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Big things are happening at Marsing Elementary School in Marsing, Idaho, where virtual reality has become a staple of their after-school program. Originally a four-day-a-week school, Marsing has been able to secure multiple grants to expand its after-school program into Friday, allowing students an optional fifth day of learning. Beginning last September, Ken Price secured the J.A. and Kathryn Albertsons Foundation grant which bolstered Marsing’s after-school program — but that’s not where Ken’s virtual-reality-in-the-classroom dreams started.
As Ken says, it started simply with a shared idea between him and another instructor. They had both noticed that the virtual reality market had been growing exponentially, and they saw its potential in the classroom.
So Ken started exploring the idea. A quick search led him to the Idaho Virtual Reality Council, who pointed Ken in the direction of Markus Nigrin, the CEO of the Boise-based company, Blocksmith. The two got to talking, and Ken started to realize the full potential of Blocksmith. Because the Marsing After-School Program was already experimenting with coding and robotics, and he knew virtual reality would fit perfectly with the students.
Funded through the State Department of Education, the STEM Action Center and the 21st Century Community Learning Center grants, Ken focused on innovating the after-school program by bringing students the interactions and learning opportunities they couldn’t find during the regular school day.
“I knew we had something in Blocksmith when our 3-5th graders quickly began building their own 3D creations after 20 minutes of being introduced to the program. We heard lots of oohs and wows, and we saw students sharing with each other how they built their own 3D scenes with racing cars, burning buildings and other unique elements.”
With the Blocksmith system, students learn how to create games and experiences for virtual/augmented reality. A fun and exciting journey for students and teachers alike, Blocksmith allows learning environments to create, share and experience the wide world of virtual reality, offering students unique opportunities to learn and explore. The Blocksmith learning system introduces students to the world of virtual reality, preparing them for the not-too-distant virtual future.
“The most important thing,” says Ken, “is if the kids will like it. It’s an afterschool program, and after being in school all day, we’ve got to be able to entertain them — and they love it!”
Through the 21st Century Community Learning Center program, Marsing Elementary School was also able to provide regional development to four other after-school program grantees. Centering around virtual reality, the development allowed the other programs to come in and see how big of a hit Blocksmith is with after-school learners, and the other programs were blown away.
“The goal of the regional development was to show the other instructors that it’s doable. Teachers don’t have time to be trained on new programs and systems,” says Ken. “But when a group of teachers can come in on a Friday and have 3-5th graders teach them the Blocksmith software, you know you’re onto something special. Of course, it takes some time, and you need the right setup, but it’s worth it. It’s where the future lies with coding and programming. We have no idea what applications are ahead with this stuff, but our learners need to be ready.”
Blocksmith isn’t just a hit with students. Across the nation, educators are diving into the virtual world, discovering exactly how influential VR can be in the classroom. John Barenberg, Marsing’s after-school instructor, had this to say about his experience with Blocksmith:
"I am writing to give you some of my impressions of using Blocksmith with the kids. Our kids love websites where they get to build and play, and Blocksmith fits right in with this. Blocksmith also takes kids to a new level beyond other websites in that it allows kids to do problem-solving and higher order thinking. It allows for creativity, Art, Science, Math — all aspects of STEAM. Then, for our kids, they can use it with VR! It is one way that we can integrate VR into what we are doing, and the kids love it because it's something they created and then get to see!
We have been using code.org, scratch and other websites, and they are great resources, but Blocksmith allows kids to take ownership in what they are doing and allows for creativity using computer science. This, in turn, may help kids lead toward a computer science or other STEAM job in the future!
I also like how much the girls are into doing this! I very much encourage our young ladies to get involved in this as much as they can, and not think of it as a "boy" thing. I want them to love it at whatever level they want!
You never really know where this will lead some of these kids in their future!"
Scott Slonim of the Blaine County School District had a similar Blocksmith experience with his students.
"We were supposed to build motorized Lego cars today. We were going to come back to Blocksmith in two weeks. The kids groaned. They wanted to continue building and making games, see them in VR. So we will do cars later, and we continued with Blocksmith!”
Virtual reality is here to stay. With a market expected to exceed $75 billion by 2021, today’s students need to be prepared for tomorrow’s technological future. Just like the call for elementary internet skills in the early 2000’s and today’s push for coding literacy, virtual reality needs to make the same impact on our student’s educations as it is making on today’s industries. By preparing them today, we’re ensuring their future success.
If you want to learn more about Marsing’s success or you’re ready to give your students the tools they need to succeed in the virtual future, check out the Blocksmith Enrichment Program
or watch the Blocksmith Webinar where PCS Edventures and the CEO of Blocksmith, Markus Nigrin, dive into exactly how an early adoption of virtual reality can prepare your students for tomorrow’s virtual future.
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