The students at Franklin Square Union Free School District in Nassau County, New York, had already studied the layers of the earth. They’d seen a video, discussed the concept, and even taken apart a physical class model. But when they worked with a virtual earth in zSpace, you could hear the “wows” and “whoahs” all over the classroom. They lifted the virtual earth from the screen and turned it around to see it from all sides. They peeled off the earth’s rocky crust, and used virtual tools to measure the depth of each layer.

“I could tell by their reactions and responses that they had a better understanding of layers,” said John Trotta, assistant principal at Polk Street School, one of the district’s three elementary schools. “It goes back to visualization. You can’t see the actual layers of the earth, but this is as close to a hands-on experience as possible. It brings the concept to life.”

zSpace is a virtual reality (VR) system used for STEM education. Unlike hardware systems that require headsets, zSpace is screen-based. Students and teachers use a custom stylus to pick up and manipulate items from a screen. Lightweight glasses transform that item into a 3D object that can be seen by everyone wearing the glasses, or cast onto a screen for the class to view.

A Brief Video on zSpace VR in Education

VR Specifically for Education

VR is making its way into education, and it may even be leapfrogging consumer use. While headset-based systems like Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive are a lot of fun, they’re mainly used for gaming, and not well suited for classroom use because they isolate students from the outside world, and from each other.

A screen-based solution, such as zSpace, seems more appropriate for the classroom. It’s already in more than 400 school districts across the globe, as students are quickly learning to live in a virtually enhanced world.

(Next page: How VR is enhancing STEM learning at Franklin Square)


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