Virtual reality sounds great, but can it really help schools teach math? (Opinion)


Virtual reality sounds great but is it practically useful in schools? Reality prisms He thinks the answer is definitely “yes.” Prism, launched in 2019, is integrating virtual reality into algebra for partners like the New York City Department of Education and KIPP Independent Schools. I recently spoke with Anurupa Ganguly, founder and CEO of Prism, to learn about her experience with virtual reality and its potential impact on math education.

– Rick

Rick: Well, tell me a little about the posts.

Anurora: Publications is the first spatial learning platform for mathematics education. Supported by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, we use virtual reality to scale a new way of learning basic math and science concepts that builds confidence in the math classroom. We do this by fully immersing students in relevant problems. For example, students take on the role of an air traffic controller and establish linear equations to model two flight paths designated for collision, or step into the shoes of an urban planner to experiment with the effects of urbanization and create a second-order equation to design a green space of maximum size for a city. By solving these problems, they gain basic STEM skills in grades 7-11 and learn about the many applications of math modeling today. Our learning solution consists of four main components; Learning Modules, a dashboard for teachers to monitor student progress, curriculum with offline activities, and continuing professional development. This school year we launched two publications courses: Algebra 1 and Geometry.

Rick: Technology can get very intimidating. Can you guide me on what students and educators actually do when using publications?

Anurora: When students wear Headphones, they step into the place of a practitioner—which could be a glaciologist, a real estate developer, or a small business owner—and tasked with a task. For example, in our module on Exponential Functions, students work to create a mathematical model to determine when city hospitals run out of available rooms after responding to incoming patients exposed to the virus. They are exposed to a virus that spreads from person to person in a dining hall and then go to Prism’s lab to create tables, graphs and finally equations to solve the problem and contain the virus. Meanwhile, teachers can monitor student progress on a web-based analytics dashboard and provide real-time feedback to support students at critical junctures as they use the VR headset. This allows the teacher to continue to coach and guide each student as they work at their own learning pace.

Rick: How does virtual reality help when it comes to math education?

Anurora: Think again about how you learned about exponential growth in high school algebra class. This potentially triggers memories of notating equations over and over again without a meaningful understanding of the function’s structure. Virtual reality helps disrupt these actions by focusing math education around a real-world problem. Students can then learn how to create mathematical models in 3D space that include touch, sound, motion, and rich visualizations. The most important indicators of success in STEM are your ability to think spatially and your ability to create abstract models of real-world situations. Virtual reality is in a unique position to develop these competencies. As one of our students said, “Doing math” in this new way made her want to do more math and helped her gain the confidence needed to participate more actively in class, get involved in the Engineering Club and with Girls Who Code, and change her career path to pursue a future in STEM. .

Rick: How did you get into this business?

Anurora: I studied electrical engineering and computer science at MIT and observed for myself the mindsets and skills needed to succeed in the mathematical sciences, particularly in historically disadvantaged societies. After graduation, I became a high school physics and math teacher to better understand what was going on at the K-12 math and science level that was helping bring equality in engineering and math sciences to students in poverty. Since then, she has worked in a number of leadership roles in the STEM region across the largest educational systems in the United States including the New York City Department of Education, Boston Public Schools, and An-Najah Academy Schools. In my experience as a district and charter administrator, I’ve found that there is a huge discrepancy between what science learning tells us about the best way to learn and the tools teachers and children have in their hands. So I founded Prism to build a math learning solution that best represents everything we know about how people learn this discipline.

Rick: How much do flyers cost for schools?

Anurora: The software license costs $12 per student per year, which includes access to all of our VR learning modules, a synchronized teacher dashboard, curriculum and activities, and implementation support from our customer success team. Each set of VR headsets and charging stations costs between $13,500 and $21,000 and can be shared across multiple classes and teachers, because VR isn’t an educational tool for every day of the school year. School district leaders or teachers can send a file contact form on our website to access our learning platform. For all learners and parents at home, we’ll be launching our content libraries and sandbox in the Oculus Store this month.

Rick: So how many students do you currently serve?

Anurora: We currently serve more than 20,000 students in more than 55 school districts across the country and will grow to 100,000 students this fall. Middle School Math and Algebra 2 courses will be released at the end of calendar year 2022 and Science courses will be released in July 2023.

Rick: Is there evidence that this approach works?

Anurora: We conducted an early efficacy study during the first phase of our research for the National Science Foundation. The study found that, on average, there was a two-digit learning gain for students upon completion of a post-unit exponential functions in Algebra 1, relative to standards-aligned ones. These findings served as a springboard for other studies led by WestEd, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research agency. A classroom feasibility study conducted in the spring of 2022 showed that applying Prism VR is not only feasible in the formal math classroom—more than 80 percent of students reported that VR lessons helped them understand math concepts better and faster—but that this impact on sharing Students’ confidence, competencies in learning abstract ideas, and improving standards-based competency are important. Our randomized controlled trial across 36 school districts began in August. The results of the three studies will be available in the winter of 2022.

Rick: If you had one piece of advice for educators interested in the possibilities of virtual reality, what would it be?

Anurora: Now is the time for virtual reality in education. Hardware and software technologies have evolved greatly, creating fertile ground for high-quality content. Advanced technology combined with less accessible devices has opened an opportunity for educators looking for effective ways to re-engage students and address learning loss caused by the pandemic. It’s a great opportunity to accelerate learning in core areas that have been the center of endless therapy courses due to insufficient tools to date.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.


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