Students at Linntown Intermediate School move mountains and dig valleys when studying geology, getting hands-on lessons that go beyond topographic mapping thanks to an augmented reality sandbox.

A projector sends images from an Xbox Kinect into the box which are manipulated by hands mounding, flattening and coursing through sand piles.

Colors change depending on how the sand is shaped: blue for water, green for flat land, varied colors for different heights of mountains with red used for peaks.

Topographical lines show changes in elevation when a pile is manipulated. Rain and lava are simulated simply with the opening of a hand.

“We’re able to simulate what would happen in real life but right here in a sandbox. We don’t want to sit in the middle of a thunderstorm and study erosion,” Principal Jeremiah Bennett said.

The technology easily captured the attention of four students to whom Bennett gave a demo of how the augmented reality sandbox works.

Students Mette Faden, Savillia Rice, Dane Shuey and Andrew Bernt looked captivated as Bennett pushed, piled and cut through the sand with his hand, creating mountains and rivers and using rainfall to show the path water takes down a hillside.

“I think changing the rain into lava was pretty cool,” Bernt said.

“And, building mountains,” Rice said.

All four students turned to the sandbox and pointed to it when asked what they’d prefer: a lesson using a map or the augmented reality system.

“One-hundred percent,” Bernt said.

Linntown teachers introduced the augmented reality system to students for the first time this school year. About three of 14 classrooms have used it so far, Bennett estimated. It’s kept in a developing maker space at the Lewisburg Area School District school.

As more science classes culminate lessons in soil and landforms, Bennett expects more students to use the system.

“It’s going to tie-in perfectly as a culminating activity for that. They’ll be able to build landforms, study topography and erosion and see how waterworks,” Bennett said.

Bennett said he first saw an augmented reality sandbox in use at Bucknell University and later at a school in the Loyalsock district.

“We try to help kids get in here and be able to learn hands-on, to be able to experience and problem-solve and play around with things without having another worksheet to go through,” Bennett said.

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