Dim the lights and listen. Rumbling and stompingfills the classroom. First grade students sit up and lean forward in their seats, readied with excitement and anticipation as their science lesson comes to life. A Tyrannosaurus Rex lurches into the room, right in front of their eyes. Students observe the mighty carnivore as it tromps through the classroom, taking note of its activities, its eating habits and its demeanor.
This scene heralds a new age of interactivity for 21stcentury classrooms throughout the country. The vivid, clear and extraordinary images provided by today’s 3D technologies dramatically expand the possibilities for classroom learning. Teachers understand the impact this type of technology has on students and are harnessing its power to bring the classroom to life and help students more easily grasp difficult concepts.
The possibilities for 3D-enhanced student learning experiences are limitless. No longer is learning based simply on textbooks or computer-based tools. Rather, 3D technology is being used to supplement and enhance the standard curriculum, giving students the opportunity to observe and explore phenomena up close in their own classroom via “3D field trips,” without the hassle of leaving the school grounds.
For the study of science, this is particularly exciting. Students can explore the solar system, taking extra time to observe the topography of Mars. They can fly along with a bee to learn about the hive, pollination and the important role bees play in the sustainability of our food chain and environment. With 3D modeling, students don special 3D glasses to immerse themselves in an experience such as looking inside the human body to observe how the brain works, or watching how a dissected frog’s internal organs function in real time.
As “digital natives,” younger generations are primed to respond to technology-based teaching techniques in the classroom. But with scarce education dollars at stake, what evidence is there that 3D technologies can positively impact learning outcomes?
Thus far, schools that have adopted these new tools have reported good results. Student attention has increased—especially among learners who have tended to be disruptive or inattentive during more traditional instruction. All types of learners are more engaged in creative thinking and actively participating in the lessons and discussions, with ELL students and gifted students particularly benefiting. Learners have been shown to grasp and retain information more effectively than their peers who learn the same material without 3D technology, and have shown significant increases in academic achievement.
Some say today’s 3D tools are just the beginning, and have started to imagine an enriched instructional world in which students will use yet-to-be-developed tools to visit historic sites, see how regrouping is done in subtraction, and tour a variety of ecosystems. An ultimate goal would be for 3D technologies to stimulate higher-order thinking in ways that 2D tools can’t, confronting students with experiences that they must consider and respond to in novel and creative ways.
The possibilities of 3D tools are promising, but how viable are they long-term? Can schools afford them? Will the supply of fresh 3D content become more readily available across subject areas? Will students step in, as some have predicted, creating content to fill current gaps—and will the content they create have the same type of positive impact on student learning outcomes that some early adopters have seen? Can 3D technology help schools produce more active and informed citizens? Can it help produce more highly skilled, tech-savvy, innovative workers to compete in the global marketplace?
There is no doubt that 3D technology has awakened classrooms with a new energy and new potential for richer, deeper learning. It has the power to turn our learners into explorers, their curiosity awakened and their skills and senses “switched on.” Now don your 3D glasses, because the rest remains to be seen.