Free Software Promoting STEM Learning

One of the most encouraging trends relative to education is the proliferation of free software that can be used to promote STEM learning. Over time, various companies have moved from simply offering trial subscriptions to now opening access to complete ongoing use of their products without cost. Autodesk and Blender are just a few of the software now open to students and other learners.

Autodesk is considered the “leader in 3D design, engineering, and entertainment” (Broman, 2014). Offered free of charge to any accredited school, many districts are taking advantage of this tool that has the ability to transform STEM teaching. While there are claims that traditional academic classes are sufficient in preparing students to study subjects like engineering at the college or university level, there is still a growing body of evidence that seems to suggest that learning through more practical ways has a greater lasting impact on students. One high school teacher captured the typical mindset in this way – “Students have been systematically trained from an early age to visualize in 3D by the computer games and graphics they have grown up with. Many instructors still think you have to draw orthographic projections by 2D CAD (“Preble High School,” n.d.) However, Autodesk’s software provides students with the fundamentals of design through the “visualization and rendering of residential and commercial buildings” (“Preble High School,” n.d.).

Not only is Autodesk transforming STEM learning; Blender, a 3D content creation program, continues to evolve, creating new pathways for young learners. Despite the rising costs of some design programs, Blender remains freely open to the public, and is compatible with nearly all operating systems. One of the unique benefits of Blender is that it “not only enables users to model in 3D, but allows them to animate their models, setting them in motion” (Karon, 2015). Following custom animation, the final model can easily be sent to a 3D printer. Additionally, Blender contains a “complete gaming engine which assists users in programming logic behind their games” (“Free Resources,” n.d.). According to a project sector analysis conducted by the Horizon Project, such games can be used to teach concepts across the educational spectrum, allowing students to engage in more complex scientific subjects (“Technology Outlook,” 2013).

In keeping with the 3D modeling trend, PCS is currently offering SketchUp LABCards to aid teachers and students in tracking understanding and project completion. SketchUp allows students to explore concepts found in architecture, interior design, civil and mechanical engineering, and film and video game design. The LABCards allow educators to take advantage of a differentiated instruction model, wherein they can break down more challenging ideas so that students can move at their own pace. As always, PCS LABCards are aligned to Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards.


Broman, W. (2014, December 1). Autodesk makes design software free to schools worldwide. Retrieved November 5, 2015, from

Preble high school helps to inspire future engineers and architects with Autodesk software. (n.d.). Retrieved November 5, 2015, from

Karon, P. (2015, May 29). Teaching 3d modeling to children. Retrieved November 5, 2015, from

Free resources. (n.d.). Retrieved November 5, 2015, from

Technology outlook stem and education 2013-2018. (2013). Retrieved November 5, 2015, from


By: Lindsay Reeves

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