Space station

Thanks to Kiwanians, Pennsylvania students hold a (virtual) heart in their hands.

By Cindy Dashnaw

Most of us learned how the heart pumps blood and what the pancreas has to do with digestion by studying 2-D illustrations and transparent overlays. After all, it’s not as though teachers can hand out body parts for students to inspect.

Or can they?

Thanks to the Kiwanis Foundation of Easton, Pennsylvania, teachers in the Easton Area Schools District will be doing just that — through a virtual learning tool called zSpace (zspace.com).

Though it looks like a mere keyboard with an oversized screen, the tool combines augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to create lifelike objects. Using a stylus and special glasses, students seemingly pull what looks like an actual heart, for example, out of the screen into the air. Then they move it to examine it from every angle or inspect parts that are normally hidden from view. 

The purchase was possible through a US$5,000 grant from the Kiwanis Foundation of Easton via The Foundation for Easton Schools. Biology teacher Carly Egberts spurred the idea.

“The beautiful thing about science is that it’s all around us, and with these new technologies, our students will get to see, touch and manipulate things that have always been intangible,” Egberts says. “We’re officially closer to the year 2050 than 1990, and we owe it to our students to reflect that in our classrooms.”

Easton Area High School students will stand out from their peers with this real-world, hands-on experience, she adds. 

“This will prepare them for college and even for their lives outside of school, regardless of the paths they choose. At the end of the day, they’ll just better understand what makes us human.”

The Kiwanis Foundation of Easton funded the zSpace acquisition because the Kiwanians involved encourage students to consider careers in health.

Kenneth Wildrick, the foundation’s president, explains, “The zSpace lab is a very attractive tool for developing curiosity about those fields, and it will provide a strong foundation as students enter college. We love to build in future success.”

While COVID-19 has slowed the process, the lab will be incorporated into Advanced Placement biology and anatomy/physiology classes. More than 300 students are expected to benefit during its first year of use.


This story originally appeared in the September 2020 issue of Kiwanis magazine.

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