Baker Elementary School staff members, students and Cobb County School District employees joined by Superintendent Chris Ragsdale declared Baker’s zSpace STEM Lab a reality with a ribbon-cutting ceremony December 7.
It is the first zSpace STEM lab launched in the district. Baker staff members first began exploring a way to incorporate virtual reality into a school setting last year. However, it was a district-wide Science, Technology, Engineering and Math event that sparked the school’s pursuit of a virtual reality learning experience using zSpace, which was set up as a demo at the STEM conference.
A Cobb Tank grant valued at $9,000 partially funded Baker’s zSpace STEM Lab. The Baker School family came together to raise the additional funds to complete the project. Baker Principal Alison Broughton largely credited the school’s student council for their fundraising efforts as well as donations by community partners. Each zSpace unit costs $5,000.
Because it was a team effort by the school family to fund the STEM lab, the ribbon-cutting ceremony was streamed live so staff and students could watch.
With plans to add two more units, Baker now has 10 zSpace units set up to allow students to bring lessons off the pages of textbooks and examine them in a computer-generated space.
During the STEM Lab’s grand opening, community members, school staff and even Superintendent Ragsdale slipped on black glasses to virtually step into the learning space.
“I think it is going to accelerate the STEM program and transform our STEM education,” said Broughton.
The STEM Lab is already creating excitement among Baker students.
One Baker fourth grader, who spoke during the ceremony, described the new zSpace as the “ultimate learning experience.” When introducing the Superintendent, a fifth grade student referred to the lab as “Baker’s greatest achievement yet.”
In addition to the daily use of the STEM lab during school hours, students in the After School Program (ASP) will also have the opportunity to don the virtual reality glasses.
Kimberly Hutcheson, an ASP director at Baker, gave an example using butterflies of why the virtual learning experience fascinates students.
When students study the lifecycle of butterflies, they don’t have to wait until spring brings good weather to release the butterflies that they watched slowly mature in their classroom. In the virtual space, students can slow down the butterfly’s lifecycle to discover information, which they may not have seen using a real butterfly.
“It is so powerful and so engaging for our students,” said Broughton. “It is just an instructional tool, but we do think it is going to enhance the students’ education.”