Virtual reality

News Engage kids in cool technology

Just before Thanksgiving, some fifth graders at Sassarini Elementary School flooded into the Maker Lab to focus on a common goal. They want to see their DASH robots dance in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and weave through the streets of New York City — at least digitally. The parade was projected on a screen and the robots were just pretending, but that didn’t stop the students from getting a very real experience of what it’s like to attend one of America’s most iconic events.

Meanwhile, at Flowery Elementary School, students are taking a gondola ride across the canals of Venice, across the steep red cliffs of Utah’s Zion National Park, and even orbiting Jupiter — all using virtual reality. Now, school libraries attract recess students looking to have fun with new technology while also learning about the next great digital frontier.

Teaching is harder than ever when digital platforms are the norm for our students. Frustratingly and ineffectively, most students’ academic achievement declines, while many educators leave the field, causing chaos in our classrooms.

All of this recent pressure is what makes DASH robots and virtual reality headsets so important.

Students are learning cutting-edge technologies that will help them grow and stay sharper in an increasingly digital world—plus, it’s fun. Children, especially elementary school students, seem to be very interested in these learning opportunities. Research shows that anything that makes education more attractive is a good thing.

“Based on the widely accepted belief that children learn best by doing or doing, virtual reality possesses the ability to maximize learning by having students ‘do’ or ‘do’ anything imaginable—without leaving the classroom, ” Teach Wire, an award-winning educational website, reports. “According to educational psychologists, we remember 10 percent of what we read, 20 percent of what we hear and 90 percent of what we do. As a result, students are more It is possible to preserve information learned in an immersive environment in a virtual reality experience.”

Not surprisingly, this technique can be cost-prohibitive in many areas. Here, we are fortunate to have the Sonoma Valley Educational Foundation, which has been filling gaps in our classrooms since 1993. It was their generosity that brought Sassarini the robots ($150 each, and there are now five on campus) and Flowery’s virtual reality headsets (purchased through a $1,000 grant). Teachers can apply for classroom grants each year, and donors can peruse the application and support the project that most appeals to them.

The foundation and its donors also fund preschool for all, support countless arts projects, build a library and provide a plethora of school supplies, and many other acts of kindness that make learning easier and more fun. All of these ideas stem from our teachers and school staff who see every day what children need to thrive.

While some critics say that overinvesting in early technology trends may be a waste of money, it’s hard not to be swayed by reports that come straight from our classrooms.

“This month, a fifth grader told me he’s going to be an engineer because he’s good at problem solving,” said Danielle Wroblewski, the Sassarini teacher behind the DASH robotics project. “A third-grader enthusiastically told me that he could debug seven bugs in the code. He prided himself on being able to fix the problems himself and get the robot to move.”

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