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Interactive, Augmented Reality Sandbox in Junior High Schools

A new, innovative sandbox has made its way into Pickerington classrooms, and it’s not for
building sandcastles.

The augmented reality sandbox, developed and created by researchers at The University of
California, Davis, is an educational tool used to help students understand topographic maps and
elevation maps by integrating a true, hands-on approach. UC Davis offers the sandbox coding
program free to schools for use in science classrooms.

Lakeview Junior High School and Ridgeview STEM Junior High School both have AR
sandboxes in classrooms.

How it works
The AR Sandbox program reads the surface of the sandbox using an Xbox Kinect sensor and
reacts to any change that is made on the surface of the sand.

The computer then creates and projects a colored topographic map onto the fine sand. As
students mold and move the sand, the projector adjusts the contour lines that display height and
depth of the sand, like a topographic map.

You can even hold your hand a few inches from the sand and watch the projector display rain
on the map.

With this resource, “Our classrooms can simulate plate tectonics, earthquakes, creation of
volcanoes, weathering, erosion, rain effects on land, results of floods, and numerous other earth
science principles,” said Brian Seymour, director of institutional technology for Pickerington
Schools.

“With today’s students we are teaching the Five C skills of collaboration, critical thinking,
creativity, communication, and connectedness,” Seymour said. “The AR sandbox helps to build
scientific inquiry skills, such as the critical thinking, and creativity skills in an almost real-world
setting.”
Lakeview students in teacher Jonathan Hansen’s science class love creating different
landscapes with the AR sandbox. “Some students have never played in the sand before,”
Hansen said. He hasn’t had the sandbox for long, but his students continuously ask to play with
the sand. Many students focus silently as they shift the sand and bring their imaginary
landscape to life.

Hansen praises the sandbox because he can spend time showing students how topographic
maps actually work by molding and manipulating the sand in real time.

The AR sandbox allows students to design the map themselves, watch rain roll down a
mountain into a valley, form a lake or stream, and experience the effects movement can have
on topographic contour lines as they shift before their eyes.

This technology allows teachers like Hansen to create examples of science principles in the
sand and then ask students to describe what they see. Students can better understand contour
lines by seeing the peak of a mountain or the depth of a valley in sand, than compare it to a two-
dimensional map.

“Students can now create their own landforms and experiment what would happen if a plate
moved, or if we had an earthquake or landslide or flood,” said Seymour. The AR sandbox
provides today’s students an engaging and interactive way to learn about science principles,
explore their fascination, and to express their creativity.