Durham students explore new dimensions of learning

Jan. 15, 2013 @ 04:37 PM

Heather Pendergrass always wanted to be Ms. Frizzle aboard the Magic School Bus.
Now, thanks to a three-dimensional projector in her classroom at the Southern School of Energy and Sustainability, Pendergrass gets her wish.
“It really opens up that science world for them,” she said. “Not all the students you teach are going to be scientists, but this opens that and a lot of other doors for them.”
The machine, valued at $10,000, comes with 30 sets of dark-lensed goggles for students to slip on, as well as about 245 programs that can be broadcast on the big blank wall that dominates part of her classroom.
The 3D technology “is a tool,” Pendergrass said. “For some kids that have a really hard time envisioning things that they can’t touch, like the atom or the inside of a cell, this is something that can actually get you inside it.”
Durham Public Schools acquired machines for Southern and several other public schools from a company called Skylink Family & School Network, which is run by Andy Canady, former assistant superintendent for Onslow County Schools.
During a recent class, students donned their goggles and watched as the 3D projection carried them into a human leg to observe the healing process of a broken tibia.
“It’s so much better than just looking at a diagram,” Pendergrass said. “Students might look at a picture of a cell and say, ‘All this stuff looks alike.’ Yes, it looks similar, but it does a different job. When you see it in 3D, you see how it works.”
Programs in the system cover topics from physics to biology to chemistry to human anatomy. Pendergrass, a former cardiac tech, said the anatomy programs even taught her a few new things.
“I figured if it could do that for me, what could it do for our kids?” she said.
Gabriel Sherman-Diestel, 16, is a 10th-grader at Southern. His favorite 3D program so far has been one that focused on Newton’s laws of motion.
“I think the 3D is great,” he said. “It helps you pay attention and makes it better for everybody so they’ll start coming to class. It’s better than looking at it in a book.”
Janelle Arledge, 15, agreed.
“It keeps people in class,” she said. “If (Mrs. Pendergrass) tells us she’s going to use a 3D presentation, most people come to class instead of skip. If they miss it, they’re kind of mad.”
Benji Downing, the DPS K-12 science specialist, praised the technology for making difficult principles more accessible to students.
“I knew the Pythagorean theorem,” he said. “But when I saw it in 3D, it puts it in a place in your brain where you can’t lose it. We see this as the next wave. It’s out there, kids know about it and it’s the world we live in.”

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