SketchUp 5.0

Company: @Last Software;
System Requirements: Windows NT4 (Service Pack 3), 2000, XP or Mac OS X 10.3
Price/Grade: $495, academic pricing available; middle and high school
Pros: Intuitive and deep 3-D designer; academic pricing makes program affordable; free trial download
Cons: Advanced features may be difficult and time-consuming for teachers to learn (though training is available); print user manual available only through third party

SketchUp 5.0 makes designing in 3-D easy and fun. It allows students to get up and running in minutes yet is robust enough for college students and professional designers, architects, and artists. Middle school students will love the intuitive nature of SketchUp's Push-Pull Tool.

In addition, the SketchUp Web site provides excellent video tutorials, galleries, user forums, and a new education section specifically geared to students and educators. It has many free downloadable models that provide a quick start to get students navigating in 3-D quickly.

SketchUp can be used in high schools for the teaching of architecture, design, stage design, and CAD, as well as in middle school to help students understand geometric and other mathematical concepts. For the creative teacher, there are many other uses such as building virtual museums, 3-D timelines, exploring platonic solids, crystals, and more.

Al Doyle is computer coordinator at the Town School, a private K-8 school on Manhattan's Upper East Side.