Computer-Aided Design for 3rd Grade Engineering

By following our 3rd grade engineering guide, your child will begin developing the computer skills real-world engineers use to create their designs.

As with our other guides, we are not sponsored by any of the external products we recommend or the companies that produce them.

Competent engineers never start making something without first formulating a plan. Throughout much of history, engineering plans took the form of carefully hand-sketched drawings. Those days are long gone. Today, engineers rely heavily on computer-aided design (better known as “CAD”), which allows them to use computers to construct detailed 3-dimensional models of their plans in a virtual setting.

Da Vinci probably wished he had some good CAD software.

Our goal at Journey With a Destination is to help teach children the key skills they will need as adults, so it’s absolutely essential that our homeschool curriculum introduces them to some of the key skills involved in computer-based design work. We can’t expect elementary students to use the same software as professional engineers, of course. Instead, we recommend two video games to help them accomplish this: LEGO Bricktales and ABRISS.

Together, these games will help students learn how to:

  • use keyboard and mouse controls in coordination
  • think in 3 dimensions
  • control a 3D camera view
  • manipulate items in 3D
  • handle basic structural engineering concepts
  • design and use increasingly complex machines
  • iteratively improve a design

Much like learning a new language, learning how to manipulate objects in 3D using keyboard and mouse controls is a skill that becomes much harder with age.  It really is crucial for students to pick up this skill now, rather than later.  Video games have an unfairly maligned reputation among educators, but the reality is that adult engineers who never played mentally challenging video games as children are at a significant disadvantage to those who did.

Both of our video game recommendations for this grade level are available for purchase on Steam.  For information on how to buy games on Steam and activate Steam Parental Controls, please see our Parent’s Guide to Steam.

LEGO Bricktales

LEGO Bricktales allows children to translate their real-world experience with building blocks to the digital world of 3D computer-aided design.  Players navigate beautiful LEGO dioramas while engineering solutions to a wide variety of problems using LEGO bricks.

Players design LEGO creations using a simple interface for manipulating parts in 3D.

Whenever it is time for students to tackle an engineering puzzle, they are presented with a simple interface for placing, moving, and deleting bricks within the 3D environment.  The puzzles offer some interesting challenges, but the primary educational benefit comes from the interface itself.  By learning how to use it, children will hone the 3D manipulation skills that form the core goal of this grade level.

The game takes most players approximately 10 hours to complete, but elementary students may need considerably more time to finish it.  Students should generally be able to play the game on their own, but you might need to help them through the first few puzzles.

LEGO Bricktales is normally priced at $29.99, but like most games on Steam, it is often available at a significant discount.  There is also a free demo for the game, so feel free to try that before purchasing.

Players will need to create structures that meet certain specifications; in this case, by designing a bridge that can be safely crossed.


ABRISS turns the LEGO formula on its head.  Whereas LEGO Bricktales is about building with bricks, ABRISS is about tearing them all apart – engineering style!  Players are asked to build demolition machines to destroy a variety of structures over the course of dozens of levels.  These machines start off simple, but eventually grow to include rockets, lasers, magnets, and more.

The puzzles in this game are harder than the ones in LEGO Bricktales, but players can generally get plenty of assistance from the game when they need it.  On most levels, simply opening the menu (by pressing “escape”) and then clicking “Show Hint” will display a detailed solution for the level.  We recommend that students avoid using hints unless they are really stuck.

There are some “bonus” levels in the game that are much harder than the others.  Students don’t need to complete these levels in order to progress through the game, although they are certainly welcome to give them a try.  For the purpose of this grade level, completing all of the regular levels constitutes completion of the game.

ABRISS is currently available in “Early Access”, meaning that the developers do not consider the game to be complete, and more additions to the game are planned.  From our experience, the game is already in a very usable state, so we are comfortable recommending it based on the currently available content.  At the time of writing, it is priced at $16.99.  The game is quite short; a good player can complete it in under 4 hours; however, an elementary school child might take several times longer.

Finally, here are a few helpful tips:

  • Completing a puzzle only requires destroying the glowing red blocks.  It isn’t necessary to destroy everything else.
  • If the solution to a puzzle fails, the fastest way to go back to the design phase is to tap the “r” key on the keyboard twice.
  • You can activate machines (such as rockets or rotators) either by clicking their icons at the bottom of the screen, or by pressing the numbers listed underneath their icons on the keyboard.
  • You can simultaneously activate all machines of a particular type by pressing the button above their icons.

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