Students create, explore new worlds through virtual reality
GREENWICH, Conn. (AP) — Devyn Lyons wields the controller as if she grasps a wand, twirling it in the air and imagining sparks flying from it, as if she were a character in a Harry Potter movie.
The device she holds emits no such spurts of light and color in the world of her art classroom at North Street School. But in the virtual jungle created by her art teacher, Cheryl Iozzo, plumes of color take the shape of flames, petals and sunlight unfurling from her hands.
This year, Iozzo piloted the use of the virtual reality headset in her classroom. She spent hours learning Google Tilt Brush, an art program for device, to create worlds for her students. In their last unit before graduation, her fifth-graders used satellite Google Earth technology to travel to Guatemala and the Tikal mountains, where they saw the famous stone Jaguar Temple, and to re-create a rain forest, filled with native flora and fauna.
In a recent class, Lyons walked around a three-dimension flower she painted, as her classmates watched her progress in real time projected onto the Smartboard.
As her friend, Sofia Balestra, looked on, Balestra said she felt nervous when Iozzo first fitted the headset over her ears and she stepped out into the barren landscape inviting her to create.
“It’s like a different world,” Balestra said. “Time goes by really fast because it’s fun. It’s not like anything I’ve ever done before.”
Unlike normal drawing, she said, when she applies pressure to the tip of her pencil or marker, she feels light.
“You’re painting in mid-air, and control is hard,” Lyons said. “Sometimes, my hand shakes.”
Iozzo is a fine artist who specializes in oil painting, but the novelty of Google Tilt Brush excites her.
“There hasn’t been a new art medium invented in a long time,” she said.
A prep period here, a lunch there, Iozzo has devoted hours to mastering the Tilt Brush, and she documents her learning process on Instagram. She has made full worlds, some of which are so big and so detailed they take an hour to load. In one, the VR visitor is immersed in the botanical gardens in Boothbay, Maine, filled with blooming wisteria and tall blades of grass under “foot.”
Users can upload their work to Google Poly, where others can discover it. She has found 3D, immersive reproductions of Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” for example.
Iozzo said she feels reinvigorated by the new technology, and gets excited when one of her students has an “ah-ha” moment in which they figure out how to create what they imagine.
Other teachers have brought in their classes to use the headset. For example, for a lesson on Shakespeare, students traveled to the Globe Theatre using Google Earth.
“Tech is not going away,” Iozzo said, “so how are we going to use it?”
In addition to creating a jungle in virtual reality, the students exchanged art with students in Guatemala, which was facilitated by Creative Connections, an international cultural education organization. Iozzo has partnered with Creative Connections for years, and has visited Guatemala, its rain forests and the school that Creative Connections partners with. This year, she had kids use the VR headset to help them visualize the places the Guatemalan students depicted and discussed.
The North Street students introduced themselves and talked about the weather in Spanish, then switched to English to comment on the artwork sent by the Guatemalan students. Miguel Barreto, the program director, translated. In the artwork, students represented parts of their cuisine, beliefs, artwork, heritage and natural surroundings.
Alfonso, a Guatemalan student, said he likes understanding other points of view, and said the exchange was a great learning opportunity. “The fact that they’re able to communicate with you is very unique,” he said, with Barreto translating.
What struck the North Street students most was how different their lives are. The other students traveled three hours along dirt roads to make it to a building outfitted with WiFi, where they could Skype their Greenwich counterparts. Their days start at 4 a.m., when they help their families before school, and when they get out of class at noon, they return home to work with their families again.
“We go home and do homework and lay on the couch,” Shea Morris said.
She and her friend, Jesse Newman, said the Guatemalan students inspired them to help out more at home.
“In the morning, they collect water and make food,” Newman said. “The girls have to make sure their brothers and fathers have water and tortillas for work.”
Grady Campo used crayon and paper to practice creating the bird he would draw in the rain forest. He said he feels like he is floating when he is in the Tilt Brush world, even though he is standing on two feet.
His favorite part about using the program is that he can “teleport” away from his immediate surroundings when he has filled the space with three-dimensional structures and brush strokes. “Miles” away from his creations, he can start again.
“It’s weird because you’ve never experienced anything like it,” Campo said. “You can draw anything.”
Information from: Greenwich Time, http://www.greenwichtime.com