Nampa students use virtual reality to tackle real life experiences

NAMPA — Natalie Hughes isn’t wearing gloves or using dissecting tools while removing a female frog’s muscular system during biology class.

“No blood or guts,” said the Idaho Arts Charter School sophomore.

Natalie is using zSpace, a virtual reality system that lets students experience real-life situations while learning. While Natalie removes the digestive, nervous, circulatory and lymphatic systems she is learning and preparing for a real frog dissection this month. She can pick up the frog’s heart, rotate it and see how the heart looks inside as it beats.

“I don’t like wearing gloves and being able to learn while not having to actually touch a frog is key for me,” Natalie said.

zSpace stations consist of large screens connected to PCs that teachers and students use with special 3-D glasses and a stylus pen. When students put on the glasses, images appear in 3-D. Cameras on the screen track head movements, letting users move closer to get a better view of objects. The stylus lets users pick up things and see them from every angle.

“I’ve imagined this type of technology in my head my entire career,” said science teacher Issac Bradfield. “Students get a sense of depth of what is going on rather that a flat piece of paper with a diagram.”

The system isn’t limited to the sciences. The zSpace stations include programs for arts, geography, mathematics, engineering and language arts. Idaho Arts Charter School math and science teachers are using the technology. The school purchased 13 stations costing nearly $5,000 apiece. State funding and technology grants covered the costs.

“It’s a necessity to have because of the science and math need,” said Jackie Collins, the executive director of Idaho Arts Charter School. “This technology will help prepare our students for college and will give them a leg up on the future.”

Students in fifth grade through high school will use the technology.

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