Butler Tech Ross High School, Hamilton, Ohio
Students at Butler Tech Ross High School in Hamilton, Ohio, combine cutting-edge technology with inquiry-based learning to develop software tools that teach basic math concepts to their fellow students in imaginative, inspiring ways.
The dual-learning, hands-on approach focuses around Microsoft’s next-generation HoloLens devices—mixed-reality, interactive smart glasses capable of projecting three-dimensional holograms that can be manipulated by hand gestures or voice commands. The school has two sets of HoloLens units, which are used to build gamified instructional programs.
Students organize their own teams and group hierarchy, engage in project management, and create their own unique HoloLens math-based applications. They also write all of the content involved.
“The students are developing teaching tools, but we don’t tell them they are teaching,” says Thomas O’Neill, the school’s IT instructor who founded the program. “Microsoft HoloLens is a $3,000 unit, and I’m taking some giant leaps of faith by saying, ‘Here, take these devices, we have two of them, and develop for it,’ and nothing more than that. And they make it happen.”
In addition to featuring game-based learning principles, apps have to be immersive, teach fundamental math concepts and be replicable. Including animations and graphics helps users remember specific content. Teachers beta test apps and, following approval, students complete the development.
Once they start using the apps and the HoloLens, students and teachers alike have a hard time putting down the units, says O’Neill. The creativity and technology associated with the apps encourage struggling math students to want to learn more.
“You put one of these devices on and you see holographic images, and you can manipulate them with gesture control and even speaking—it’s mind-blowing,” he says. “To have students creating these products that will change the face of education is great.”
An average of 70 students participate in the program per semester. The school is approved by Microsoft as a HoloLens developer, and received a grant from Unity, a game development company, for 200 software licenses.
Being able to provide an opportunity to work with such sophisticated tools allows O’Neill to challenge his students, which he says is imperative to learning.
“Theory is great, you need theory,” says O’Neill. “But it is hard to retain if you can’t apply it to something.”