School district demonstrates virtual reality learning tools

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published April 18, 2016

 Sixth-grader Braylon Hatchett wears zSpace glasses while interacting with virtual reality technology at Ebeling Elementary School in Macomb Township April 12.

Sixth-grader Braylon Hatchett wears zSpace glasses while interacting with virtual reality technology at Ebeling Elementary School in Macomb Township April 12.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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MACOMB TOWNSHIP — While the Oculus Rift is attempting to mainstream virtual reality to consumers, Utica Community Schools’ plans to introduce a different company’s 3-D technology into the classroom have also become a reality.

The school district held a demonstration of zSpace virtual reality learning materials April 12 at Ebeling Elementary School in Macomb Township. UCS has been using the technology for about a month, and it is the first school district in the state to do so, according to UCS spokesman Tim McAvoy.

In a statement, UCS Superintendent Christine Johns described her school district as a leader in teaching kids high-tech fields of study, noting that it is geographically situated among auto and defense companies.

“We are instilling the innovation, problem-solving and creative thinking that employers are seeking from today’s graduates,” she said.
UCS officials said they are uniquely pioneering the use of virtual reality among Michigan school districts in order to teach science, technology, engineering and math — or STEM — subjects. The project is specifically being tried out at Crissman, Ebeling, Monfort and Schwarzkoff elementary schools.

To use the technology, students go to the zSpace virtual reality lab. Participating students wear pairs of special zSpace glasses in order to view 3-D models of objects, such as the human heart. The technology allows the students to use a handheld stylus to interact with those images by moving them around and manipulating them.

Alexandra Lange, a teacher at Ebeling, said in a statement that zSpace offers students a unique outlet for exploration that other computer programs, and textbooks, don’t offer.

“The exploration of concepts and relationships is individualized for each student as they manipulate images and other variables to formulate new hypotheses or support their learning,” she said. “Through the use of virtual reality, students are in control of their own creative and innovative ideas, where the possibilities are endless.”

Paul Kellenberger, CEO of zSpace, attended the April 12 demonstration at Ebeling. He said UCS is one of approximately 250 school districts that use the zSpace technology.

“We look for districts that are leaders — leaders in planning for the future,” he said.
He said zSpace is unique in how it gets students engaged with learning.

“They’re developing critical thinking skills and problem-solving skills,” he said. “Kids really want to learn. … They absorb the technology very quickly.”

Kellenberger said the UCS district is unique in that many parents are connected to the auto industry or the fields of manufacturing and robotics. And with technological studies come technological teaching tools.

“Virtual reality fits into that in a real big way,” he said.

Learn more about Utica Community Schools by visiting www.uticak12.org or by calling (586) 797-1000. For more information about zSpace, visit www.zspace.com.

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