By Kristine Sorensen

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Virtual reality really hit the consumer market about a year ago, and for the first time, it’s at a price point that schools can afford.

The Allegheny Intermediate Unit has trained about one-hundred teachers in our region, many of whom are just starting to use it in the classroom, and they’re finding that students are embracing it as a new way to learn.

When the teachers put on the headset, which is the device that you put up to your eyes and wraps around the sides so you only see the screen, they realize it is much more than just an image on the phone. It’s transportation to other places, other worlds and even other time periods.

What these teachers are seeing inside are images like the Grand Canyon, Stonehenge in England and construction of the Empire State Building.

“We’re not just limited to the world we’ve always known but we can literally transport to anywhere in the world with virtual reality,” one teacher said.

At the instruction seminars, the teachers are learning how to implement virtual reality in their classrooms. For example, they are coming up with ways to use the virtual reality images of an iconic scene from Times Square in 1945 in history and writing classes; images of the Kilaneau volcano in science class; blockages in coronary arteries to teach medicine, and a virtual chemistry lab made by Schell games in Pittsburgh’s Station Square.

McKeesport High School chemistry teacher Mark Bacco is excited that students will be able to work with virtual chemicals that are too dangerous to use in a real lab.

Plus, he says, “it saves a lot of time and money. To set up a lab and clean it up takes 15-20 minutes to set up and 15-20 to clean up and with virtual reality, it’s over instantly and kids still get same experience.”

So the big question is how much does it cost? To make it affordable, some schools are asking kids to bring in their own devices. Then they use cardboard headsets that are only $5.

Propel High School art teacher DeVon Gandy says virtual reality can be an inspiration for many of his low income students.

“They don’t get to see anything outside where they live so they don’t have the hope to become that,” he says. He plans to use virtual reality to show his students other places and ideas. “I hope to bring it to into the community, flood it with opportunity they wouldn’t have because of financial issues.”

The headset can also help students with ADD and ADHD because it focuses your attention. It’s just the beginning of a new world beyond books.

Tyler Samstag, who directs innovative instruction for the AIU, says, “People are excited about the ability for [virtual reality] to create empathy and access to places and content that otherwise they wouldn’t have access to.”

For the general public, if you’ve never experienced virtual reality, there are a few places you can do it right now in Pittsburgh.

The Carnegie Museum of Art has a virtual reality experience that’s very futuristic. It’s in the Hall of Architecture until September.

Kennywood has a ride that’s using virtual reality — the Sky Rocket Coaster.

And the Steelers are planning a virtual reality experience of the football games coming out sometime this year.

You can learn more about virtual reality in the classroom on Kidsburgh.org – an online resource for kids and families.

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