Introduction: How to Design 3D Population Maps Using Tinkercad

About: Tinkercad is a free and easy, browser-based 3D design and modeling tool for all. Tinkercad allows anyone to imagine anything and then design it in minutes.

Lesson author: Vernon Kee

Recommended grades: 6-8

Skills taught:

  • Integrate and evaluate using visual information with other information in print and digital texts
  • Solve problems involving scale drawings of geometric figures, including computing actual lengths and areas from a scale drawing and reproducing a scale drawing at a different scale
  • Analyze and explain maps

Lesson overview: Whether you are teaching about the Electoral College, energy consumption, or immigration, one way to "make it real" for students is to have them design and print their own 3D population maps based on real-world, searchable data.

By the end of this your students will:

  • Create a 3D model of Canada or the United States with graphs to represent demographics
  • Import and modify a 3D model in Tinkercad
  • Use math to create a scale representation of a statistic

Estimated instructional time: 3 hours plus optional 3D print time

Materials: computers, internet, Tinkercad (a free, easy-to-use, web-based 3D CAD design tool); optional, but useful: computer mice and 3D printer

Step 1: Introduce the Lesson

Ever wondered which state has the most amusement parks? Or what about something more serious, like which provinces have the highest percentage of people suffering from poverty?

So are you ready to make demography your destiny? You're in the right place! Through this Instructable, you will discover all the resources you need for your students to create 3D graphs that visually display various demographics such as population, employment, tax rates, and more. This project is designed to be a simple introduction to using Tinkercad and can be enhanced in many ways.

Whether your students are graphing, modeling, or viewing each other's work, they will be gaining a deeper understanding not only of the demographics they are graphing, but also how to manipulate and represent data in new and exciting ways. And as a teacher, you will be expanding your horizons too, as you and your students bring geography to life together!

Getting started with Tinkercad

If this is your first time teaching a project that integrates 3D modeling and printing, here are a few helpful hints to get you started:

  • Explore online 3D galleries
  • Watch videos made by Tinkercad enthusiasts
  • Don't overthink it!

For more information on managing your classroom for making, how to assess a 3D design project, and more, please check out: How to Bring Tinkercad into Your Classroom.

Another great resource for helping your students to gain a conceptual understanding of 3D design, (while also talking like pros!), is this vocabulary primer: How to Teach the Language of 3D Modeling and Design.

Step 2: Map Out the Project

The fun thing about this project is the flexibility it offers for both you and your students. For example, you could give your students the option of selecting the provincial or state demographic they wish to compare. Or you might want to limit the topic because you hope to dive more deeply into the content surrounding the data in a way that drives whole-class discussion and debate.

After gathering demographic data, the Tinkercad work will only take approximately 10-30 minutes. Printing will vary depending on size and in-fill. A 10 cm x 10 cm model could take approximately 5 hours to 3D print, but you could also have students screen-shot their work and present it as a digital or print infographic.

In addition, there is a wide array of standards, grade levels, and even subject areas to frame the project around. And at the end of this instructable is a list of standards to help you chart this new territory.

Step 3: Research Into Demographics

Once you and your students have determined a topic for their 3D population map, you can provide them with a list of resources related to their featured demographic to research. Here are some examples to start with:

Step 4: Copy the Template

It's Tinkercad time! If you haven't yet, it might be wise to have your students practice Tinkercad's key features.

Once your students are ready to get going, they can find each of the following models in the Tinkercad Gallery:

Canada Map of Provinces

US Map of States

When you access the file, click the blue "Copy & Tinker" button to edit it.

Step 5: Edit the Height of One Province or State

Click on any province or state (object) that you wish to edit. Then click on the white box on top of the object. You will see the number 2.00 in a box to the right of it.

A tip for scaling:

When you change the height of each object, it is easier to use 10.00 as 100% and scale all your statistics from there. So 50% would be 5.00, 20% is 2.00, etc.

Step 6: Complete Height Changes

Change the heights for all provinces or states you wish to edit as part of the project.

Step 7: Check for Understanding

Check to make sure students have copied the 3D model.

Check to see if the provinces have been adjusted to appropriate heights.

