A portal to another world – that’s what students in Tucson, Ariz., are discovering this year. 

A virtual reality system used by Raytheon engineers is allowing middle-schoolers to venture into 3-D worlds they’ve designed in school, from computer-generated forests to Rube Goldberg machines.

“When students put on these 3-D glasses, they are guided to another reality, where the world around them is virtual and fully immersive,” said Lisa Kist, a science teacher at Tucson’s Gridley Middle School.

CBS Evening News "Classroom of the Future" Shoot
Raytheon’s Immersive Design Center brings school projects to life for Gridley Middle School students in Tucson, Ariz.

Kist’s students are using Raytheon’s Immersive Design Center, where engineers “go inside” virtual rocket engines or practice building satellites. The company used it to lay out its newest factory in Huntsville, Ala.
The Gridley program – part of Raytheon’s MathMovesU® education initiative – was recently featured on the CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley. CBS Correspondent Anthony Mason donned 3-D goggles and watched as the students explored cityscapes they had built in class.

“The idea is to use technology to magnify and amplify everything they’re learning and turn it into an unforgettable real-world experience that they can get excited about,” said Bill Patterson, the Immersive Design Center’s chief architect.

Lisa Kist first experienced the thrill of immersive virtual reality during her Raytheon teacher/industry internship through the University of Arizona. The program brings teachers into Raytheon factories – part of nearly $100 million Raytheon has invested since 2005 to encourage science, technology, engineering and math education.

With a grant from Raytheon, Kist developed an elective class called “Gridley Virtual Reality.” The company donated computers, active “stereo” glasses and a 3-D projector for her classroom. Bill Patterson and his team of engineers spend time each month mentoring in the classroom.

The class teaches students to work together as they create their own 3-D renderings.

They then take their creations to the Immersive Design Center to bring them to life. Engineers can move the walls and floor of the chamber to accommodate larger groups or different designs.

“You see a student’s jaw drop during class, that eureka moment of ‘getting it,’” Kist said. “You know you’re on to something really big.” 

CBS Evening News "Classroom of the Future" Shoot
Gridley Middle School students explore worlds they have created at Raytheon’s Immersive Design Center.

Eighth-grade student Rashad Stevenson has used the technology to design video games and jets. He said the class has helped him understand science concepts like velocity and trajectory.

“It keeps my mind focused,” Stevenson said. “I now want to be an aerospace engineer.”

The success of Kist’s class is driving Gridley to open three additional virtual reality classes next year.

“We have one student who had trouble in math and science last year who is designing airplanes this year,” Kist said. “He was stuck on the contrails and the motion, so another student showed him how to animate. … We’ve witnessed engineers working exactly this way in Raytheon’s labs – real-world experience like that can’t be found in a textbook.”

While students are wowed by Raytheon’s technology, company engineers say they’re equally impressed by the students themselves.

“The kids are grabbing on to this type of technology and are developing advanced skills in organic modeling,” said Bryce Notheis, a materials science engineer at Raytheon. “They will be leaps and bounds past what any of us can do here.”

CBS Evening News "Classroom of the Future" Shoot
Correspondent Anthony Mason from the CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley visits Raytheon’s Immersive Design Center with Gridley Middle School students.

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