Creating installations that enhance learning in a K-8 STEAM setting is a self-appointed task that I take great pride in. After submitting a grant proposal to Lowe’s as a part of their Toolbox for Education program, we were awarded funds and got to work. The proposal was written as follows:
A2 STEAM, in its continued effort to build capacity and enhance our learning opportunities, is excited to share our Augmented Reality Sandbox initiative.
The Augmented Reality Sandbox started as an NSF-funded project at UC Davis in an effort to simulate freshwater lake and watershed environments using 3D visualization applications in conjunction with a hands-on sandbox exhibit. Read more at the ARS website: ARS – About.
At A2 STEAM, we are interested in creating a mobile ARS installation to supplement phenomena-based science instruction through simulation. As a part of the recommended pacing within NGSS instruction, simulation would fall within an instructional sequence after students have had a chance to observe a phenomena and develop their own models. An ARS would serve to reinforce their understandings. An ARS has many applications across the span of our K-8 model as it pertains to NGSS standards.
Following the disciplinary core strand ESS2.A: Earth materials and systems, we understand that there is an increasing sophistication of student thinking across grade levels. In grades K-2, students will understand that wind and water change the shape of the land. In grades 3-5, students will understand that, among other concepts, four major Earth systems interact. Rainfall helps to shape the land and affects the types of living things found in a region. Water breaks rocks, soils, and sediments into smaller pieces and moves them around. In grades 6-8, students will understand that, among other concepts, energy flows and matter cycles within and among Earth’s systems.
Following the disciplinary core strand: ESS2.C The roles of water in Earth’s surface processes, we understand that there is an increasing sophistication of student thinking across grade levels. In grades K-2, students will understand that water is found in many types of places and in different forms on Earth. In grades 3-5, students will understand that, among other concepts, that most of Earth’s water is in the ocean and much of the Earth’s fresh water is underground. In grades 6-8, students will understand that, among other concepts, water movement causes weathering and erosion, changing landscape features.
The ARS simulation contains specific opportunity to teach Earth Science disciplinary core strands across all grades in our K-8 model. While interacting with a simulation is not specifically outlined in the progression of science and engineering practices, due to the fact that practice 2, developing and using models places an emphasis on students generating their own models to explain their understanding of phenomena, it can be used to great efficacy in other practices. Practice 4, analyzing and interpreting data, places an emphasis on students analyzing data to refine a problem statement or the design of a proposed object, tool, or process. Students can use a simulation such as this to test the conditions of a proposed solution to a problem such as How does the shape of the land affect the water?, and Where should a home be built to avoid natural hazards? See the following example to understand how these practices are put in place in an NGSS classroom: NGSS Practices. An ARS simulation would provide more opportunities for equitable access and accelerate the design and modeling process exponentially.
With the help of teachers and inspiration of parents, we designed the sandbox specifically for the needs of a K-8 STEAM and PBL in Google SketchUp. The Sandbox was designed to fit through a doorway, with an adjustable width and height. It needed to house hardware and be accessible to all students. Teachers, students, and parents got together in the makerspace one afternoon and built the sandbox from specifications of our design. We used saws, drills, sanders as well as the CNC machine for lettering. Spraypaint was used to add color to the letters, and the sandbox was coated with two coats of varnish.
We installed Linux onto a gaming desktop for its excellent graphics rendering capabilities. We installed a short-throw projector and a motion detecting camera on the projector arm. We calibrated the devices to interact with the sandbox and installed software from UC Davis. Finally, it works!
We have had great success using the installation to enhance instructional outcomes for topography within geography, and earth science. We are working together as a staff to continue to develop programming around this installation that enhances learning.