Keller Citizen

North Texas students playing in this sandbox could also become science geniuses


Kids love sandboxes. Now, thanks to a $15,000 grant from Devon Energy, students at Leo Adams Middle School in the Northwest School District can learn more about geography and landscapes with their new augmented reality sandbox.

The augmented reality sandbox allows students to experiment with landforms in real time. As students change the landscape, the computer program changes the topographic map. Students are also able to explore how erosional forces can change a landscape over time.

The first augmented reality sandbox was created by researchers at the University of California-Davis and was originally launched in museum settings in 2012.

The idea combines an actual sandbox with a Microsoft Kinect 3D camera and data projector to help students visualize topography and the changes water can create on a landscape. As a student sculpts the sand with hands or tools, the topographic projection changes to reflect the real world changes.

“We use models in science class when a concept is too big, too small or too dangerous to observe in real life,” said science teacher Helen Wright. “Studying how land features can be changed by erosional features occurs over millions of years and is not very engaging or relevant for students. We hope that by using this sandbox, students become excited about and find relevance in earth science concepts.”

Wright said, to the best of her knowledge, the Northwest ISD is breaking ground with this being the first AR sandbox in North Texas. She said hopes are to have it in place before spring break.

Fellow science teacher Sheila Greene, who co-wrote the grant request with Wright, said the AR sandbox can help students learn about how water rights can alter the geopolitical landscape and why boundaries are where they are in social studies. It can even be used when studying historical battles, or to examine the impact of catastrophic events on the ecosystem.

“And a physical education class could use the sandbox to better understand strategy in games,” Greene said. “This technology is really only in the early phases of discovering all the curricular connections and learning potential in it.

“Adams Middle School is in a very fortunate location, next to Schluter Elementary and V.R. Eaton High School. This makes it easy for collaborations to spring up between the schools, and we hope this technology will entice teachers and students from our neighboring schools to come explore and learn with us.”

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