Hamburg Area High School students, teachers explore virtual reality classroom

Hamburg High School Principal Chris Spohn, left, and Hamburg teacher Gerald Weiss explore how virtual reality technology could be incorporated into the classroom in the zSpace mobile classroom parked  in the high school parking lot on Feb. 21.
Hamburg High School Principal Chris Spohn, left, and Hamburg teacher Gerald Weiss explore how virtual reality technology could be incorporated into the classroom in the zSpace mobile classroom parked in the high school parking lot on Feb. 21. Lisa Mitchell - Digital First Media
zSpace parked its mobile classroom in the parking lot of Hamburg Area High School on Feb. 21 so students and teachers could see how virtual reality technology could be incorporated into the classroom using 3D glasses.
zSpace parked its mobile classroom in the parking lot of Hamburg Area High School on Feb. 21 so students and teachers could see how virtual reality technology could be incorporated into the classroom using 3D glasses. Lisa Mitchell - Digital First Media

Hamburg students, teachers and administrators entered virtual reality, using 3D computer technology on Feb. 21.

zSpace parked its mobile classroom in the parking lot of Hamburg Area High School so students and teachers could see how virtual reality technology could be incorporated into the classroom using 3D glasses.

Hamburg Area School District Superintendent Dr. Richard J. Mextorf invited zSpace to Hamburg.

“It’s really about finding as many different ways as we can to engage kids. Kids learn in different ways. Some kids may get it from a book but other kids may get it better if it comes to life for them,” said Mextorf. “This really makes learning come to life.”

Advertisement

Working together in pairs, Mextorf said students are learning to collaborate and they can do a lot of self-guided learning. He said teachers can display things for the whole class. Students can work in groups or individually.

“You can see them in there doing all different kinds of things, and right now that’s what they’re meant to do,” he said. “It’s discovery-based learning that really engages kids at a higher level. We want them to experience that and the best way to do that is to let our kids use it, have our teachers use it and then have a big conversation about it afterwards and see what we think about it.”

Mextorf said administration will obtain feedback from students and teachers who used zSpace. Also, a Hamburg student film crew documented the zSpace visit.

“It’s an exciting day,” said Mextorf. “It’s really nice to have our kids in Hamburg be on the leading edge of really engaging learning. It’s exciting to see.”

Hamburg junior Brinn Albrecht liked exploring the zSpace 3D technology. There were various categories to choose from, including mechanical, zoology, chemical and human anatomy. She and her partner chose anatomy since that is one of the classes they are taking. Wearing 3D glasses, they looked at the skeleton and muscles in a human body, virtually.

“It definitely gives you a more in depth look. It gave us a hands-on (experience) instead of just seeing it on a piece of paper,” said Albrecht. “I feel that would definitely help with our experiments and what we learn.”

Hamburg teacher Gerald Weiss, who teaches physics, chemistry and a computer course, said zSpace brings a real-life situation into the classroom that students otherwise would not experience.

“It’s a great supplement tool,” said Weiss. “3D makes it more realistic but you still need to do your tactile labs so they can relate it to the 3D. You might go into a book and they say think of something rolling down an inclined plane, here you can actually see something roll down the inclined plane. You can actually set up what you read in a book... It helps them picture the situation. They can relate to it better.”

Weiss sees himself being able to add zSpace to his educational toolbox.

Sam Lucchese, regional sales director for zSpace, said the technology, originally inspired by a Department of Defense grant, has been in existence for about 10 years. Their primary focus for the past five years or so has been its use in K-12 education to better prepare students for careers in STEM.

Lucchese enjoys seeing the students’ and teachers’ energy and excitement from the zSpace experience. He hopes to share “an immersive, collaborative, fun learning experience where the students are actually learning by doing but in a virtual way. zSpace provides a safe environment where students have unlimited access to a variety of STEM content areas but where they can collaborate and truly feel as they’re sharing and learning hands on.”

Hamburg Area High School Principal Christopher Spohn said the visit from zSpace was a good idea, noting that this is one more way they are looking at how Hamburg is changing the way students learn and engage them differently.

“How do we take a classroom and make it boundaryless? How do we get rid of cells and bells?” asked Spohn. “zSpace provides an opportunity for our teachers to do that.”

Spohn said the three-dimensional aspect not only engages but it also allows students to look at details they otherwise would not be able to see in a book.

“Here you can dissect anything. You can troubleshoot,” he said, explaining how he was on a site troubleshooting a DC motor using virtual volt meters.

“There’s a lot of problem solving, it’s not just a matter of engaging as far as seeing something different.”

During the zSpace visit, the goal was to expose students and teachers to the virtual reality classroom and let them experience the educational tool.

“(Teachers) are in here to see if this is something they could really use in the classroom to get that affect that we want, fully engaging the kids,” said Spohn.

Teachers from various disciplines visited the mobile classroom, including biology, physics, chemistry, geometry and engineering.

Spohn said their main goal that day was to see if the virtual reality classroom is a tool Hamburg could use.

“Will it fully engage these kids?” asked Spohn. “Nobody here is falling asleep first period. You can see they’re pumped and excited. Can we grab that kid who otherwise wouldn’t be interested in the sciences?”

Spohn said they will determine if this tool fits within their vision for the district and see if it fits within the curriculum.

“This is just the first peek into the future of how do you engage kids,” said Spohn. “Our kids really have the potential here to lead in the way students learn. Hamburg gets that chance to be the leaders, the innovators in engaging our kids.”

About the Author

Lisa Mitchell

Lisa Mitchell is the editor of The Kutztown Patriot and Managing Editor of Berks-Mont Newspapers. Reach the author at lmitchell@berksmontnews.com or follow Lisa on Twitter: @kutztownpatriot.