MET:SketchUp 3D Modeling for Education

From UBC Wiki

This page originally authored by Keith Greenhalf (2013). This page has been revised by Brian Hotovy (2014) and Bobbi Kyle (2014).

SketchUp is a computer aided design (CAD) modelling software used for a broad range of applications including: architecture, construction, engineering, urban planning, interior design, game design, woodworking, 3D printing, and education.[1] The program has been increasingly adopted in a variety of educational settings and subject areas to enhance curriculum. The program highlights ease of use and provides: drawing layout functionality; surface rendering in variable styles; accommodation of third-party plugins; and, it enables placement of SketchUp models within Google Earth.[1] The program is available for download and installation on computers running either Mac or Windows operating systems.


SketchUp was originally developed in 2000 by the software firm @Last Software, whose declared goal was to provide access to "3D for everyone" [2] by providing SketchUp at reduced CAD software licensing fees. SketchUp was purchased by Google in 2006, who then released both a free and pro version of the software which was widely adopted.[3] In 2012 the SketchUp was sold to a company called Trimble (the current owner and developer) who continues to offer a free version and has maintained a partnership with Google to develop an online collaborative repository of 3D models for SketchUp called the "3D Warehouse." [3]

Software Editions & Licensing

Software downloads and licensing has changed slightly since the recent sale of SketchUp. Trimble currently offers two editions available for purchase or download from their website:

  1. SketchUp Make – A basic edition licensed free for home/hobby and personal use. It is important to note that this new free edition of SketchUp is not applicable for commercial use. A license must be purchased for any use beyond this including educational use.[1]
  2. SketchUp Pro 2013 – A fully featured edition licensed for professional and commercial use. This edition is $495 (USD) for a single license with additional fees for multiple or bulk licensing.[1]

Educational Licenses

  1. Student License – Provides one year of access to the pro version of SketchUp at the cost of $49 per student.
  2. Educator License – Provides one year of access to the pro version for free upon receipt of application for an educators license and the submission of a faculty ID, syllabus, or similar document.[1]
  3. Networked Education Lab Licenses – Provides per-seat yearly pricing for networked computer labs in educational institutions.[1]
  4. Laptop Program Licenses – Provides a per-seat price for installation on an institutions laptop program hardware.

SketchUp and Education

In today’s growing technological world almost every aspect of the global economy uses computers and technology for the design and delivery of products and/or services. However, the world of education has lagged behind greatly in classroom use and integration of these technologies particularly in the area of drawing and design. Most K-12 math and art classes are designed to teach drawing by hand or reading graphs and scale diagrams from paper or text books. In today’s employment world the use of CAD software is now the industry standard and CAD skills are preferred over hand drawn designs and illustrations. Some professionals feel that the main impediment to maximizing the benefits of CAD systems in architectural education is not only the inappropriate definition of the objectives for the implementation of CAD education but also that the control subsystems are usually ill-structured and relatively poorly defined. Schools should therefore define a coherent and consistent policy on the use of CAD systems as an integral part of studio design and evolve an in-house strategic and operational control that enable this set objectives to be met. [4] With the proper instruction the use of CAD software like SketchUp, can not only engage and enable students to create meaningful projects and designs, but also provide them with relevant 21st Century Learning Skills that current and future employers will look for.

Role of SketchUp 3D Modeling in Education

SketchUp provides a virtual environment or a type of microworld in which students can learn new skills. An environment such as this provides a virtual ‘problem manipulation space’ in which knowledge construction can be facilitated.[5] The program tools and objects created therein can be used as virtual manipulatives,[6] to support students understanding of 2D and 3D concepts through visualization and movement.[7] This can provide active engagement in practice fields[8] or more specifically domain-specific learning opportunities for mathematics,[9] humanities, and the arts including applied fields like architecture, design, mechanics and construction.[10] With these applications on mind, SketchUp can be implemented in the classroom to help create and support a technology enhanced learning environment. The addition of the 3D Warehouse to SketchUp further integrates Web 2.0 tools that facilitate aspects of community and exchange through the ability to upload and share models.

Skills & Benefits

Many students feel they have little or no talent for drawing or designing by hand which can lead to a negative self-image. This perception may inhibit future creativity in fields that involve illustration and design. With the use of software such as SketchUp, students with poor drawing skill but keen math skills may find a new strength in their ability to create. Likewise a student with drawing skills who struggles in math could find a better understanding of geometry or Cartesian mathematics by interacting with the software. Working in virtual environments such as SketchUp allows students to “focus on modes of representation much broader than language alone” developing multiliteracies in the process.[11] Most importantly it provides students with opportunities to develop spatial skills and abilities. While some students may demonstrate an aptitude for spatial tasks, application of these skills must be developed through learning and training of spatial skills and relations. [12]

Spatial skill are essential to functional life as they affect the ability to solve various issues and perform a wide variety of tasks such as driving, gardening, positioning objects/furniture etc.,[13] therefore the continual development of these skills supports lifelong learning needs. Furthermore, the the integration of 3D multi-media materials and environments supports media literacy, and can greatly accelerate the development of spatial perception as well as to facilitate the learning of systems of representation.[12] These skills can be helpful in areas such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), descriptive geometry,[12] astronomy[13] and several other areas benefiting students in K-12 and higher education.

