Blender in a middle school class -- I think I soured it!

So here’s an odd problem. I’m working as a middle school teacher and happened to get approached about doing a 3D animation class, completely out of the blue. I happened to have a pretty broad hobbyist background in 3DS Max, but I had to keep it free (but not irrelevent, sorry gmax) so I went to Blender and became hooked. But I made my class hate it. I now perceive a great need to find something shiny to bring them all back, especially the otherwise dedicated ones. But perhaps somebody else has more experience with this. :slight_smile:

Background: I started teaching kids 12-15 from utter scratch last September, but only once a week, most of them having never touched a 3D app of any sort. I did not start with Blender: I candied things up with Sculptris first, then hit them with Blender – putting a cube together out of tetris blocks in order to teach navigation and manipulation, animating a ball bouncing down stairs as an introduction to keyframing and f-curves, making a gingerbread man – and then loosened the vice a bit with some SketchUp. The difference was night and day: with SketchUp all I had to do was show them inferencing, texturing, and components, and they went crazy. We got huge sheets of paper out and started drafting out a big neighborhood. Now I just walk around and encourage them to clean up after themselves so they don’t end up with crap geometry (SketchUp, unlike Blender, seems to encourage one to ask for forgiveness rather than permission,) and we’ve got all this poolable content. I start to think, maybe if I’d waited to introduce Blender until THIS point in the process…

But it’s too late. Now, they don’t want to go back. Blender has become synonymous with terrible confusion and frustration and it’s all my fault. Out of the box, everything seems to take 3 clicks too many along a disjointed zigzag trajectory, and they know it. The cooler the result, the more zigzag the trajectory, the more riffing on a still-foreign language to make the workflow manageable.

What’s to do? My evil scheme had been to lob a bunch of pre-made rigs of really nice models at them and just practice puppeteering, with a bit of video introduction to basic animation principles. But when I gave them a sampling of the rigs on the projector they raised a collective bemused eyebrow and said “eh, potentially impressive, but no doubt also a huge pain in the ass; we still hate Blender.”

What would make a group of sem-jaded youngsters say “holy crap, we were wrong?” without giving them an all new headache in the process?

I don’t know if that is really your fault. Blender’s interaction paradigm is one of the last remaining sore spots as far as mass adoption goes. It breaks too many standard interactivity concepts making it really frustrating to learn at first. It gets brought up at least once a month, but there is always severe resistance to changing anything, so I don’t know if it’ll ever actually be improved.

Give Wings3D a shot if you haven’t. It can’t do nearly as much as Blender can, but it’s a pretty good little modeler and probably a bit easier to pick up and learn.

As much as i like Blender and use it nearly constantly, personnally i think it’s a much better idea to introduce young people in the 3D world by using applications like Sculptris and Sketchup, they’re much more intuitive, user and beginner friendly, and so are better tools to keep the students new to 3D interested in it.

Blender is much more complex to learn and to use, that’s on 3DSMax/Maya level of complexity for someone that young and new to 3D.

Blender main strength is that there are many things that Blender can do that Sculptris or Skecthup can’t, and i think that’s when you’ll want to teach those specific advanced sectors that Blender will come naturally in play and that the young people will then want to learn with it.

But until then using more intutuitive and user friendly, even if simpler, programs is more usefull in term of pedagogy, they will teach the basics better i think while not limiting that much the users as people once mastering those simpler programs have been able to do wonders, so it will never frustrate the young student once they will begin to master the programs as it will not limit their usage of them…

I agree with Sanctuary. I started with sketchup and its a very easy program to learn and fun to use. Most middle school kids just don’t have the patience to learn a complex 3d application like Blender.

I spent an hour trying to make a stupid sphere primitive node in Houdini from a python script. Yes, it’s as hard as it sounds. Until, that is, you put in the time and figure it out, and then it’s a piece of cake. It doesn’t matter that I “already knew how to do it in Blender,” because I was not using Blender, and neither do any studios that use Houdini. Now that I’ve taken this big step, I’m that much closer to making Houdini do what it does best.

Why am I saying this? Because even us experienced users have to bang our heads on the wall to learn something new. Your students can “hate” Blender all they want, but it’s mostly because they haven’t bothered to put in the time. 3D animation software is confusing, but behind the confusion is power. Tell them that if they want to make 3D animations, sooner or later they will have to buckle down and learn.

Once they get over the turbulent beginning, it gets much easier (true for any application, thus my example with Houdini). I’ve already forgotten what it was like to not know Blender. Unfortunately, this level of discipline might be asking too much of middle-schoolers.

Then again, I taught myself how to use Blender…

I strongly disagree with this interpretation.
No, it is not your fault. Neither is Blender to blame for this.
It’s just how things are.
I’m also an educator and use Blender in two of my courses. I submit to you that students end up hating Blender (and me if they hadn’t before taking the courses! ;))
I use it for video editing and they keep complaining about its interface/shortcuts/whatever. Some of them who use windoze Movie Maker keep urging me to drop Blender and use that instead! Now, every time someone complains I show them 10 things that are easily doable with Blender but unthinkable with the WMV. After a few such questions the compiled list of things not doable with WMV becomes a fairly long one and students begin to see the point.
It’s a very steep learning curve cos you have to wrestle with the interface and the concepts but once you get past that initial shock and feel at home with it there’s no turning back. It just takes time and practice.

