When we think of Vectorworks software users, we typically picture design professionals or aspiring university students, but in Ladue, Missouri, Sharrie Cognac is working with an unlikely group: middle school students. Since 1998, Cognac has been teaching the seventh and eighth graders of Ladue Middle School how to design and draft using Vectorworks software as a part of her Industrial Technologies courses.
When Cognac, officially trained in AutoCAD, wanted to introduce CAD into the Industrial Tech program in Ladue, a Mac platform district, she had to look for an alternative software to match her school’s operating system. Eighteen years after the switch to using and teaching Vectorworks, Cognac is still shocked by the software’s ease of use. “It’s unbelievable the difference in how quickly you can learn to utilize the tools, as opposed to using AutoCAD,” says Cognac. “It’s really intuitive — just so easy to pick up.”
The software is so intuitive that within two or three days of teaching the tools to her middle school students, they’re using Vectorworks on their own. For the seventh grade curriculum, Cognac starts her students off by asking them to draw anything they want, so long as they make use of ten different tools.
“My complaint with middle school drafting has always been that it’s hard to get kids to be passionate about drawing a machine part, or a screw, or a gear; it just bears no relevance for them,” Cognac explains. “So I have them make something that actually interests them using the tools they need to learn. If they know how to use those tools to draw a panda bear, for example, then they know how to use those tools to draw their CO2 cars and clocks.”
After learning the basics in seventh grade, Cognac teaches the students the full architectural design process in eighth grade. The students work on a simulated project with teachers volunteering to be “clients” in need of a new home. After the design teams interview the teachers to understand their needs and budgets, they get to designing and drafting a home with Vectorworks.
The students then go on to price out the construction by using measurement tools in the software and applying those results to local material costs. “It’s an all-encompassing project that incorporates so many of their core subjects into Industrial Tech,” explains Cognac.
Cognac says that her programs have received praise and support from all around. “The teachers like it, the parents are impressed by it, and the students are learning so much more than they would just pick up out of a textbook,” states Cognac. During the school’s open houses, she often hears from parents about their excitement at their child’s opportunity to learn a professional design software and the potential benefits of the curriculum.
“I have kids that are interested in studying architecture after taking my class,” says Cognac. “But I also have students that may have come into the program interested in the field and they start to rethink. It gives them a kind of real-world taste of what is truly involved in design, so they can better judge their interest.”
Back in her high school days, Cognac fell in love with drafting and interior design. Today, she feels that same passion for teaching her students about CAD and design. “To see the looks on their faces and hear the sounds of, ‘oh, that’s so cool,’ just really fulfills me,” Cognac reflects. “To get kids to be as excited about working in the computer lab as they are in the shop, that’s the reason I enjoy doing this so much.”
If you agree that school is cool, check out our academic newsletter, For the Love of Design. And if you need any help incorporating Vectorworks software into your educational curriculum, email our academic team or visit our training page.