Relevance to Educational Theory

SketchUp is a professionally used application. For this reason students enter the world of practitioners in many fields. When students take on one of these roles they enter into the cultural context of that environment. Constructivist thinkers like Vygotsky place great importance on social influences of cognitive development. Projects such as creating an invention for Science or re-creating a city state in Social Studies puts students into a specific cultural environment. The affordance of SketchUp’s drawing tools allows even beginner learners to create professional grade models. When students create authentic projects that model the real world applications they are more likely to be motivated to learn.[14] SketchUp allows users to generate/share models in its 3D Warehouse and classes can merge objects to create collaborative learning projects. The practice of using an authentic audience and giving students voice and choice are key elements to project/problem based learning.[15]

Educational Applications and Examples

SketchUp has a wide variety of educational and commercial applications. In education is used to create models for specific subject areas[10] and multidisciplinary project based learning. SketchUp allows for rapid prototyping and the ability to create a model of virtually any object.

Institution Applications and Examples See:
K-12 Grades 1 -12 Math, Science, Social Studies, Design, Art
K-12 Year 6 Unit Plan (UK)
K-12 Project Based Learning Student Interviews Middle School
K-12 Reproducing Existing Structures(High School)
K-12 Lessons Plans
K-12 High School “Creating Hartford” Project Assisting Primary School Children to Progress through Their van Hiele’s Levels of Geometry Thinking Using Google SketchUp
K-12 History
K-12 Geometry
K-12 Mathematics
Technical Training Printing Sketchup Models
Technical Training California Technical Education Unit Plan & Beginner Self Study Plan;jsessionid=9YyNE7yNBdo7cpRC0J0GrQ**.s2?
Post Secondary Applications
Post Secondary Applications

Using the software

Choosing a template

Choose Template startup screen

By default when SketchUp starts users are asked to choose a template. A template should be selected that best fits the design project goals. For example, a user might choose the 'Product Design and Woodworking - Inches' template if he or she is woodworker who works in inches. The template name will then appear in the 'Default Template' field.

There are different types of templates used for different types of designs depending on the type of drawing desired. Each has an imperial and a metric counterpart to aid in the decision of using inches or centimeters.

  • The Simple Template is a general-use modeling template with basic styling and simple colors.
  • The Architectural Design is a template designed to be used with designing architecture or interior designing.
  • Google Earth Modeling is used as a template for creating a model for use in Google Earth.
  • Engineering is a template that is useful for engineer plans and designs.
  • Product Design and Woodworking is a template tailored for smaller scale projects such as furniture or cabinet designs.

Drawing tools

Drawing tools are the tools used to create new shapes and objects within SketchUp.

Picture of the SketchUp tool bar with tool labels
  1. Line Tool - The line tool is used to draw straight lines or line shapes. It works by selecting and connecting 2 points. Line shapes can be joined to form a face. The Line tool can also be used to divide or split faces. The Line tool can be selected from the Toolbar or from the Draw menu. (Keyboard Shortcut: L)
  2. Arc Tool - The arch tool is used to draw curved lines or arcs. It works by selecting two points and then dragging to the appropriate bulge. It can automatically draw half circles if desired. The Arc tool can be selected from the Toolbar or from the Draw menu. (Keyboard Shortcut: A)
  3. Freehand Tool - The Freehand tool is used to draw irregular hand-drawn lines in the form of irregular lines or shapes. Irregular shapes are made of several line segments that are connected together. The segments act as a single line in that they can define and divide faces. They are also connected such that selecting one segment selects the entire entity. The Freehand tool is not default on the Toolbar It must be selected from the Draw menu. (Does not have a keyboard shortcut)
  4. Rectangle Tool - The Rectangle tool is used to draw rectangular shapes. Rectangles can be drawn easily by clicking at two opposite corners of the desired shape. They can also be drawn by selecting a starting corner and then entering the desired width and height of the rectangle. The Rectangle tool can be selected from the Toolbar or from the Draw menu. (Keyboard Shortcut: R)
  5. Circle Tool - The Circle tool is used to draw circular shapes. Circles are drawn by selecting a centre point and dragging the mouse to the desired radius length. It is also possible to draw a circle by clicking the center point and typing the length of the desired radius with the keyboard. The Circle tool can be found using the Toolbar or selected from the Draw menu. (Keyboard Shortcut: C)
  6. Polygon Tool - The Polygon tool is used to draw Polygon shapes and its default shape is a regular hexagon. The Polygon tool can be selected from the Draw menu.
To draw a Drawing a polygon:
  • Select the Polygon tool
  • Click to place the center point of the polygon.
  • Move the cursor out from the center point to define the radius of the polygon. As the cursor is moved, the radius value is displayed in the Measurements Toolbar and can be specified by typing in a length value and hitting enter.
The number of sides can also be increased or decrease if desired. To change the number of sides a user must first select a center point, then type the number of sides followed by an "s." If a pentagon was the desired shape for example, a user would click on a center point then type "5s" and press Enter.

Different views

Using SketchUp, it is easy to demonstrate what is meant by coplanar or non-coplanar. This could also be done without software by simply using a flat surface, like a table or a chalkboard. SketchUp is good for reinforcement since it can be manipulated to view surfaces and solids from any direction. This capability enables the user to view the front, back, top, bottom, and side (left or right) of a solid. A student can also interact with the software quite easily by using the orbit tool. The orbit tool allows the user to rotate and change views of a solid dynamically.

Browsing through SketchUp 3D Warehouse

Utilizing 3D Warehouse

The SketchUp 3D Warehouse is a collection of 3D models in many different categories such as buildings, vehicles, furniture, toys, and many other objects. The collection is completely free for public use and is continually expanding. The database has models contributed by 3D enthusiasts and product manufacturers from all over the world. [16] It is possible to find in the collection famous landmarks, familiar objects, as well as imaginary creations and creative creations. Any person may contribute a models to the 3D Warehouse or create a portfolio of 3D modeling projects by posting examples of work made in SketchUp. The 3D Warehouse links to and works with an existing Google account and users may simply log in to create a space to share 3D models publicly.

Importing and Exporting

2 Dimensional - It is possible to import and export two-dimensional (2D) images using SketchUp. Exporting can be helpful for using images of an object to print out or use in a document or presentation. The import function can allow a real life picture or texture be applied to a virtual creation. This can be fun for students when making familiar objects or places.

3 Dimensional - 3D models can also be imported or exported. This feature is helpful for collaborating with different students, for example each student could design an object to be inserted into a room and they could all be imported to create one design in the end. There are also ways of importing and exporting 3d models to and from different design applications. These features are only available in the pro version.[17]

Sketchup Lesson Examples by Keith Greenhalf

Sample Lessons

The sample lessons below were created by Keith Greenhalf. They are designed as web based tutorials for introducing SketchUp to students.

  1. Drawing lines and shapes to scale A lesson using the different tools to draw shapes to scale
  2. Designing an everyday object A sample web-tutorial style lesson created to teach students how to draw a dresser.
  3. Designing a room A web-tutorial style lesson on creating a basic 3D room.

Stop Motion Animation

"SketchUp Stop Motion" by Paul Parungao

See Also

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Trimble Navigation Limited. (2013). Retrieved from Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "trimble" defined multiple times with different content
  2. Gonsalves, A. (2006). Google Buys Maker of 3D Modeling Software. Information Week. Retrieved from
  3. 3.0 3.1 Braga, M. (2012). Heads-up, 3D modelers: Google's SketchUp sold to Trimble. Retrieved from
  4. Yakubu, G.S. "Maximizing the Benefits of CAD Systems in Architectural Education." In The Virtual Studio: Proceedings of the 12th European Conference on Education in Computer Aided Architectural Design, 228. eCAADe. Glasgow, Scotland: University of Strathclyde, 1994.
  5. Jonassen, D. (1999). Designing constructivist learning environments. In C. Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructional design theories and models: Volume II. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  6. Moyer, P. S., Bolyard, J. J., & Spikell, M. A. (2002). What are virtual manipulatives?. Teaching children mathematics, 8(6), 372-377. Retrieved from
  7. Isik-Ercan, Z., Kim, B., & Nowak, J. (2010). 3D Visualization in Elementary Education Astronomy: Teaching Urban Second Graders about the Sun, Earth, and Moon. In Knowledge Management, Information Systems, E-Learning, and Sustainability Research (pp. 500-505). Springer Berlin Heidelberg. Retrieved from
  8. Barab, S., & Duffy, T. (2000). From practice fields to communities of practice. In D. Jonassen and S. Land (Eds.), Theoretical foundations of learning environments. Mahweh, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  9. Durmuş, S., & Karakirik, E. (2006). Virtual Manipulatives in Mathematics Education: A Theoretical Framework. Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology, 5(1). Retrieved from:
  10. 10.0 10.1 Mouza, C., & Lavigne, N. (2012). Emerging Technologies for the Classroom: A Learning Sciences Perspective. Springer. Retrieved from
  11. New London Group. (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review. 66 (1), 60-92.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Martín‐Gutiérrez, J., Gil, F. A., Contero, M., & Saorín, J. L. (2013). Dynamic three‐dimensional illustrator for teaching descriptive geometry and training visualisation skills. Computer Applications in Engineering Education, 21(1), 8-25.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Erkoc, M. F., GECÜ, Z., & ERKOÇ, Ç. (2013). The Effects of Using Google SketchUp on the Mental Rotation Skills of Eighth Grade Students. Educational Sciences: Theory & Practice, 13(2). Retrieved from Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "erok" defined multiple times with different content
  14. Carnegie Mellon. (n.d.). Solve a Teaching Problem. Retrieved from
  15. Larmer, J., & Mergendoller, J. R. (2010). Seven essentials for project-based learning. Educational leadership, 68(1), 34-37.
  16. 3D Warehouse.(n.d.). Retrieved February 28, 2013, from
  17. What kinds of files can I import into SketchUp? - SketchUp Help. (n.d.). Google Help. Retrieved February 28, 2013, from