It’s hard to impress a third-grader with technology. Today’s youngsters are tech-savvy, digital natives who are used to using technology for fun or learning. But when Katie Stacy’s third grade class from Cottonwood Creek Elementary got to try zSpace technology, they were dazzled.
“Whoa!” “Did you see that?” “That’s so cool!”
Those were just some of the comments from students who got to try augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technology on Sept. 13, when the zSpace tour bus stopped by Cottonwood Creek as part of the school’s innovation exploration. zSpace is a technology company that has developed lifelike, educational experiences that inspire curiosity and deepen understanding.
“It’s a great opportunity for our kids to see what’s out there as far as augmented and virtual reality,” said Cottonwood Creek Principal Katie Johnson. “It’s a chance for them to engage in something we don’t have here at Cottonwood Creek.”
zSpace combines elements of AR and VR to create lifelike experiences that are immersive and interactive. The zSpace bus is equipped with two rows of computer stations where students work in pairs. First, students put on a special pair of glasses, which instantly turns the computer screen in front of them into a three dimensional world. Then they use a special stylus to try different activities. They can play chess by picking up and moving the pieces on the chess board. They can explore a beating heart from every angle, disassemble a robotic arm and go through the life cycle of a butterfly. Students say the AR/VR technology even creates very real physical sensations.
“I actually felt it, so I thought that was really cool,” third-grader Finley Johnson said, after picking up a dollhouse and moving it around in the 3-D world.
She and her computer partner, Ava Soifer, were blown away by what they experienced.
“I really liked seeing 3-D and how your heart beats” Soifer said excitedly. “And how you could take apart a robotic arm.”
Principal Johnson said the technology ignites the idea of discovery for some students and deepens engagement for others, especially those who are often reluctant to participate.
“We’re seeing kids really talking about what they’re seeing on the screen and what they’re manipulating and that to me is another level of learning,” Johnson said. “It’s amazing to see them working together.”
Cottonwood Creek is in Phase 1 of the district’s innovation expansion, so it is one of the first schools in the district to get a new innovation space as a result of voter approval of the 2016 bond election. The space features a STEM lab, a MakerSpace area, a collaboration zone with flexible seating and even a room with a green screen. Students will learn in new and interactive ways to help them develop the critical thinking and problem-solving skills they will need to be successful in the world that awaits them. AR/VR technology could become a part of that space in the future.
“Imagine the impact it would have on these kids if what they were learning in the classroom was then reinforced through experiences like this,” Johnson said.