North Penn High School first adopted the VR space computing program

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After a year and a half of hybrid learning and remote classroom work, school districts across the country are making the leap to face-to-face classes this fall. But at North Penn High School, the “virtual” school doesn’t go away completely, it just changes shape.

There, up to 40 juniors and seniors will be one of the first high school students in North America to do a space computing program, using virtual reality and augmented reality devices to create their own applications and environments in the digital world. At least 26 students have already enrolled.

To implement the new technology, North Penn partnered with the AR and VR training studio Notiontheory for the educational component of the course and the software company VR Unity for the development platform. The program will be funded by the North Penn School District Educational Foundation, which approved a $ 65,000 grant for the school year, the largest in its history.

The program has been in operation for about two years, after District Superintendent Curt Dietrich was introduced to virtual reality by a friend and began thinking about its educational potential.

Along with VR and AR programming and design, undergraduate students will be able to take a Unity certification exam, a professional credential that tests students ’understanding of technology and preparation for the industry.

Curt Reichwein, department head of the North Penn Department of Technology and Engineering Education, who will oversee the program, explained the extent to which VR technology can help classroom learning by providing more technical equipment and skills. beyond the imagination of students.

“We could disassemble a diesel engine right here, without having to have a diesel engine, without a mess,” he said. “Many schools have planetariums. Planetariums are expensive. Well, we could sit anywhere you want and see the night sky and study it all from where we are. ”

Space computing describes the ability of computers to create realistic 3D environments and reflect the real world, essentially to be “contextually aware” of that environment, said Kristian Bouw, founder of Notiontheory. He compared space computing to the Pokemon GO mobile app, in which virtual creatures on the screen move and interact with real-world elements.

“The goal is to really intertwine these technologies with everyday things,” he said, “and the benefits of augmented reality and virtual reality are really the same when they are very aware of our environment.”

Last week, Bouw conducted a three-day training session for about 15 North Penn faculty members, where teachers learned about different RV programs and devices, such as Magic Leap headphones spread across the room. and the implementation of this technology, such as surgical field.

North Penn teachers seemed particularly delighted with the software, Bouw said.

“It was particularly exciting, because everyone was interested in it, and I think that highlights the importance of the program,” he said. “Even people who have never coded before in college, and won’t, felt the need to come in and try it.”

Ryan Kolb, who has been a computer science teacher at North Penn for nine years, will teach both space computer science classes this fall. The skills incorporated into the course, as well as its novelty and its role in the evolving job market, make the program important to students, he said.

“It’s really a professional-level environment where (students) have the opportunity to work, so that they can develop a platform as complex as they want,” Kolb said, “but it’s also critical enough for someone with no background to step in and start. of zero “.

While promoting the course to potential students, Kolb was looking for computer and engineering students, who said they would already have the background and exposure to VR programming and technology. North Penn also unveiled the program through its morning news program, where the program’s weekly question focused on VR.

As the institute prepares to return to normal this fall, Dietrich reflected on the seriousness of the space computing program and its impact on students graduating from high school and going to college or the professional world.

“We send our students around the world and prepare them appropriately for the jobs available right now, and many times, that involves anticipating where the jobs will be,” Dietrich said. “I’m very confident that people should continue to stay at the forefront or start getting bored and pleased.”

Reichwein, who has taught at North Penn for 25 years, said the program will become something fundamentally important and deeply technological.

“The impact is huge, but I think this is the biggest leap we’ve made to the unknown,” Reichwein said. “Neil Armstrong was the first boy to walk on the moon. Ryan Kolb will be the first boy to practically walk on the moon. “

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