2016-10-07 / Neighbors

Students get their hands on 3-D software

Virtual reality system promotes interaction
By Hector Gonzalez


WOULD YOU LOOK AT THAT—Fourth-grader Jeremy Quinones, 9, gets a kick out of a new computer system inside zSpace’s mobile unit at Camarillo Heights Elementary School on Oct. 4. 
MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers WOULD YOU LOOK AT THAT—Fourth-grader Jeremy Quinones, 9, gets a kick out of a new computer system inside zSpace’s mobile unit at Camarillo Heights Elementary School on Oct. 4. MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers As two Camarillo Heights Elementary School fourth-graders looked on, David Cisneros manipulated a 3-D computer image of a human brain, dissected it and then instantly fitted the pieces back together.

“I bet you didn’t know your brain had so many parts, did you?” asked Cisneros, a sales and marketing manager for zSpace.

The Silicon Valley firm’s computer software works with lightweight 3-D glasses that activate sensors embedded in the computer’s screen to create a three-dimensional experience.

With a stylus pen, which interacts with the screen much like people use a finger to move stuff around on an iPad or a touchscreen smartphone, any image selected on the screen appears to “float” in 3-D space.


REACHING OUT—Fourth-graders from Camarillo Heights Elementary School use a stylus to maneuver objects on the computer screen inside a zSpace mobile unit on Oct. 4 in Camarillo. The computers use virtual reality, augmented reality and 3-D imaging to allow students to move or open objects inside the program, such as a wristwatch, robotic arm and a human heart. 
MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers REACHING OUT—Fourth-graders from Camarillo Heights Elementary School use a stylus to maneuver objects on the computer screen inside a zSpace mobile unit on Oct. 4 in Camarillo. The computers use virtual reality, augmented reality and 3-D imaging to allow students to move or open objects inside the program, such as a wristwatch, robotic arm and a human heart. MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers “It would be really helpful for students, by making things more real for them,” Camarillo Heights fourth-grader teacher Theresa Dieujuste said. “I think students could really benefit from this.”

This week, the company’s mobile lab, the Virtual Reality Classroom Tour, stopped at three Pleasant Valley School District campuses in Camarillo to demonstrate the technology to students, teachers and administrators.

On Monday, the mobile lab stopped at Camarillo Heights Elementary. On Tuesday, it visited Pleasant Valley School of Engineering and Arts, and Los Primeros Schools of Sciences.

“There is a plethora of content of actual lessons that goes with the software,” Cisneros said, flipping through a brochure. “These are complete lesson plans.” zSpace’s version of virtual reality is closer to augmented reality.

The system does away with wrap-around headgear, trading their immersive 360-degree worlds for what the company says is a more social, shared experience.

“Our version is like the widescreen virtual reality, but we just kind of shrink it down and put it onto a limited screen in front of you,” zSpace’s technologies chief Dave Chavez said on the Sunnvale company’s website. “So you have the virtual experience, all the information is coming from some other thing, yet it’s placed in your world, in your room.”

Teachers love it, he said.

“It’s a super thing in the classroom, because kids can still work together. That’s one of the reasons why kids go to school, is to interact. Teachers love it, because the kids are still there. The kids haven’t been transported to some other place.”

In August, the company took its product on the road, bringing its mobile demonstration labs to schools in about 23 states.

According to the online marketing research firm Touchstone Research, several companies are developing virtual and augmented reality software for educational purposes, bringing their products directly to schools for demonstrations.

Google, for instance, is fieldtesting Google Expeditions, which uses an inexpensive— about $15—Google Cardboard viewer and a smartphone to create 360-degree virtual field trips to hundreds of places around the planet, and even Mars.

Touchstone Research lists Google Expeditions and zSpace among its “Top 10 companies working on education in virtual reality and augmented reality.”

Pleasant Valley district Superintendent Angelica Ramsey, whose previous job was heading up the educational services branch of the Santa Clara County Office of Education in the Silicon Valley, said she arranged the zSpace tour’s local stops in Camarillo.

“I heard about this from my connections up in Silicon Valley,” said Ramsey.

All 11 schools in the 17,000-student district now have maker spaces, converted classrooms outfitted with computers, building materials and 3-D printers. Students design, engineer and build projects from scratch, learning math, science and other subjects along the way, educators say.

Ramsey, who checked out the demonstration at Camarillo Heights school Monday, said she was impressed with the technology, which she believes could complement the district’s maker spaces classrooms.

But the system isn’t cheap, running about $3,000 for the basic software and hardware, Cisneros said.

“We’re going to look at finding funding to get at least one of these for one of our maker spaces,” Ramsey said. “It would be a first step.”

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