Why Your Classroom Needs Blender

The room is quiet, students engrossed in work at their computers. Their task: model a turtle in 3D using Blender. 

Today is the third time they have been assigned “The Turtle Project”. The first time was only a few months ago when they started their Advanced Game Design course at West Sound Tech, a dedicated Skills Center serving 9 high schools in Washington. 

Why model a turtle three times? “In the first couple of days of the course, I ask students to create a 3D turtle in Blender just to see what they can do,” explains Tony Sharpe, the course instructor. “Most of the first models are very bad, with some students not creating anything at all. Then, halfway through the term, I give them the same project - and then repeat it one last time at the end. The progress in their work is just amazing and shows the growth students can achieve in 3D with Blender.” 

Turtle Collage 

"The Turtle Project" - a student's progress throughout a Blender course

The Go-To Choice for Instructors

Less than a decade ago, only a few would have predicted that Blender is eventually going to make its way to classrooms as a 3D tool of choice for students. It certainly wasn’t love at first click for Tony; “About 8 years ago when I first looked at Blender, it wasn’t at a stage where I could use it in a class yet; it was simply too confusing and not user-friendly.”  But that was about to change.

“4 years ago, I came across Blender again and saw how far it has evolved," says Tony. "I decided to give it a shot and use it with my students instead of Autodesk software.”  

Tony isn’t alone: more and more teachers from K-12 to university level are introducing Blender to their classrooms. Mark Gilliland, an Information and Communications Technology teacher from California, is one of them: “Blender is now stable and effective and has become a globally accepted standard for 3D art, design and animation. This is cutting-edge technology,” says Mark. 

Blender visualization of a molecule 

Blender Artwork by Mike Pan

100% Free Software for Personal and Professional Use

For teachers like Mark and Tony, using Blender is an opportunity to keep their courses on top of the technology curve without breaking bank:  “To really capture students, instruction nowadays must be innovative, interesting, personally linked and fun. This is a challenge without new and emerging technologies in the classroom,” says Mark, “and with ongoing budget cuts, this used to be difficult to achieve - until Blender showed up.”

For Tony Sharpe, Blender was a true life-saver: “I was about to lose my 3D Modeling and Animation program because of budget cuts and the growing cost of software. Blender was the only option to help me keep my program.” 

Download CG Cookie Blender Curriculum to start using Blender in your classroom.

Blender isn’t just free for educational purposes, either; unlike other software packages, it does not require the purchase of a commercial license, which means that 3D models created in Blender can be used or sold without restriction. As the certified Blender instructor Jonathan Williamson explains, this can make all the difference for fresh graduates: “Students leaving college could easily have $75,000 in debt from tuition fees, so having to purchase a commercial license for 3D software is just another stick under their feet - a stick that does not exist with Blender.” 

Abstract cube experiment render in Blender 

Blender Artwork by Mike Pan

Blender is Lightweight and Easy to Run

Another plus for Blender: it runs even on older computers. “Teachers who turn to Blender are grateful that it doesn’t require expensive hardware,” says Jonathan Williamson. “It's also notoriously easy to install and can be stored on a USB stick, which makes it fantastically transportable. Students can take it home or to their local library and continue learning after school.”

But Blender is much more than just a free and flexible alternative to expensive software packages. As teachers are finding, it’s functionality is proving a perfect fit for a classroom setting.  At Junipero Serra High School in San Diego, Mark Gilliland has learned this first hand: “ It’s a tool which encourages and captures students’ minds. It truly has the ability to draw my students in and to outwardly release their creativity.”  

The Time to Teach 3D is Now

The timing has never been better to learn 3D. As applications of 3D modeling expand from the medical field to the military industry, the job prospects reflect this trend. 

This means that sticking to two dimensions in the classroom might soon begin to fall a bit, well, flat, as Mark knows: “I use Blender to demonstrate a variety of technology concepts such as programming, design, 3D modeling, cartesian math, animation, rendering and graphic art”. 

And there is more, as three-dimensional thinking has proven benefits on overall learning; research suggests that strong spatial thinkers are more likely to excel academically and vocationally. 

How exactly can Blender help students with learning? “For instance, using Blender enables my students to visualize a three-axis Cartesian environment, then plan and translate the precise locations of objects into three numerical values {x,y,z},” explains Mark. “While the intent is somewhat scientific and mathematical, the students learn better because it’s fun. They use a trial-and-error approach and are able to visually see the impact of their mistakes. Through the process, students are not only being creative, they are learning important concepts associated with 3D art and 3D animation. ” 

Render of biology visualization in BioBlender 

Blender Artwork by Mike Pan

How Long Until Students can Model?

Like any software, Blender has an initial learning curve and requires time and practice. However, with commitment and proper guidance, new users can create their first simple 3D model in as little as a few hours. The turtles create by Tony Sharpe's students illustrate this well: "I like the turtle exercise because it clearly shows how quickly my students have progressed," says Tony.

Turtle Collage_2 

"The Turtle Project" - a student's progress throughout a Blender course 

Mark confirms that most students don’t need much encouragement to use Blender: “ Blender has been a huge attraction for students and an escape from traditional learning. It encourages them to get creative” explains Mark.

Where to Begin with Blender

Jonathan Williamson sums up the preferred approach for first-time users: “Download the software, familiarize yourself with it and start getting your hands dirty. Online tutorials are a great help and work really well for teachers using the blended classroom model. The basics of Blender can be learned in a few hours and after that, only your motivation, time and creativity are the limit.” As Tony Sharpe’s turtles clearly show, the progress students can make within one semester is dramatic.

The Future is Three Dimensional

In a world defined by technology, 3D modeling and design is here to stay. No longer a skill reserved for a small group of IT geeks, the ability to think and create in three dimensions can only be expected to become increasingly relevant and it is up to schools whether they will rise to the challenge and reap the benefits.  With Blender as free 3D modeling software available to anyone, it is hard finding reasons not to. 

If you have questions on how to get Blender into your classroom, reach out to Cookie crew member to see if we could help. support@cgcookie.com


Image credit: Mike Pan www.mikepan.com

Get Blender Curriculum now to start using Blender in your classroom.

  • Perry Harmon

    Excellent blog post. It hits all the right points.

  • Aunnop Kattiyanet

    Nice article :)

  • jadiel

    Good work

  • Jere Haapaharju

    I'm so happy that I was introduced to Blender. It couldn't have been easier to try out some modeling and suddenly I had an awesome new hobby

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