By Dennis Pierce
As you prepare for a new school year, you might be looking for new ideas that can inspire your students and lead to richer learning experiences. Educational gaming, virtual field trips, and 3D immersion are three edtech innovations that can help. While these certainly aren’t new concepts for the classroom, recent developments have the potential to make these technologies even more powerful for learning.
Whether you’re new to these concepts or you’ve been using them in your classrooms for years, here are some ways you can explore these ideas more deeply with your students this year.
Thousands of educators worldwide have discovered the possibilities for using Minecraft as an educational tool. Following Microsoft’s acquisition of this enormously popular sandbox video game for $2.5 billion last year, Microsoft announced a free portal for teachers to share their Minecraft ideas and lesson plans during the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference in Philadelphia in June.
“We expect this new community to help educators get inspired about what’s possible with Minecraft in education,” said Anthony Salcito, Microsoft’s vice president of education, in a blog post.
For instance, elementary students in Seattle are learning foundational math skills by calculating perimeter, area, and volume in Minecraft during a Saturday math program. Middle school students in Los Angeles are learning about major world religions as part of their humanities class by visiting sacred sites in their city, researching international sites, and then building them in Minecraft. And elementary students in Scotland are learning about city planning and engineering by reimagining what they think the Dundee waterfront should look like and building it in Minecraft.
Teachers who are looking for a great way to engage and motivate their students by transforming their classroom into a giant role-playing game might try ClassCraft. This online service “gamifies” the way teachers manage their class in any subject area, allowing students to level up, work in teams, and earn powers that have real-world consequences.
The basic service is free, and a premium version (for $96/year, with volume discounts available) also includes in-class quests and student analytics.
Filament Games creates digital learning games and interactive simulations that help students understand key concepts through experiential learning. The company’s newest game, Planet Mechanic, challenges students to take control of a planet and help an alien race decide what conditions they want on their home world. Students can manipulate the planet’s atmosphere, tilt, rotation, and lunar cycles to change the temperature, time, and seasons—and in the process, they learn the effects these factors have on a planet’s environment.
Dig-It Games develops game-based learning experiences that promote creative thinking and teach about math and history while students solve ancient puzzles. For example, in Mayan Mysteries, a looter has been digging up Mayan sites, clearly looking for something specific—and it’s up to students to solve the mystery. Other games from Dig-It have students explore ancient Rome, Pompeii, and Egypt.
MIT’s Education Arcade develops free games and simulations that help students develop math and science skills. For instance, The Radix Endeavor is an immersive, multiplayer online game that supports high school math and biology instruction.
In the game, students explore a virtual island world with unknown plants and animals. They investigate and collect evidence to help inhabitants solve some of the island’s problems. Teachers can assign quests to students and can track their progress.
Virtual field trips
Google is rolling out a brand-new service, called Expeditions, which could take virtual field trips to a whole new level.
Using Google’s Cardboard—a simple viewing device made out of folded cardboard—students can use their smart phones to get an immersive experience of a virtual excursion. Reminiscent of the old View-Master devices introduced in the late 30s, Google Cardboard turns a smart phone into a cutting-edge virtual-reality viewer that gives an added dimension to virtual field trips.
“Expeditions allows teachers to make their curriculum come alive by taking their students on field trips to almost anywhere they can imagine,” says Google on its education website. “Around the globe, on the surface of Mars, on a dive to coral reefs or back in time—abstract concepts come to life in Expeditions, giving students a deeper understanding of the world beyond the classroom.”
Google is accepting requests from educators to pilot the technology in their classrooms this year.
Speaking of immersive 3D experiences, zSpace helps bring science education to life by allowing students to manipulate virtual 3D images, making three-dimensional learning more interactive for students.
Imagine being able to learn about the human heart by picking up a still-beating heart, turning it over, peering through its outer walls, and watching the various valves open and shut as blood pumps through them. That’s the kind of virtual 3D experience that zSpace offers.
The company’s immersive 3D environment consists of a high-definition 3D display, a stylus, 3D glasses, and CyberScience 3D curriculum software from Cyber-Anatomy. Using the special stylus, students can “pick up,” rotate, and otherwise manipulate the images they see on the 3D monitor—giving them a unique way to explore and interact with 3D content.
Previously, the zSpace system consisted of a virtual reality monitor and a separate computer. At ISTE 2015, the company introduced an all-in-one solution for schools, designed in partnership with Foxconn Technology Group. The new model is available at a lower cost to schools, which typically purchase a zSpace STEM lab in groups of 12 units.
Also at ISTE, HP unveiled a new system for scanning, designing, and creating 3D objects, called Sprout. An all-in-one computer and 3D scanner, Sprout enables students to grab an object from the physical world, manipulate it in the digital world, and bring their new creation to life using a 3D printer.
With just a few taps, Sprout’s 3D Capture app creates a high-resolution, full-color 3D digital model that students can manipulate any way they choose, the company says. Students place an object on the touch mat and tap the scan button, which activates the device’s 3D cameras and sensors to capture a 3D color image of the object. Then, they follow the instructions to rotate and capture their object from multiple angles, and Sprout combines these images to build a fully editable 3D model.
Printing their new creation requires a 3D printer, which is not part of the Sprout solution but is available separately through HP partners.
Question from SunGard K-12: What are you doing with tech in your classroom? If you use these strategies, what works/what doesn’t? Please comment below!