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3D technology supports learning – and teaching

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Achievement Show Preview: tasters of what you can look forward to

This is the final blog of our Achievement Show Preview: tasters of what you can look forward to series. During the series, readers have heard from practitioners and leaders who are presenting at this year’s Achievement Show – providing insight into what to expect from their presentations.

Zone: Inspiring Departments (B)
Presentation: Bringing learning to life through 3D technology
School: Tendring Technology College
Presenters: James Saunders, Assistant Headteacher

A three-dimensional projection system at Tendring Technology College brings the learning of abstract concepts to life for students, and helps build teachers’ understanding and use of evidence-based pedagogy. At the Achievement Show, assistant head James Saunders will demonstrate the system he uses and explain how it works, its effects, and the pitfalls to be faced.

This use of the technology is based on neuroscience research including that of Dr Anne Bamford on 3D in education. ‘The research tells us that when viewing material in three dimensions, the brain processes information differently, leading to improvements in learning,’ James says.

Simply put, ‘it’s like a 3D movie in the cinema, though the technology is more complex. When you present information to the class in 3D, you’ve got several things going on. At a basic level it can have a positive effect on behaviour and engagement, as you would with any novelty or gimmick.

It forces students to concentrate more. However, I wouldn’t recommend using it for a whole lesson, because then it can cause headaches.’

The technology

A special projector capable of processing and displaying 3d images works with bespoke software and 3D glasses. The glasses are rather more sophisticated than those used in cinemas, and use an electrical current to realise the 3D imaging.

Taking the example of a heart, James explains that the teacher can spin the image around and go into it to make what may otherwise seem like abstract concepts live for the students.

In photosynthesis, he can ‘bring it into real life, by drilling down into the parts of plants.’

In one comparison test at Tendring, students studying the way the heart works using the 3D model showed improved retention, particularly when retested six weeks later.

A survey of students’ responses to this technology found that most strongly agreed ‘3D technology can improve your learning’. Individual comments included: ‘it’s great for learning the mechanics behind things’; [it’s good for] ‘science, maths and geography because it can help you visualise objects and make the detail more real’; and ‘it’s a cool idea that makes lessons more interesting

Teachers engaging with evidence

‘It’s more than just a toy,’ James notes. ‘There are so many toys about in education – people will go for iPads without thinking why, what’s the problem that it will help solve? Then it’s just a toy.’

The ‘grander initiative’, he states, ‘is to get teachers engaging with the evidence a bit more. Not that we want them to become full-on researchers – that thought scares some colleagues.’

So he and his colleagues avoid the word research, instead talking about evidence, enquiry, being informed.

‘We wanted to get them into routinely asking, “what does the literature say?” to turn them into more evidence-informed practitioners.’ So teachers reviewed and distilled the literature relevant to the use of this technology in education. Some Tendring teachers have been working to replicate Dr Bamford’s work.

The ‘grander initiative’ was to get teachers to engage more with the evidence of what works in teaching and learning

The future: challenge

A challenge throughout this project has been working with a commercial company that was supplying the equipment as part of a pilot programme aimed at entering the education market for its products.

Not all of their models were mapped to the national curriculum, and the company was not in a position to develop new ones to suit school use.

At the show, James Saunders will explain what happened next and Tendring’s plans for future development of this fascinating project.

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