Bringing a Special Sandbox Inside the Classroom

Teaching Earth and Watershed Sciences

Teaching Earth and Watershed Sciences

The UC Davis W.M. Keck Center for Active Visualization in the Earth Sciences built the Augmented Reality Sandbox for an NSF-funded project on informal science education.

April 28, 2016 — The Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at UC Davis provided one of its Augmented Reality, or AR, Sandboxes to sixth graders at Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science in Washington D.C. on April 28.

“With its hands-on, interactive technology, the Augmented Reality Sandbox is well suited for education and outreach,” said Louise Kellogg, a professor in the UC Davis Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and director of the W.M. Keck Center for Active Visualization in the Earth Sciences, or KeckCAVES, which developed the sandbox. “We are excited to bring that to the students at Howard University Middle School.” 

Students will use 3-D visualization technology to build mountains, dredge and dam rivers, and make it rain with their hands.  As they “play,” they will be learning about earth and watershed sciences in a truly hands-on way.

The Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science is a public charter school on the main campus of Howard University in Washington D.C. While the sandbox will live in the sixth grade science classroom, seventh and eighth grade teachers also plan to integrate the sandbox across the curriculum. 

“This sandbox will allow our students to literally play in the sand while learning,” said Kathryn Procope, