How it all began

I started teaching in 1997 and learned from my mentor Joe Guarino on how to gain the attention of students and make history fun. Over the years I grew tired of the traditional educational structure and sought out new ways to get students involved in their own education. With the help and ideas of Woody Rothe I started a digital history class. That course has further evolved and the history has mostly removed, but student innovation is thriving.

Here is the tale of how our 3D History class began using SketchUp to create 3D models with historical write-ups for Google Earth.

The beginning of an idea…

As a history teacher I have always been fascinated with the connections between real artifacts and the people behind them. It often felt hard for me to instill the same passion in my students. When a veteran teacher came to me in December 2008 with an idea to use new software to create three-dimensional buildings, record the history of the buildings and link them to Google Earth, I was intrigued.

The idea begins to take shape…

Shortly after this idea came up, I found myself signing up for a summer internship and spent two weeks at Tele Atlas under the tutelage of Don Cooke who is in the GIS (Geographic Information System) Hall of Fame. During those two weeks, I learned a lot about the possibilities of Google Earth, and through trial and error, I created my first 3D building. I wanted to model for the students what I wanted them to do, so I went to the building I wanted to create in 3D, took pictures, interviewed the owner, created a photorealistic model and submitted to Google 3D warehouse. From there, this building was reviewed and deemed worthy of going into the 3D layer within Google Earth. When I opened Google Earth, zoomed into White River Junction, and saw the law office I had created, I was hooked. This building would become the first to go live on Google Earth in the town of White River Junction, Vermont, and I definitely wanted to get the rest of them on Google Earth as well. I not only wanted to create more buildings, but I wanted to teach this to my students. I wanted them to interview the people who know about these historic buildings and create a digital database in an easy-to-access form.

Creating a History of Hartford…

My students were initially reluctant to get out into the community to conduct interviews, but when I started teaching them how to use SketchUp in the spring of 2009, they instantly fell in love with the software. I found that the more time they spent on perfecting the buildings in SketchUp, the more connected they felt toward the building and their town. Once they found out that there were people who knew why the building was built, they wanted to seek them out and find out more. We quickly found out that each building had a unique story and that story was just a small part of our town. These stories were turned into the Creating a History of Hartford, VT website where their stories could be preserved, a website in which the students were the reporters, editors, designers and advisors.

Although Google Earth no longer accepts entries from the private sector, my students added 200 buildings to the 3D warehouse, and over 175 are still live on Google Earth. We conducted over 150 interviews of local historians who were generous enough to share their knowledge of the buildings. This allowed us to capture a unique piece of history within our town and digitize it for the world to see.

My view on teaching history changed dramatically during this project. After 16 years as a teacher, I had viewed my teaching as how much information I could give my students and how much they could retain. Now I was looking for my students to create the history by creating 3D buildings in SketchUp and conduct interviews with local historians, and my students were all over the state of Vermont. SketchUp made learning fun for my students and helped lead to them wanting to learn more about the historical buildings in their home towns. When students are interested in what they are doing they become better learners. It is very easy to get students interested in the technology of creating 3D buildings, and I used that as the hook to get them interested in the history that is tied to the buildings.

This experience also provided me with the opportunity to work with people in the field of Geo Education and Technology. I collaborated with Trimble’s (SketchUp parent company) Allyson McDuffie to see how we could spread this idea to more teachers and students throughout the country. I attended the 2011 Geo Teachers Institute in September in Lewiston, Maine, where I shared this 3D project with more educators and helped Allyson teach the educators how to use SketchUp and how this could create an exciting opportunity in their classrooms. All these opportunities helped me realize I really want Vermont to stand out in terms of delivering local history to the world. Through this experience I began to realize that I have the ability to get this idea out to more students and schools.