3D proves a hit in the classroom

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Biology lessons are a distant memory for me but if they had been anything like the one I've just sat through at Abbey School in Reading, I think I may have remembered a little more.

The pupils were looking at how a chest works, via 3D glasses and a 3D-enabled projector.

Image caption,
The 3D thorax that caused the excitement

"So cool", "It's huge", "I thought the diaphragm was a flat muscle," "I didn't realise it wasn't under the ribs" were just a few of the comments made when the girls put on their glasses to examine the model of the thorax in more detail.

"It is an amazing experience, so good for learning," said Yvette.

"Much more interesting than looking at a flat text book," added Polly.

"It is more lifelike which makes it easier to grasp the concept, " said Rosie.

If 2009 had a buzz word it might have been 3D. But despite the hype, there are murmurings that it is a gimmick already getting past its sell-by-date.

Some reports suggest cinema audiences are starting to tire of 3D movies and, while 3D TVs are increasing sales, not everyone is impressed with the results.

According to net measurement firm Nielsen, only a tiny percentage of houses have 3D TV with many others saying they have no intention of upgrading.

Not so in education, where it seems 3D could have a real future, breathing new life into an ageing curriculum and offering a glimpse of how 21st education should be.

Image caption,
The girls at Abbey School enjoyed their 3D lesson

"We aren't far away from the next stage where children can hold and manipulate 3D images in their hands. This could be combined with online learning. It could be a phenomenally successful educational model that is truly visionary," said Katheryn MacAulay, deputy head at the school.

She introduced the system to Abbey School in the spring of 2010, having discovered Texas Instrument's (TI) system at the BETT education show.

"TI wanted to see whether it would be successful in a non-US environment and we agreed to test it," she said.

Within four months she had interest from schools in Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Turkey and at next year's BETT will be talking to 100 headteachers about how the system has slotted into the curriculum at Abbey School.

Ros Johnson, head of biology at the school, said she was "gobsmacked" when test results from classes using the 3D technology were compared to those without it.

"The 3D results were significantly better," she said.

Teaching a Year 7 class about plant cells proved difficult using traditional methods

"You try to explain how cells divide and they aren't getting it," she said.

But with a 3D model to explore, the class had a collective light bulb moment.

Image caption,
There is beginning to be a backlash against 3D cinema and TV

"I knew it would be useful but I didn't expect it to have such a significant effect," said Ms Johnson.

3D in the classroom isn't gimmicky said Ms Johnson, instead it is very much just a part of the lesson, rarely on for more than 10 minutes.

The fact that it can be projected over the whiteboard means that it is easy to switch between 3D and 2D teaching.

It is early days for 3D technology in schools. 3D-ready projectors are no more expensive than normal ones but a class set of glasses currently costs around £1,500.

This seems even more expensive when the technology is so new and therefore prone to glitches.

The class set at Abbey School had to be replaced because of synching issues as pupils moved their heads around in very different ways to how someone simply viewing a movie would do.

There is also more to do to develop software for the system. According to Ms Johnson some of resources she has used have been factually inaccurate.

"The software developers must work with teachers in future," said Ms MacAulay.

Despite the issues, the school is already building up an impressive library of 3D resources in a wide array of subjects from maths to geography and history.

3D in the classroom could be here to stay.

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