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SDMS experiences virtual reality with grant

Stephen Decatur Middle School seventh grade students from left, Olivia Mazza, Kyla Rayne and Talan Davis, put on virtual reality goggles on Friday as part of a $5,000 grant provided to the school by the Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore. 

By Rachel Ravina, Staff Writer

(Nov. 29, 2018) Imagine yourself on a roller coaster. The speed picks up as the car races along the tracks surrounded by lush vegetation.

But, this is not a traditional roller coaster. Looking around 360 degrees, it’s in another time. The car’s pace continues to quicken, and soon you’re greeted by several species of prehistoric beings: dinosaurs.

Coming out of the roller coaster setting, reality snaps back to a classroom at Stephen Decatur Middle School in Berlin. That was no ordinary journey, but a glimpse into the virtual world its students will soon experience in some of their lessons.

Stephen Decatur Middle School recently received a $5,000 grant for 20 virtual reality goggles to be used in the classroom. The school was presented the education grant from the Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore, based in Salisbury.

Lynne Barton, principal of Stephen Decatur Middle School, said finding new ways to entice students in a digital age is crucial.

“Our kids are so tech savvy, and so you’ve gotta constantly be trying to think ahead of them to keep them engaged and interested,” Barton said.

Anne Cook, a seventh grade social studies teacher, said she thought this initiative would be a great opportunity to “get kids in the moment.”

As a social studies teacher, she added the device could help transport her kids back to World War I to learn more about alliances, trench warfare and the lasting mental health effects on soldiers.

“[Our kids] will appreciate it,” she said.

Barton said having these technological advancements in the classroom could help transform learning approaches in ways they never thought possible.

“I think we just were looking for one more tool to put in our toolbox to engage kids in learning,” Barton said.

This new tool will help make learning fun for students, and “they’re not gonna want to leave,” Cook added.

Nicole Crosariol, a technical instructor at the middle school, said they hope to have the devices live after Thanksgiving break.

Teachers are currently in the testing phase as they get acquainted with the device’s capabilities. Crosariol said the device has numerous programs that can be tailored to virtually any aspect of the curriculum.

Cook said she hopes this will be a “holistic experience” for the learning process.

“There’s so many options. It’s not like it’s something we have to stretch to make it work for us,” Crosariol said.

Other examples include virtually traveling to Anne Frank’s annex in Amsterdam, journeying to Sudan for Gabrielle Martin’s seventh grade ELA class reading of “A Long Walk to Water,” or venturing inside the human body to better understand how cells work.

These virtual reality goggles can also help students grasp concepts in a more visual way.

“I know like particularly for me, when I was in middle school, some things were harder to understand,” Crosariol said. “If I could be thrown back into the 1800s and kind of see what it’s like, it’ll be more real for me, I guess.”

However, students are not the only ones benefiting from these virtual reality devices – the experience is twofold. “The teachers [are] excited about it,” Barton said, which further benefits the learning process.

Crosariol said she hopes this new tool will help students find passion in learning.

“It just gives them options, so that kids have hope and they have a purpose for what they’re doing,” she said.

Crosariol stressed how these virtual reality goggles could have more of an impact on students than just what they’re learning in the classroom.

They may only be in middle school, but she said there are programs that allow people to test-drive career opportunities in a variety of industries. The goggles have programs designed for fields including CPR training, surgery, real estate and architecture.

“Purpose is found through passion, so having kids experiment [with] all these things that I’m finding on here – it’s nice to be able to see things that they may not have thought of before, and any kind of thing that they might be interested in learning, that might kind of drive their passion for their career or however they take their life into high school and beyond,” Crosariol said.