By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — When David Sowells attended a technology conference last year he checked out resources that All Saints Catholic School might want to implement in its curriculum. He came upon the zSpace Virtual and Augmented Reality Learning Lab Project and watched a demonstration. The vendor convinced him to try the program and he knew “we had to have it.”
But with a price tag of more than $60,000, he wondered how the school could afford it. Ed VonFeldt, the school’s grant writer and husband of Principal Jeanne VonFeldt, decided to look for a grant to underwrite the new technology program. He applied for and received a $62,000 grant from Scott County Regional Authority.
Ten computers were delivered and teachers in grades 2-8 were trained to use the new technology this past fall. “This is a wonderful opportunity,” said Jeanne VonFeldt. “We are the only Catholic elementary school in Iowa to have it and the only school in the Quad-City area, K-12, to have this.” Davenport Public Library and Eastern Iowa Community College have the technology, she noted.
All Saints middle school science teacher Adam Tucker has zSpace in his classroom. “This is augmented reality. You don’t get the full 360 degrees like virtual reality,” he said. Students typically work in groups of two. One wears “driver” glasses that track activity on the computer monitor while the person wearing “passenger” glasses sees augmented reality; the images appear as if they are in 3D.
Software programs for zSpace cover chemistry, mathematics, engineering, dissection, physics, anatomy and art, for example. Curriculum is provided. Last fall, seventh-graders used the new technology to view red blood cells and nerves. Using a special stylus, students were able to rotate or enlarge the blood cell or nerve.
“The range of materials is incredible. Every unit has something that perfectly aligns with what we are learning,” Tucker said.
Student Estevan Prescott said, “It’s super cool. It’s like 3D and fun to use.” Elijah King said it’s fun to learn and play at the same time.
Fifth-grade teacher Julie McCreary said her students didn’t want to leave after the introductory session. “You can see the chambers of the heart. You can feel the heartbeat (through the stylus). You can change the heart rate to running. As a teacher, this is exciting. It is not a substitute for science or math, but an enhancement.”
She gave a demonstration to All Saints school board members. They didn’t want to do it at first, but then they didn’t want to go back to their meeting. The biggest challenge for adults is keeping them from touching the screen.
Third-grade teacher Sheila Fowler said she heard many of her students say after their first experience with the technology, ‘“This is the best day ever.’ They ask, ‘When can we go back?’”
Student Will Cox said it was “really, really, really, really fun.” He said feeling the heartbeat was a little “weird” but he liked seeing different parts of the heart. Fellow classmate Emma Holladay said it was neat to move items around. She liked taking the robot apart. “It was weird and cool.”
Sowells said he has enjoyed everything about the technology – from trying it out and getting it installed at school. He heads off to his next conference soon and can’t wait to see what else is out there.
“This has brought some great conversations to the dinner tables at homes,” Jeanne VonFeldt said.