In addition to incorporating technology in the classroom, many schools are building computer science classes into their curriculum. One such school is Gridley Middle School in Tuscon, Arizona. For the 2012-2013 school year, they added a virtual reality class. While some students were skeptical of how successful a middle school could produce an advanced computer science classroom, they were pleasantly surprised at just how innovative it was. 13-year-old Rashad Stevenson was definitely skeptical, but was truly surprised at how much he liked it.
In the class, 6th and 8th graders design and model their own virtual reality projects; anything from video games, to military equipment to a frosted donut. It’s a pilot program developed with the Raytheon Corporation, the giant aerospace and defense contractor.
“What we’re trying to do is invest in today to insure that we’ll have the engineers and technical professionals that we’ll need in the future,” said Laura McGill, the company’s deputy vice president of engineering.
Raytheon has pumped nearly $100 million into science, engineering and math education over the past five years. As part of the Gridley program, Raytheon engineers bring the kids and their projects to their state-of-the-art 3D design screen called “The Cave.”
“It’s cool. It’s magical,” Rashad said. “You can really see your pieces, ’cause they’re pretty much art brought to life. And it’s a beautiful sight.”
In the classroom, 14-year-old Emily Jonatan is encouraged to collaborate.
“So if we need help, we have to go and ask students and figure it out by ourselves,” Emily said.
Science teacher Lisa Kist has had no trouble filling the pilot class. She already has a waiting list of about 40.
“Just the power to expose them to what’s possible gets their minds working,” Kist said.
The Gridley Middle School plans to add two more sections next semester because of the impact the class is having on students like Rashad.
It’s made me more involved,” he said. “I liked school okayish, but now I see how I could pull in Math or Language Arts or Science and make something from it.”
How do you trigger a child’s motivation? They may have found a model in Tucson, Ariz.