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Virtual reality glasses, 3D printers open window of learning

Far away, a fifth-grader from Gilbert, Arizona, stares up at the Great Pyramid of Giza’s rocky, time-worn exterior. Another fifth-grader timorously peers over their shoulder into thick foliage as they try to discern their surroundings at a rainforest in Tanzania. Even further away, a student looks across an expansive valley from an ancient, stony fortification -- the Great Wall of China.

These students are not actually there. They are taking a virtual field trip around the world using virtual reality glasses. Bridges Elementary, a Gilbert school in the Higley Unified School District, has the new tech-- VR glasses-- that will allow teachers to accompany their lessons with augmented reality.

Todd Berg, assistant principal, said parent teacher organization purchased the order of 32 glasses. He is excited to see how the new tools will enhance classroom lessons.

“The content is all out there already, so If the teachers are studying Rome, somebody probably has a 360-video on Rome. So they can download that video and go right in.”

Bridges Elementary is a project-based learning school that encourages students to learn by doing. With VR glasses, students are able to experience what they learned instantaneously. Not only can students use it to visit landmarks they hear about in class, but they can use it to enhance science lessons -- like seeing a model of the human heart or muscles.

Kristen Sedig, media specialist at Bridges, manages the newly-acquired equipment and helps oversee its use.

“The system is called ClassVR. There is computer software that comes with the headsets so there are all kinds of preloaded activities that they can do, from social studies to geography or science,” Sedig said. “They can go to the pyramids, or they can go to London, or they can go in the ocean and swim with the sharks.”

Josh Ross, physical education teacher at Bridges, said the headsets have a wide variety of options as they can use any 360-video from YouTube.

“I can just imagine going and doing a virtual reality tour of the body expo that they have in Vegas, or Phoenix at times, where you get to go in and see the different muscles on the human body,” Ross said. “The virtual field trips that are possible is what amazes me.”

In addition to VR glasses, Bridges recently acquired 3D printers to help give students more resources in a technology-driven society. Students use 3D design software to create virtual models, and then use the printers to give form to their creations.

Jeffrey Beickel, principal of Bridges Elementary, said the 3D printers will be used in unison with project-based learning.

“Our younger students just designed rocket ships utilizing basic 3D shapes on the Tinkercad online program,” Beickel said. “We then printed the rockets for the students to see. This takes learning shapes from using basic models or paper to actually applying their knowledge of the shapes to create something meaningful.”

What is next for Bridges?

“We are always looking forward. We want to make sure our students are prepared for the 21st Century,” Berg said. “The next thing we’re possibly looking into is maybe getting a drone.”