South Orangetown Central School District

Tappan Zee High School students will be experiencing Earth Science in 3-D with a new augmented reality (AR) tool. “Instead of me at the board, I’ll be able to give students an activity list and have them cycle through hands-on stations, including the AR Sandbox,” explained Tappan Zee High School Science Teacher Dr. Steve Cohn. “One task might be to make a mountain with one side steeper than the other, then observe and contrast the contour lines on each side. As they create landforms, they’ll be able to see the effects it has on the topographic map.”

The system is comprised of an Xbox Kinect sensor, which senses the height of sand in the box below it, and a computer loaded with a powerful video card and open source software. This computer then transmits the data to a projector suspended above the box which projects contour lines and other effects on the fine, white sand. Contour lines change dynamically as the sand is moved in the box. A simple closed-to-open hand gesture in midair creates rain so that students can observe drainage patterns. A monitor on the counter behind the system displays the contour lines in either two dimensions or three dimensions, as well.

Dr. Cohn, who is engaged in the New York State Master Teacher application process for STEM educators, was introduced to the technology by a fellow applicant last year. After learning about this new tool, he enlisted the help of Jim Keelty, a fellow science and technology teacher to help build one for South Orangetown students over the summer.

A few former Earth Science students stopped in on Wednesday to test the new technology. “Students will be intrigued,” said sophomore Scarlet O., who shaped a sandy landscape as she spoke. “It easier to learn when you’re physically involved.”

Sophomore Sophia S. agreed, adding, “People don’t like to just sit there and listen.”

Junior Kayla S. was impressed by how augmented reality enables students to connect with concepts more readily. “You see it right in front of you in 3D and then as a 2D image on the (monitor) screen, like you’d normally see it on a page,” she observed.

Hands-on, tech-infused lessons also help students retain what they’ve learned. An AR Sandbox project? “Students won’t forget it,” Mr. Keelty said.

The AR Sandbox is outfitted with wheels and Dr. Cohn looks forward to taking it on the road to share with elementary and middle school students in the months ahead.

View a video of TZHS students experimenting with the AR Sandbox on YouTube.

Two male teachers with AR Sandbox