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Learning in 3-D at Brooklyn high school

New York Teacher

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Ani Khaniashvili, a senior at Brooklyn Studio Secondary School, shows Sterling R
Jonathan Fickies

Ani Khaniashvili, a senior at Brooklyn Studio Secondary School, shows Sterling Roberson, the UFT vice president for career and technical education high schools, how an augmented-reality app on mobile devices can enhance learning at the Bensonhurst school.

At Brooklyn Studio Secondary School, Career and Technical Education Coordinator Karen Mason and her advanced web-design students aren’t just dreaming about the future, they are living it.

Students at the Bensonhurst school are adjusting the way they think and improving the way they learn by moving from theoretical concepts to real-world applications using technology and its tools.

One of those tools is the HoloLens, and Mason’s students are the first in the nation to use it to develop an application to improve learning methods.

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Using an augmentedreality app, a biology textbook page comes alive, displaying t
Jonathan Fickies

Using an augmentedreality app, a biology textbook page comes alive, displaying the human body in three dimensions.

The HoloLens contains a powerful computing system and needs only a WiFi connection to work. Through it, the user sees holographic images and can interact with them, connecting with the virtual world while simultaneously staying in the real world.

In the “mixed-reality” experience the HoloLens generates, a user can watch planet Earth spinning in the galaxy while never losing sight of fellow classmates. In that way, it is unlike “virtual-reality” head-mounted displays that seclude the user in a simulated environment.

The city’s career and technical education programs strive to provide students with a quality academic education and career-ready skills. But in a world where technology is always evolving, the challenge is to evolve with it by constantly seeking innovations that move us beyond words on paper and facilitate experiential learning. Embracing technology tools like the HoloLens supports students — who, today, must learn more in less time — while keeping them engaged and improving academics.

Almost as soon as they are written, textbooks become outdated. But modern tools like the HoloLens can bring the learning process to life and make it more efficient.

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A student uses the HoloLens “mixed-reality” tool.
Jonathan Fickies

A student uses the HoloLens “mixed-reality” tool.

The HoloLens was designed and built by Microsoft, but Mason’s students are using a HoloLens application they created, which has met the tech giant’s exacting standards. Already being used to explore Mars and to build safer vehicles, the HoloLens won’t be in the mainstream until 2022. But Brooklyn Studio has two of the devices now!

Recently, 7th-graders visited Mason’s lab room in an effort to forge a direct connection between middle and high school students at the school, extending the reach of CTE. They learned about the website created by the older students and were treated to a demonstration of the HoloLens. This early engagement sparks enthusiasm for CTE and gives the middle schoolers a special reason to focus on learning.

Another tool being used by Mason’s students is Layar, an augmented-reality app. Augmented reality is like mixed reality with the added benefit of utility: it can be used on the go. The app can be scanned on mobile devices, like a smartphone, to connect digital content with the real world. So a page in a biology textbook comes alive when the phone is held in front of it, with organs and arteries and veins popping up in 3-D. Brooklyn Studio students soon will use their phones to scan posters around the school that have been enhanced with the app, allowing them to access animated images and clues to solve a puzzle, and to interact with educational material in a brand-new way.

At the start of the millennium, smartphones proved to be game changers in how we move through everyday life. Mixed and augmented reality can do the same going forward.

We’ve come a long way since computers were bolted to desks: we now carry cutting-edge technology with us. As CTE educators, we must continue to work collectively and collaboratively to ensure that all students have the opportunity for experiential learning and that, together, we learn to improve academics, communication and skill-building in a digital world.

Technology can drive instruction. It can elevate student outcomes. And it truly can change education as we know it.