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Imagine being able to reach out, touch and manipulate an object you’ve designed – before the object exists physically in the real world. That’s the premise and promise of virtual reality, and it’s something a company called zSpace offers classrooms around the country.

With zSpace, students and teachers can “lift” digital objects—such as a human skeleton—from the screen and manipulate them in three dimensions, but without any messy, real-world consequences.

In four Utica Community elementary schools in metro Detroit, students as young as 10 manipulate and pull apart the organs of the body, build roller coasters, and design and test 3D prototypes.

Jennifer Spring, superintendent of Cohoes City School District near Albany, New York, received a phone call from a local senior center in fall 2016 inquiring if any of her high school students could help senior citizens learn technology.

Since January 2017, junior and senior honors student have spent about an hour each Tuesday afternoon helping seniors set up laptops, operate smartphones, archive digital photos and organize email inboxes.

Across the country, youngsters in all grades are connecting with senior citizens on projects that transcend community outreach to provide students with true curricular value.

The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE), which helps schools find resources to teach the subject, is among several organizations campaigning for state bills that would mandate media literacy instruction in public schools. 

“The goal is not to create cynical people who don’t trust anything—it’s about creating informed skeptics,” says Michelle Ciulla Lipkin, NAMLE’s executive director. “The core is prompting learners of all ages to think critically and immediately ask, ‘Oh, how do you know that’s true?'”

Allowing students to explore news articles that spark their curiosity can provide a bigger literacy boost than having them read nonfiction texts about random topics far removed from a youngster’s interests. 

In rural Indiana, Jay School Corporation supports local manufacturers—which make up about half the private employment in Jay County—with educational programs geared to the jobs that need to be filled.

The school now has 80 students in manufacturing, advanced manufacturing and robotics programs, and is working with other organizations and a nearby college to develop a regionally recognized certificate.

“We are creating an employer-driven program for both adults and students, focusing on economic outcomes and the talent pipeline,” Superintendent Jeremy Gulley says.

School districts are focusing more attention on manufacturing as the need for middle-skill jobs increases.

Deeper learning doesn’t have to be expensive, says Stephanie Wood-Garnett, vice president of policy to practice at the Alliance for Excellent Education, a national advocacy group for at-risk students.

“Deeper learning is not about buying things, but deeper learning done well could allow us to think more effectively or differently on how to enhance the time we have,” Wood-Garnett says.

Today’s deeper learning proponents urge schools to master rigorous academic content; think critically and solve problems; work collaboratively; communicate effectively; direct one’s own learning; and develop an academic mindset. 

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