The 3D Educator

By Len Scrogan
Display Central

hillman-0413There are a lot of good things happening with educational 3D across the country, yet I find that most of the great stories about 3D in classrooms somehow seem to fly under the radar. Yes, good things are in fact happening, but often no one knows about them. That’s because educators rarely toot their own horn; it’s also because the education industry is highly isolated and successful programs are often geographically pigeonholed. Rarely do successes get the broad recognition they deserve.  It’s for that reason that I am continuing our Display Central 3D School Success Stories theme by highlighting someone who I think may well be the best 3D educator in the U.S.


In my first article of this series, “3D Heats Up in Minnesota,” I introduced our readers to the pilot project underway in the St. Francis area schools for the last two years. In the second article, “What the 3D Kids Say,” I shifted the spotlight to what the children have to say about learning in 3D in this intriguing Minnesota pilot project. In this month’s article, I focus on the effective and varied teaching strategies used by the project leader, fourth-grade teacher Holli Hillman. What she does—and how she does it—is of great importance for those of us trying to understand how to best advantage 3D classroom instruction.

Texas Instruments uses the term “3D educator” to describe those brave innovators who push the power of 3D visualization in learning to its instructional limits.

Holli Hillman is a 3D educator in every sense of the term. And by the time I am done, you may learn why I consider Holli Hillman to be the best elementary school 3D educator in the country.

Great 3D instruction certainly depends on good equipment and well-crafted content. But the effectiveness of 3D in learning also hinges on creative teaching strategies used by talented educators.

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As I have stated many times, we simply don’t show 3D movies in classrooms. Not ever. To the contrary, 3D educators add value. Some of the important value-added practices employed by Hillman in her successful 3D pilot project include:

  • using only parts of the 3D simulation that are age appropriate
  • muting the narrator because vocabulary might be too advanced
  • providing the teacher’s own narration in order to simplify the content for the learner
  • pausing the 3D simulation for discussion, allowing for questions or  further explanation of the topic
  • watching, discussing, then watching again – repeating as needed (repetition encourages mastery and comprehension)
  • previewing a topic in 3D before the chapter/unit begins
  • creating a KWL chart together with the students, after showing a 3D simulation or animation
  • using 3D as a form of enrichment and/or expansion on a topic for those students who are ready for more
  • using the 3D simulation AS the lesson (Holli explains: “the visualization is often so rich that it provides an experience unlike anything one can offer through lecture or even hands-on; of course, the teacher can still provide elaboration, clarification, and guide discussion, since a 1-4 minute 3D simulation will never replace the teacher.”)
  • taking a virtual field trip (Holli notes: “3D can take students places they would never otherwise be able to go—and the color, imagery and depth are attractive and captivating!”)

In her own words, Holli Hillman hopes to “step outside of the box and implement [3D as an] innovative instructional approach.” Her enthusiasm is palpable and each of the above strategies helps us understand what a gifted 3D educator actually does with this powerful new medium of instruction. She is not afraid of sharing her insight and enthusiasm both with interested visitors and questioning skeptics alike. “I can’t wait to watch it all unfold,” she declares, as she makes plans to explore even more creative teaching angles in the months to come.