A Tool to Spark Interest in Science?
Before reading this story, you might want to get a taste of the zSpace virtual reality system by going to zSpace.
For more pictures, go to Your Permanent Record.
By Kim Underwood
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
FEBRUARY 20, 2017 – On Friday afternoon, Parkland High students and teachers as well as administrators from Central Office dived into a 3D virtual reality system that offers such virtual adventures as taking a trip to a rainforest, dissecting a heart and building an atom.
“I liked how interactive it was,” said sophomore Eli Brito-Milian after virtually dissecting a beluga whale and constructing a magnesium atom.
“It helps to visualize because I am a visual learner…Explanations are great but it sticks with you if you have a visual connection to it.”
Matt Brady, who teaches IB (International Baccalaureate) Physics, Honors Physics and Chemistry and who serves as the chair of the Science Department, had invited two representatives of the companies that make and distribute the zSpace Learning Lab to Parkland to demonstrate some of the possibilities.
Along with students in his class, those who checked it out included Superintendent Beverly Emory, Chief Technology Officer Kevin Sherill, and Instructional Superintendent Carol Montague-Davis.
After dissecting a virtual pig, Montague-Davis said she thought such a virtual hands-on experience would serve students well.
“It’s the way the kids learn now,” she said.
Also there were Susan Elster and Andrea Hulighan of The Winston-Salem Foundation, and some of the other Parkland teachers. Andi Brooks, who teaches IB Environmental Science, said that, in real life, she is not going to be able to take her students to a desert or rainforest. With this, she could take them to virtual ones.
“I think it is very cool,” she said.
The system designed for kindergarten through 12th grade education can be used to create a lab with 10 stations where students could work in groups of two or three. The student with the “driver” glasses has a wand shaped much like a pen that enables the student to do such things as pull a heart away from the surface of the monitor so that it appears to be floating in space. The heart could then be rotated and such actions could be taken as dissecting it.
Students wearing “passenger” glasses can see all of the action but not control it. Students could then switch glasses so that each student would have the opportunity to be the “driver.”
“It’s a very life-like intimate, virtual learning experience,” said Sam Lucchese of zSpace. “They learn by doing.”
At one station, the images can be projected onto a large overhead monitor where everyone in the lab could follow the action together.
After finishing up her turn as a “driver” who dissected a frog, junior Zemina Agustiniano said, “I think it was pretty cool. I have never seen anything like that. It helps you understand.”
Agustiniano said she would have been fine dissecting a real frog. But that’s certainly not the case with everyone. Jaelyn Nichols, who is a junior in the IB program, said she much preferred the opportunity to work on a virtual heart and a virtual jellyfish.
“I’m squeamish,” she said. “I think this would help for people who don’t like to dissect things.”
She liked working with the system. “It’s cool,” Nichols said. “I feel like I could play on it all night. You get to see more that you would in a regular science class.”
Senior Jose Saucedo also enjoyed his experiences.
“I thought it was real interesting,” he said. “It was a new experience that I would advise other people to look into.”
Another bonus of the system, Brady said, is that, by teaching visually, it erases much of the language barrier for students not fully comfortable in English.
Brady is a recipient of a teacher grant from The Winston-Salem Foundation, and Elster and Hulighan came to find out more about what he is doing.
“He has done a great job of looking for things to engage the students,” Elster said. “We try to keep on top of what is new and exciting.”
Brady traces his interest in the possibilities of using virtual reality as a teaching tool from going to see the 3D movie Avatar in 2009 with his wife, Shari Brady, who teaches IB Biology at Parkland. Seeing the possibilities that 3D technology offered, he said, “I need to be able to teach this way.”
He saw a way to do that this fall in Greensboro at a meeting of the N.C. Science Teachers Association where the zSpace technology was being demonstrated.
Brady enjoys looking at popular culture and the worlds of superheroes as a way into learning more about science, and he and his wife have a website where they talk about topics of interest.
On Friday, Lucchese was there with Courtney Kelly, an account executive with TE21 Inc., which distributes the system in North Carolina. They had set up two stations and each worked with the people at one station. Kelly is based in Durham. Lucchese is based in Raleigh, and zSpace, which has been in business for 10 years, is based in Sunnyvale, Cal.
Lucchese said about 500 school districts across the country are already using virtual reality labs. The zSpace virtual reality system designed to serve as a lab in a school costs about $22,000.
Brady said he would love to find a way to bring a lab to Parkland.
“This is one of those technologies that make science interesting,” Brady said.
You will find the Bradys’ website at http://www.thescienceof.org/