different image formats for use in other software environments.

I really like this tool, and as freeware students can access it and download it away from school too, opening opportunities for them to extend their creative uses and learning away from school. It uses as a model a construction kit type that we have readily available for students to use in school, and that they themselves may have at home.

The tool has obvious cross curricular applications within DT, where it could be used in the IDEAS and FPT phases to model outcomes and facilitate evaluation onscreen before students begin construction. If included as part of an onging design and make process by groups of students it could also be used through a cascade save process to track, monitor and present changes they make as a result of difficulties or considerations within their making processes. The images could be used in DTP outcomes for display or included alongside photographs in learning stories presented in Powerpoint or even photostory.

I also like the idea of the environment being used as a scaffold for onscreen instructional writing, mediated by talk. Images exported from the environment could be used to help students create and design new models, and frame instruction leaflets for others to use as reading tasks. Context, purpose and audience for their work. I'd like to add this to our modeling and simulation tool box and see what the crew make of it.


The Bowhill Blogger said...

Fantastic to have found a BlockCAD blog. I have used the application with Year 5 students as a part of their PPA time and it proved to be an unqualified success.

Initially we just tried building a house to get the students used to the program, but went on to design vehicles to get them to be a bit more creative.

Having been to the SWGFL ICT conference a couple of weeks ago and listened to Joy Simpson's workshop on blogging with children, I think this may well be a good place to start. Maybe getting them to share screen shots of their finished work and then comment critically on each others finished products.

Anonymous said...

I just found the program and already my Yr 5 and 6 students are loving it... they have picked it up so easily, and their designs are wonderful

Two Whizzy said...

Thanks for your comments, great to hear that you and your students are enjoying the tools so much. Have you also tried Lego Digital Designer. Would love to see some of the work that your students have produced.