Southeast Polk Community Schools Introduce Virtual Reality in the Classroom

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PLEASANT HILL, Iowa – The Southeast Polk Community School District is beginning to use virtual reality as an education tool district-wide.

Z Space’ is a company that combines augmented and virtual reality to create immersive school lessons for students at the comfort of their desk.

Southeast Polk Junior High School Seventh Grade Science Teacher Troy Schwemm said thanks to a Facebook grant the school purchased 10 laptops with the technology.

The 2019 Facebook Altoona Data Center Community Action Grant was worth $27,450.

“Any object that you would normally see in the real world can be turned into 3D. Z Space allows you to actually physically move that object around and experiment and explore,” Schwemm said.

Students either wear 3D blue or black glasses when using the program. The black glasses have sensors that respond to the computer. The person wearing the black glasses is in charge of the lesson on the screen.

While someone wearing the blue glasses can observe what is happening on the screen.

Students are able to pick up and move objects around with an electric pen that is attached to the computer.

Southeast Polk Junior High School Seventh Grade Student Isaac Reed said he didn’t know what to expect when using the technology for the first time.

“At first it was an upper angle and then when you would put on the 3D glasses it would move it down to a side angle,” Reed said.

Seventh-grader Irina Ahissou said she likes how realistic the images look on the screen,

“I'm excited to learn things about the anatomy like how we practiced with the heart. So we could use that to learn things about our bodies,” Ahissou said.

Schwemm said some of the lessons the software can enhance include learning about dissections, electricity, space, eco-systems and more.

“I can see this eventually turning into having a programmed virtual reality eco-system where the kids can physically step in to the environment and walk around, view things click on things and learn about different organisms by actually taking a virtual walk through an eco-system,” Schwemm said.

Schwemm said he does not plan to replace hands-on field trips and learning activities with the new technology. Instead, he sees it as a way to enhance learning.

“I don’t think you could replace that, but again there is limits to how often you can do that too. We only get to go out twice a semester, so if you are going to do it any other time, if you are going to learn any more than we can learn on that trip this is a good way to supplement that,” Schwemm said.

Any teacher in the district has the option to check out the new technology and use it in their classrooms.

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