Hearing and vision impaired students learn earth science in a sandbox

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GOODING, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) - At first sight, it may look like just an ordinary sandbox, but once you turn on the program it becomes alive.

It's a three dimensional augmented reality sandbox, which helps the students at the Idaho Educational Services for the Deaf and the Blind engage in land formation with a hands-on experience.

"It helps them to understand in a way that's much more concrete than just explaining it to them or showing them a picture," said Sharlyn White Jackson, the librarian of the school.

The program was developed by scientists at the University of California, Davis.

A motion sensing camera — otherwise known as a Kinect — detects activity in the sandbox and transfers the data to a simulation and visualization software. The software then processes the data and sends a command to the projector that highlights the surface of the sand.

"Just looking at a topo map, they're not going to get that same information," explained Jackson."But basically, it's a 3-D topo map that makes all of these land forms available for them to understand because they can touch and feel it."

This includes creating a volcano that brought excitement to students like Durant Whipple who is vision impaired.

"I was able to feel how mountains are high," Whipple said.

They also learned how to make waterways and add water to a mountain by putting their hand over the surface.

"It was fun to make it rain and see the water as it comes down into the valley," said Natalie Benitez, a hearing-impaired student.

The school acquired the new program from a $10,000 grant awarded by the Monsanto Fund. They become one of the first schools in the state to incorporate it into lesson plans.

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