The STEM Action Center, Blocksmith Inc. and Idaho Virtual Reality Council recently joined forces to create VR4Ed, a pilot program designed to bring coding and VR environment creation to middle and high school students. One of the primary goals of the initiative is to expose educators and students to coding in a 3D environment via Blocksmith’s creator platform. Vr4Ed is now up and running in eight different locations across Idaho!
In December the Idaho STEM Action Center opened up the VR4Ed grant opportunity, and interested educators and their community partners submitted their applications through the grant portal. Over half of the applicants were awarded spots in this program. Each participating school received a full Oculus Rift setup, Blocksmith software licenses with professional development, and funds to purchase mobile phones and VR viewers; about a $7,500 value. Professional development trainings were held in both Boise and Coeur d’Alene in February. At these day long events educators got hands on experience using Blocksmith’s creator software, and were able to play around with the VR equipment. They were also shown how VR field trips can enhance the classroom experience through the use of Google Expeditions. Google certified trainer, Paul Zimmerman was on hand at the Boise training to demonstrate how the Blaine County School District is currently leveraging Expeditions throughout their classrooms. We're hoping VR4Ed participants take a page out of IVRC member Erika Liebel's book and use it across subjects! (Check out how Erika uses the tech in her Spanish classes!)
The grant materials and resources are shared with a community partner listed as a secondary recipient. Program participants will work closely with their community partner (such as a local library) to further enhance the reach of the program which predominantly targets rural locations in Idaho. The intent is to give as many students access to coding and VR equipment. VR4Ed can be found at the following locations (primary sites only):
Blackfoot Charter Community Learning Center
Lake Pend Oreille School District
Blaine County School District (2 grant recipients)
Marsing Joint School District
Madison School District
Idaho Museum of Natural History
We are extremely excited about the positive feedback already coming from participants, just check out the quotes below! Wondering how you can help? We are still looking for used cell phones for the program. Donated phones help significantly decreases the cost of each VR kit allowing for more phones to be purchased and additional students impacted. We are currently able to use the following phones: iPhone - iPhone 6 and newer, Android - 4 years old or newer. If you’d like to donate phones or want more information about the VR4Ed program and resources, click here. Also check out Blocksmith's Educator page!
This is just the beginning and we look forward to seeing what participating educators and students create!
“I had been so frustrated and disappointed in the past that I never thought I’d be able to bring my game design students into the world of VR. Then I was introduced to BlocksmithXR and every roadblock was removed. It’s ease of use, multi-platform support, and seamless pipeline from design to testing has made the experience so wonderful. The kids can’t wait to come to class and work and share their creations!” - Scott from Coeur d’Alene
“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!
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!” - John from Marsing School District
“We were supposed to build motorized Lego cars today. It was their turn. We were going to come back to Blocksmith in two weeks. The kids groaned. They wanted to continue VR. So we will do cars later and we continued Blocksmith!” - Scott from Blaine County School District