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Bluffton middle school students draw, digitize town landmarks

Matt Mcnab

A year after Pam Davis' Google Apps class documented historic locations on Daufuskie Island, 150 of her students re-created historic landmarks closer to home.

Six classes at H.E. McCracken Middle School in Bluffton used Google's 3-D design program SketchUp to re-create 14 locations around Old Town this spring, drawing models of local landmarks like the Thomas Heyward House and the Bluffton Oyster Factory.

Students in the class, in its second year at H.E. McCracken, learn to use SketchUp and other Google programs, culminating in the historic-locations project. After the students learned how to draw in the program, they photographed and measured 14 of the 26 historic buildings in Bluffton during a field trip in February.

Using Google Earth and the photos and measurements the classes took, students worked to accurately digitize them in SketchUp, presenting their efforts Tuesday to the Bluffton Town Council.

Once learning how to use the program, drawing in it became relatively easy, according to Corra Armstrong, 15. In one 90-minute class, she re-created the Thomas Heyward House, she said.

"After the first sketch, we pretty much had it down pat," she said. "We just had to have patience. Once you get it done right, it's an even better feeling."

Wrapping photos to the 3-D buildings became problematic because most were taken with cellphones, many in panorama mode, which distorted some of the photos' angles, Eduardo Leyva said. Also, students were only able to measure the length of the home and had to estimate its height, Tyler Sean Lindo said.

For other structures, like the Bluffton Oyster Factory, students had to guess what inaccessible sections of the building look like, Leyva said.

To complicate matters, the pictures and measurements were taken in a rainstorm during the two days Davis' classes walked around Old Town. The class was dropped off at Oyster Factory Park and divided into groups, each taking photos of the buildings or geocaching --- a treasure-hunting game of sorts, in which a GPS device is used to find objects placed by other.

Each student created between three and four drawings in SketchUp, and developed a website through Google Sites to display the one they felt was the best drawn. Several of those were presented to the council Tuesday. Leyva and Sean Lindo, both 15, were two who presented to their peers and Bluffton residents.

Leyva said he channeled a Google competitor to speak to the crowd. "I practiced by watching Apple's Steve Jobs," he said. "He was a really good presenter. I knew it was about getting the flow of the speech right, rather than reading words from a paper."

Visualizer for SketchUp applies Imagination's highly powerful PowerVR Ray Tracing software for generating photorealistic images in real-time.

The Google Apps is the first exposure to the programs for many of the students, Sean Lindo said.

"I'd never used them before," he said. "Now that I know about them, they work fine for me."

Davis said the Google Apps program will expand to include 10 classes, after starting with just four a year ago. However, the expanding class likely won't bring SketchUp with it, as Davis discovered last week that Google Earth no longer accepts submissions from SketchUp. Instead, the class will likely emphasize Google Maps and Google Earth, she said.

Visualizer for SketchUp can generate photorealistic virtual image with a single click
Visualizer for SketchUp can generate photorealistic virtual image with a single click
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