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Virtual reality looks cool, but can it actually help teach math in schools? (opinion)

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Virtual Reality Sounds Cool, But Can It Really Help Schools? The Prism of Reality I think the answer is clearly yes. Launched in 2019, Prisms is working to integrate virtual reality into algebra for partners such as the New York City Department of Education and his KIPP Charter School. I recently spoke with Prisms founder and CEO Anurupa Ganguly to learn more about her take on virtual reality and its potential implications for math education.

— Rick

Rick: Tell us a little bit about Prism.

Anurpa: Prisms is the first spatial learning platform for mathematics education. With support from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, we are using virtual reality to expand new ways to learn core math and science concepts that build confidence in the math classroom. To do this, fully immerse students in relevant issues. For example, a student could assume the role of an air traffic controller and create linear equations to model his two flight paths that are destined to collide, or step into the shoes of a city planner to explore the effects of urbanization. or create quadratic equations to create the largest green spaces in the city. Solving these will give her basic STEM skills from 7th grade through her 11th grade and expose her to the many applications of math modeling today. Our learning solution has four key components. Learning modules, data dashboards for teachers to monitor student progress, curriculum with offline activities, and ongoing professional development. This year, she started two courses on prisms: Algebra 1 and Geometry.

Rick: This technology is pretty intimidating. Can you describe what students and teachers are actually doing with Prisms?

Anurpa: When the student puts on the headset, they step into the shoes of a practitioner – this could be a glaciologist, a property developer, a small business owner – and are on a mission. builds a mathematical model to determine when city hospitals run out of available rooms after accommodating the arrival of virus-exposed patients. They experience the spread of the virus from person to person in a food hall, then go to Prism Labs to create tables, graphs, and finally equations to solve the problem and contain the virus. Meanwhile, teachers can monitor student progress with web-based analytics dashboards and provide real-time feedback to support students during critical times while using virtual reality headsets. This allows teachers to continue coaching and mentoring each student as they work at their own learning pace.

Rick: How can virtual reality help mathematics education?

Anurpa: Remember how you learned about exponential growth in your high school algebra class? This can lead to the memory of writing down the equations over and over without any meaningful understanding of the structure of the function. VR helps disrupt this proceduralization by focusing math education on real-world problems. Students can learn how to create mathematical models in 3D space that include touch, sound, motion, and rich visualization. The greatest measure of STEM’s success is its ability to reason spatially and create abstract models of real-world situations. VR is uniquely positioned to develop these abilities. As one of her students put it, this new way of “doing math” made her want to do more math, and she actively participated in her classes, joining engineering clubs and Girls Who. It gave me the confidence I needed to participate in Code. , change career paths to pursue a STEM future.

Rick: How did you get started in this job?

Anurpa: I studied electrical engineering and computer science at MIT and observed first-hand the mindset and skills required to succeed in mathematical sciences, especially in historically underserved communities. After graduating, I became a high school physics and mathematics teacher, helping impoverished students in the fields of engineering and mathematical sciences by better understanding what was going on at the K-12 math and science level. It helped to equalize the playing field. Since then, he has held leadership roles in STEM districts in some of the largest education systems in the United States, including the New York City Department of Education, Boston Public Schools, and Success Academy Charter Schools. Through my experience as a school district and charter administrator, I have come to realize that there is a huge difference between what learning science tells us is the best way to learn and what teachers and children have at their disposal. So I founded Prisms to build a math learning solution that represents everything we know about how people best learn the field.

Rick: How much does Prism cost to school?

Anurpa: The software license costs $12 per student per year. This includes access to all virtual reality learning modules, synchronized teacher dashboards, curricula and activities, and implementation support from our customer success team. VR headsets and charging stations are priced between $13,500 and $21,000 per class and can be shared across multiple classrooms and teachers as VR is not a learning tool every day of the school year.District leaders or teachers can submit a contact form To access our learning platform, visit our website. For home learners and parents, this month we are releasing a Content Library and Sandbox on the Oculus Store.

Rick: So how many students are you currently serving?

Anurpa: It currently serves more than 20,000 students in more than 55 school districts nationwide, and plans to expand to 100,000 students this fall. Middle School Mathematics and Algebra 2 courses will be released at the end of the 2022 calendar year and Science courses will be released in his July 2023.

Rick: Do you have any evidence that this approach works?

Anurpa: We conducted an initial efficacy study in a National Science Foundation Phase I study. The study found that completing Prisms’ exponential function module in Algebra 1 improved student learning effectiveness by an average of two orders of magnitude compared to standards-compliant benchmarks. These findings served as a starting point for other research led by WestEd, a non-partisan non-profit research organization. In a classroom feasibility study conducted in the spring of 2022, Prisms VR not only is feasible in formal math classrooms, but more than 80% of students said that VR teaching would teach math concepts better and better. He reported that it helped him understand quickly. Confidence, efficiency in learning abstract ideas, and improved standards-based proficiency are important. His randomized controlled trial across 36 school districts began in August. Results from all three studies will be published in winter 2022.

Rick: If you could give one piece of advice to educators interested in the possibilities of VR, what would it be?

Anurpa: The age of VR in education is now. Hardware and software technology has evolved significantly, creating fertile ground for high-quality content. Advancing technology, coupled with low-cost and accessible hardware, has re-engaged students and opened a window of opportunity for teachers looking for effective ways to address the learning losses caused by the pandemic. It’s a great opportunity to accelerate learning in core areas that have been at the center of a never-ending repair cycle due to inadequate tools.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.