So bear up and tell them that there are many paths to the mountain top.

Yeah, it’s not your fault that they hate Blender. Give them 3DS Max or Maya and they would be just as frustrated. The fact of the matter is, if they are interested in doing something cool with Blender, they will put in the work and do some tutorials.

If they are not personally interested in it, then screwing around with Sketchup is about as much as they will be willing to put in the effort for. You can lead a horse to water…

Kemmler hits the nail on the head. Full On customized 3D graphics are a pain to realize in whatever program you use. I would not have had the patience for this shit in high school. I was airbrushing, sculpting and photogrphing my 3D illustrations back then though…

Windows Movie Maker is quite possibly the worst video editing software ever conceived. It’s easy enough to use (for a slideshow) and twice as easy to crash. What I found after learning Blender is that frustration turns into freedom. They’ll wish they’d learned it sooner when they learn it later.

Well the question is why do you expect a middle school class to like Blender in the first place?
Blender is no game, it is a tool you use and you use it for particular professions. If you teach in a school with some graphics or content creation background, you can expect the students to at least show some interest, but in a normal school?
Many students most likely have no interest in it, of the few with interest some have no talent and if you’re unlucky all of them have neither.

It’s not like Blender knowledge is something you can really count towards general education. 3DCG is already a specialized education, and teaching a particular tool even more so.

They might have seemed intrested in the start as it was something new, but as soon as it involves hard work to achieve a goal interest usually fades.

Well and if it’s a voluntary class where students with interest signed up… I guess they just expected something different :wink:

Tip: Get new Students to Blender to change their Select button to the LMB rather than the default RMB.

It will remove 90% of their frustration, and in the cases I tried, I estimated that the class got through the activities 30% faster.
The rest will come simply from a logical and structured (yet fun) explanation of how things work in Blender.

I follow the following teaching structure (if interested):

  1. Teaching the basic controls by posing downloadable models (even getting them to download the models pre rigged). This gets them excited about the possibilities and gives them a meaningful task to achieve. i.e. make a funny pose/face with your character by rotating and moving bones. See what happens when you scale bones etc…
  2. Teaching them how to build scenes in object mode using primitives (i.e. tables using cylingers and cubes, chairs, etc…)
  3. Teaching lighting and rendering and saving images in object mode. This teaches about the camera and taking photos.
  4. Edit mode, making a simple push pull landscape
  5. Edit mode making a revolved surface, Extruding etc…
  6. Playing with materials, rendering a basic scene by changing colours and surface properties
  7. Edit mode Modifiers, Making a guitar using subsurf and edge creases (something like 20 vertices for the entire guitar, it’s crazy simple but super accurate. Look for acoustic guitar on Wikipedia and you get the 3D view background image)
  8. Texturing, Applying an image texture to the guitar. start by texturing the world first and showing about coordinates and the image loading process etc…
  9. Keyframe Animation
  10. Parenting and Keyframe animation combined
  11. Cycles, Animating a lego man (pre made and parented)
  12. Free time to do their own thing. But will go through topics that people are keen on.

5 hours a day, 4 day course, and by the last day I’ve got kids doing things like animating a character kick flipping off a jump and landing it etc… Some fantastic stuff. But I’d be honest in saying that they are generally 13-17 years old, with the 17 year olds being the most self sufficient and attentive, The 13 year olds manage to absorb heaps but often do-so while seemingly ignoring everything.

Thanks for the help, guys! The perspective from fellow educators is particularly helpful and much appreciated. :slight_smile:

Alltaken: Thanks for your outline. Your results must be incredibly rewarding. In retrospect, posting the rigged models should have been the very first things I did. Also, I think switching the mouse up will be the first thing to do when we start back on it, at the risk of it being too late. I did explain the LMB/RMB discrepancy and show them how to change it if they wanted to, but I was clumsy about it and sort of secretly hoped they’d stick with the default. Consequently, the more digitally adept left it the way it was (maybe a little out of snobbery) and the others became wildly disoriented. Can I ask how many students you had in that short course? I’ve got two groups of 10, each once a week for two hours. How’d your school set it up? A concentrated 4 day course would be fantastic.

arexma: It’s an elective class. Some of the kids are highly, even bafflingly intelligent, and the majority of them are either love computers and are every comfortable tinkering with them or have some kind of artistic background, just not with 3D. All of them, save for maybe 3 who I strongly suspect WERE expecting a game and ended up in the wrong place, have shown interest and patience.

we have all hated blender at some point in its lifetime, imagine what it was like pre 2.40 horrible UI and loads of other stuff, but once you have got past all that blender is the best in open source 3d.