Kevin White is a believer. To him, the metaverse is not a pie-in-the-sky scenario. He believes that in the not-so-distant future, people will be able to work, play, and learn in augmented as well as shared, completely submersive 3D virtual reality environments that may be, as Meta (Facebook’s new name) describes, beyond what we can imagine.”
The foundations for this new universe are being built now, White says, and he is committed to preparing both his STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) students at De Portola Middle School in Tierrasanta, California, and Learning Design and Technology (LDT) graduate students at San Diego State University (SDSU), for that future.
“Nowadays, we say things like, ‘Oh, remember when we didn’t have the internet?’” White says. “In the decades ahead, we’ll be saying, ‘Remember when we didn’t have the metaverse?’ We have to give our students the CAD muscles to build that metaverse.”
Educator Kevin White sees the importance of promoting online options instead of text-based curriculum as the world becomes increasingly online.
Leading By Example
White realized early in his career that the way to prepare students for success in the 21st century was going to be by using technology in the classroom. Doing so didn’t necessarily come easily to him – White was originally a history teacher – but he couldn’t shake the idea that he needed to “step up to the plate and become the person to advocate for the tools we should be using and start promoting online options as opposed to text-based curriculum,” he says.
As he writes in Teacher Tech Rescue, his blog devoted to helping teachers integrate technology and 3D tools into their classrooms, he and fellow educators have only two options – either leap forward into the future of education or “stand stagnant in front of a room full of tuned out ears, wandering eyes, and disconnected minds.”
White knew what type of teacher he wanted to be, earning a master’s degree in LDT from SDSU in 2017. LDT is an emerging specialty in education that empowers teachers to use technology to create modern and effective learning environments. He now teaches a course at SDSU called “Virtual Reality, Imaginary Worlds, and the Future of Learning.”
White believes that teachers – all teachers – need to strengthen their technology muscles so they can help students do the same. “Teachers need to understand that technology is a part of what we do as educators. STEM can happen in every class, and it should happen in every class. And that’s coming from a former history teacher,” he says.
White finds his biggest inspiration to continue embracing technology comes from his students. Before starting as a Gateway to Technology teacher with De Portola in 2021, he worked for 10 years at The Learning Choice Academy (TLC), a K-12 public hybrid homeschool in San Diego. Some of his high school students became so inspired that they started going beyond their assignments, learning on their own from YouTube tutorials and attending online forums. Before long, a couple of students began doing coding projects in Unity, an open-source game engine that allows people to create 2D and 3D interactive experiences. White realized he needed to continue stepping up his own game to ensure he understood computer-aided design and code at a level where he could continuously add rigor to his courses – and stay ahead of some of his students.
A Focus on the Tools of the Future
De Portola is a diverse school with many students who come from military families. It is designated by the California State Board of Education as a “Distinguished School” – among the most exemplary and inspiring public schools in the state.
White was drawn to teach there, in part, because of the school’s impressive STEM lab, which houses CNC machines, vinyl cutters, a laser etcher, a dozen 3D printers, and a virtual reality lab. “We have every STEM tool gadget you can imagine,” White says. “For a middle school program, it’s as good as I’ve ever seen.”
White used the free PTC Onshape Education Standard plan at the Learning Choice Academy and kicked off the 2021/2022 school year at De Portola by acquiring the Onshape Education Enterprise Plan. This allowed him the option of using single sign-on (SSO) and a bulk upload that instantly added students and gave them access to Onshape’s professional-grade cloud-based CAD platform on any device. Because work is continuously and automatically saved to the cloud, students can’t accidentally delete or lose their files – situations that occur many times on different programs, White says.
“With Onshape, I’ve been able to make sure that students can maintain access to everything that they have, not only on their school devices but also on their Chromebooks at home or whatever device they want,” he says. The Education Enterprise Plan also allows him to see exactly how much time each student spends using the program.
His first technology assignment for De Portola middle schoolers was for them to design their own chess sets using Onshape.
“That was a really challenging project to start the school year with, especially being new to these students and them being new to me,” White says. “I could tell that some of them, right off the bat, were saying, ‘This is something I can’t do.’ I said, ‘If you look around the room, no one knows how to do this. We’re all learning it together.’ Most of them started to realize it was accessible because they saw students across the entire spectrum crossing the finish line.”
In the end, the lab’s MakerBot printers were kept busy, printing out around 100 3D chess sets for all of the students who wanted to print, including students with special needs. White found, just as he had at his last school, that it’s exactly this type of project-based learning that sparks the imagination and makes kids want to learn.
In Full STEAM Ahead Club, one student is designing a chess set with programmed pieces that are constrained to specific linear movements or sequences depending on the piece.
Making 3D Modeling Relevant for Students
While White makes and shares Onshape video tutorials on his blog and YouTube to support other teachers, he also accesses the free Onshape-created curriculum available for educators in the Onshape Learning Center.
“Onshape is starting to create amazing resources that are ready to go,” he says. He’s looking forward to using Onshape’s Intro to Design to teach kids how to design every part of a skateboard and put it together. The unit covers sketching, dimensions, how to revolve and extrude parts, and how to combine parts into assemblies, teaching students about key concepts such as product design, prototyping, and 3D modeling.
Of course, to the kids, the real “hook, line, and sinker” is that they’re going to be making something cool that they use every day, White says. His students are big fans of skateboards – many of them use them to get to school. “It’s all about trying to offer the types of tech courses that really motivate them,” he says.
In the Gateway to Technology course, each student is responsible for creating their own unique chess set in Onshape using a design brief with specified features and dimensions.
Gaming is another area that captures students’ imaginations. “Onshape is not just for mechanical engineering or 3D printing. You could use it in very innovative ways for gaming assets,” White says. “The potential, with the mashup of Onshape and other tools is really spectacular.”
In the school’s Full STEAM Ahead Club, for example, one student imported his Onshape chess set into CoSpaces, a virtual reality platform, so he could learn how to program the pieces to move in specific ways depending on the piece.
“Technology isn’t just a great motivator. It’s going to be the conduit through which everything in the world functions increasingly over the next several decades. We’re approaching an era where 3D content is going to become paramount,” White says.
And he, for one, wants his students, and his fellow educators, to be ready.