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Education Station: Cleveland students finding whole new ways of learning using virtual reality

Thanks to technology, today's kids don't only read about a subject — their educators are often able to take them there.

CLEVELAND — It's a case of "education envy" for grownups who see how today's kids learn. Blackboards and textbooks can still be found in schools, but thanks to technology, the current generation of students doesn't only read about a subject — their educators are able to take them there, thanks to amazing tools like virtual reality headsets. 

We recently visited a Verizon Innovation Learning School. There are about 10 of these labs across the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, and the Stephanie Tubbs Jones K-8 building opened its location last fall. 

"We were really lucky to get this new immersive lab," Carin Woolley, Instructional Coach and Lab Mentor for VILS, said.

Woolley is integrating this technology into the school's curriculum. On our visit, she had third graders using VR to learn about frogs. VR takes kids places they otherwise wouldn't be able to go.

"They were able to explore VR and AR (Augmented Reality) to hold a frog," Woolley explained, "so they were able to explore VR and AR to hold a poison dart frog — things that they couldn't do normally."

An enthusiastic Parker Hendrix was thrilled.

"It was very fun," the third grader said, "because we had to move around stuff to look at the frogs and to look at the frog's life cycle."

Sticking with the frog theme, students have also traveled to Madagascar to see red tomato frogs using their headsets.

"It lives in a habitat with water, plants, trees, rocks, and almost everything," student Rylee Kinsey told us.

Using "merge cubes," students can even look "inside" frogs' bodies to see bones and muscles without actually doing dissection.  

"Here, we can explore something quickly, easily, without the mess, without the smell," Woolley said.

This makes for an easier and more accessible way to learn, though for some students at this age, the "ick" factor is still there. 

"We saw the bones inside of a frog, and I thought it was a little gross," Rylee shared, "because it's bones inside of a body and I don't like it."

Students are not only "traveling" or "dissecting" using VR — they are creating, too. 

"We also worked with a program called Tinker CAD, and they learned how to manipulate and design a frog that later we were 3D printing," Wooley said. "So they all 3D printed their little flat frogs."

This is just one glimpse of all the amazing work going on at Cleveland schools. You can see much more on display during the 24th annual Rock Your World with STEAM Family Festival, held on May 13 from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as well as the Great Lakes Science Center.

"Eighty-plus student groups in science, technology, engineering, math, music, and visual art," CMSD Director of Fine Arts told us of the event. "You will see bands performing — a rock band — you will see visual art that will blow your mind.

"If you really want to have your soul lifted, come and see what kids are doing every day in our schools."

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