A big business in Marin might soon have a big role in Marin's classrooms.
About 50 educators from Marin — from teachers to county Superintendent of Schools Mary Jane Burke — visited San Rafael-based Autodesk's San Francisco office last week to learn about the software the company is offering to schools for free.
The software is geared toward skills that involve computer-aided design, such as engineering, architecture and other technology-focused disciplines that are becoming more prevalent in middle and high schools as part of the STEAM — science, technology, engineering, (digital) art, and math — curricula.
It's part of Autodesk's initiative, called Design the Future, to help supply the growing demand for STEAM-related jobs.
Originally known as STEM — an acronym for "science, technology, engineering and mathematics" — such school programs are increasingly referred to as STEAM, as more schools are expanding these left-brain curricula to include digital art design.
Autodesk's foray into education resembles a publishing company that supplies textbooks, in that the software programs serve as either primary or supplementary study tools, but applied to more of a hands-on learning approach.
More than 20 Marin schools have signed up for the software package, including 17 that joined the list after last week's presentation, Autodesk representatives said.
Each school will receive 125 licenses to use the software on separate computers. The software package retails for $21,250, according to Autodesk, and each school receives training on the software from Certiport, valued at about $3,300.
"These programs allow an educator to extend a lesson in a more applied way," said Jaime Perkins, a senior manager of Autodesk's worldwide learning content.
The San Rafael-based company is offering its software to schools throughout the state, with the idea that if students get used to using Autodesk products while in school, then, as the number of STEAM-related workers increases, Autodesk will grow its base of lifetime customers.
"If we can create more architects, engineers, designers out of this, that's our goal," Perkins said.
Teachers in the Ross Valley School District said they were excited about the possibilities of using the programs with their 150 students involved in some technology-based activity — including 60 sixth-graders participating with the robotics team. The software also could help students in Terra Linda High School's Marin School of Environmental Leadership, San Rafael school officials said.
While gathered in a fourth-floor room, across The Embarcadero from San Francisco's Ferry Building, the Marin educators watched a video presentation of Autodesk's "Design the Future" program. One segment was on biomimicry, the practice of solving modern design problems by emulating forms in nature.
Observation of humpback whale fins, the audience learned, helped solve a design flaw with windmill propellers. In Japan, engineers reduced the booming sound bullet trains created upon exiting tunnels by redesigning the front of the trains to resemble the beak of a king fisher — a species of bird that relies on its sleek design to snatch prey on dives into the water.
The video presentation was followed by an on-screen, multiple-choice test.
"These are tools I use professionally," said Richard Esteb, a licensed architect who teaches introductory architecture and engineering classes at Redwood High School.
Glen Corey, an AP physics and product design teacher at Novato High School, said the software can aid students in his toy design class.
"What I've been using so far is any software I can get my hands on for free," Corey said. "But now that this is free and there's a community to tap into, I will probably look into using this."