Depending on the content you are teaching through this project, you might also check for deeper understanding by asking students to consider questions such as:

  • Where did certain subgroups of migrants or immigrants tend to settle? What push-pull factors may have contributed to this?
  • How do increases in human population and per-capita consumption of natural resources impact Earth's systems?
  • How does immigration shape a nation's identity?
  • How does a nation adjust to changing demographics?
  • Why do some places have greater access to healthy foods than others?
  • How did this process deepen your understanding and appreciation for demographics in general? Why is it important for students to study demographics?

Step 8: Share Your Students' Work

Once the model has been adjusted, students are left with a 3D model of the statistic they are analyzing. This can be printed in 3D or shared via a poster presentation for display.

Assessment should come from checking to make sure the heights of each model match the intended demographic expressed. Students can share the file with the teacher who can click on an object's height to check its values.

In addition, here is a great maker-centric rubric we have found that can be adapted to fit the needs of your project.

Step 9: Know Your Standards

Hello! Welcome to Standards-ville. We hope you enjoy your stay here. It's kind of like that planet in A Wrinkle in Time where everyone bounces their ball in a synchronized beat - except we make learning much more relevant, interdisciplinary, and fun!

Do you have 156 State Standards to cover this year? Rest assured, we might have that many below - well, maybe not that many, but A LOT- that are also relevant to this project. Drum roll...

Common Core Literacy (History/Social Studies)

Grades 6-8

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.7 Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.

Grades 9-10

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.7 Integrate quantitative or technical analysis (e.g., charts, research data) with qualitative analysis in print or digital text.

Grades 11-12

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.

Common Core Literacy (English Language Arts)

Grades 6-8

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.6.5 Include multimedia components (e.g., graphics, images, music, sound) and visual displays in presentations to clarify information.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.7.5 Include multimedia components and visual displays in presentations to clarify claims and findings and emphasize salient points.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.8.7 Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of using different mediums (e.g., print or digital text, video, multimedia) to present a particular topic or idea.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.8.5 Integrate multimedia and visual displays into presentations to clarify information, strengthen claims and evidence, and add interest.

Grades 9-10

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.5 Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest.

Grades 11-12

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.5 Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest.

Common Core Mathematics

Grades 6-8

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.7.G.A.1 Solve problems involving scale drawings of geometric figures, including computing actual lengths and areas from a scale drawing and reproducing a scale drawing at a different scale.

Next Generation Science and Engineering Standards

Grades 6-8

MS-ESS3-4 Construct an argument supported by evidence for how increases in human population and per-capita consumption of natural resources impact Earth's systems.

Ontario Curriculum Standards: Social Science/ Geography

Grade 4

B2.3 analyse and construct print and/or digital maps, including thematic maps, as part of their investigations into balancing human needs/ wants and activities with environmental stewardship in Canada (e.g., analyse population settlement maps; construct natural resource maps, using symbols to represent different resources; construct physical region maps, using shading to represent elevation change)

B2.3 analyse and construct maps as part of their investigations into some significant events, developments, and/or issues that affected Canada and/or Canadians during this period, with a focus on exploring their spatial boundaries (e.g., determine the location of key events in the Klondike gold rush; analyse a series of historical maps to determine the growth of cities in this period; create a flow map to show the origins of immigrants to Canada and the regions in which they settled) Sample questions: “When you examine these maps, what do you notice about differences in population distribution in Canada between 1890 and 1914?” “Where did Ukrainian immigrants or Doukhobors tend to settle?” “When you study a map showing European alliances in 1914, where do you see potential for conflict?”

Grade 8

A3.1 identify significant spatial patterns in human settlement on a global scale (e.g., linear, scattered, and clustered patterns in populations in different regions; global patterns in population density and/or distribution)

Step 10: Meet the Teacher Behind This Lesson

Vernon Kee is a former engineer and current science and technology teacher from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. A recipient of the Ontario Premier’s Award for Teaching Excellence in 2009 for his innovative work as a rookie teacher, he was also awarded a Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence in 2013.

Known affectionately by his students for his open attitude and constant desire to improve, his teaching approach relies on a reoccurring loop of feedback to tailor projects and lessons that are relevant to both his students' interests and their style of learning. Vernon draws from his own experience, passion, and gained wisdom to bring authenticity to whatever he is teaching.

Step 11: Share Ideas

We always love feedback, so please share your thoughts in the comments section below. If you are looking for more ideas about how to teach history or social studies through 3D design and modeling, check out: How to Teach History Using Tinkercad.