FLORENCE, S.C. — One day last week, students, parents and teachers at Royall Elementary School explored the human heart, watched a butterfly’s metamorphosis and dissected frogs — all from the comfort of an air conditioned bus and without any mess.
The school was showing off its latest innovative learning system: the zSpace virtual reality (VR) lab. A zSpace bus brought a traveling lab for people to explore but the school itself will have 10 VR systems set up in a lab starting next school year for student instruction.
Royall Principal Julie Smith said schools have to stay on top of new learning trends.
District One Superintendent Randy Bridges “has encouraged every school (in Florence One) to look for new ways to be innovative,” Smith said. “We didn’t really want to wait on any board decision and board funding so we went ahead and started exploring the 3D option and that led to the partnership with General Electric. We saw how well the children were creators of projects that solve problems and I figured I had to keep looking for more innovation; I had to do more and this was one of those places that I went.”
Smith said the virtual reality lab offers new learning experiences but also falls back on core social functions like teaching students how to work as a team.
“In my mind, it is innovative, it’s interactive, it’s creative thinking, it’s collaborative,” Smith said. “The great part is that we are going to have a 10-station lab and, at every station, two children will work with one stylus, which means they have to talk and work together. It is revolutionizing education. We have been encouraged to think outside the box and this is about as far as I can go. It is so exciting.”
South Carolina Rep. Jay Jordan stopped by the mobile lab Wednesday. He said that he was amazed at how far technology had come.
"I didn’t understand (before today) the depth to which virtual reality had excelled and how applicable it was in the classroom,” Jordan said. “I dissected a frog one part at a time and it was assisting me along the way; that’s a far cry from when I dissected a frog in 1988.”
Jordan said politicians need to be looking to the future of learning, just as educators are.
“We talk all the time, especially at the Statehouse, about improving education; this is a big part of that,” Jordan said. “This is hands-on, preparing our children for the future. We have to start thinking of out of the box ways to go from a theory of how to improve education to reality.”
Students who visited the lab said that they had never seen anything like the zSpace lab and they were excited to be able to use it next school year.