The STEM Lab (short for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) at Gardner Bullis Elementary School in Los Altos is the site of an unusual class project.
“So my animal was a dolphin,” sixth grader Adam Mekay explains to a first grader.
Adam and his classmates are among the first kids in the country to use a new 3D educational display.
“These are some of the body parts of the dolphin,” Adam continues as he pulls apart a 3D representation of a dolphin. “It’s really awesome how it’s shown here.”
The Los Altos School District is doing a pilot program to test zSpace, a learning tool that uses polarized glasses and a stylus to create an immersive educational experience. “It’s actually like I haven’t imagined it before,” Adam says. “I never knew technology was this advanced.”
STEM teacher Amy Shelley says her students have been wowed by the technology. “I tell them, ‘turn your hand and see the inside of it.’ And they, like some of them jump back in excitement at what they can explore,” she says.
On the day of our visit the sixth graders are using zSpace to make presentations about marine life to their class buddies, the first graders.
“They couldn’t believe there was an actual like, lobster in front of them,” says sixth grader Grace Souders. “My buddies - they actually tried to touch it.”
The zSpace system tracks the location of the user’s glasses and generates a real-time 2D display of the students’ 3D experience.
“When computers came along we stopped interacting spatially and started looking at things that were stuck to a screen or behind a screen,” says zSpace director of educational solutions Elizabeth Lytle. “And with zSpace that barrier is removed.”
Sixth grader Brandon Son is a fan. “It feels like you’re kind of picking up the actual fish and just taking it apart and it feels like you’re right there with the animal,” he says.
The district doesn’t know definitively yet if zSpace improves learning outcomes, but early signs point to success.
“A lot of them will come in at lunch and use zSpace on their own time,” says STEM teacher Shelley. “And they’re just finding tons of different things that they can explore.”
“I just think my school is really lucky to be able to have it,” Grace says.
As for the cost, the zSpace STEM lab setup costs $25,000 to $50,000.
The pilot program in Los Altos continues through next school year and will expand to include all schools in the district.
zSpace is also in use at UCSF and Stanford for research and medical education.