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Park Rapids high schoolers sample virtual reality technology

Isaac Hoverson, a sophomore, dissects a heart through virtual reality on one of 11 computers onboard. (Photos by Shannon Geisen/Enterprise)1 / 3
"I think it's great," said freshman Lucas Seidl as he deconstructs a virtual engine.2 / 3
The zSpace Mobile Classroom, a 50-foot tour bus, stopped at the Park Rapids Area High School Tuesday and gave students a chance to experience virtual reality-based learning.3 / 3

Virtual reality rolled into the Park Rapids Area High School Tuesday.

Sponsored by zSpace, Inc., a state-of-the-art mobile learning lab allowed students to dissect frogs, explore the human heart, construct jet engines or perform simple physics experiments — all in detailed, 3D virtual reality (VR).

Special education teachers Greg Kuehn and Matthew Brandt discovered zSpace Inc. while attending the Tierney Brothers Classroom Tech Tour in St. Cloud. They "experienced some amazing pieces of technology," Brandt said.

"The technology ranged from Smartboards, virtual reality, drones, 3D printers and flexible

seating. We found ourselves working on the zSpace computer the majority of the time. This student-centered technology enables students to learn through hands-on experience and visual learning," Brandt explained.

Augmented Reality (AR) and VR-based learning experiences are the latest innovation in school curriculum, particularly as many K-12 school districts place an emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) education and Career and Tech Ed programs.

While visiting with zSpace representative Pat Salstrand, Brandt and Kuehn learned that the Silicon Valley company's large, 50-foot bus has 11 zSpace computers in it.

The zSpace Mobile Classroom Tour bus travels to schools to demonstrate its suite of educational software and hands-on activities.

And a school in southern Minnesota had canceled their booking.

"With a few phone calls later, we were able to schedule them to come to our school on Feb. 28," Brandt said.

The bus arrived at 8 a.m., with classes using the interactive technology in 20-minute intervals from 9 a.m. to 2:20 p.m. Staff and students were allowed to use the bus during the day to experience the new type of technology at no cost to the school district.

"This is a great opportunity for our students and staff to see how this new technology

can be used in the classroom," Brandt said. "We figured this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

zSpace combines AR and VR in hundreds of learning activities that cover life sciences, physics, earth and space science, history and geography, math, art and design.

"Usually, technology is intimidating to me. I'm old school, but this is really user-friendly," Kuehn said of AR/VR. "I was on it for a half-hour."

Each student or instructor wears a pair of "tracking glasses."

"It actually tracks your eyes," Salstrand explained.

The user holds a stylus with three buttons to select objects or take action where a laser beam is pointing on the computer screen.

"Students can do small engine robotics to heart surgery, all in a couple clicks," Brandt said.

The system is capable of using multiple different languages, "so it's good for ESL students, too," he noted.

Student responses were positive.

"It seems pretty sweet," said Isaac Hoverson, a sophomore, as he dissected a heart. A heartbeat was even palpable through the stylus.

Marcus Kimbrough, a senior, plans to be a video game designer. He tested the VR architectural lessons.

"It's pretty cool," said senior Kyle Trumble. Jacob Sharp, a sophomore, agreed.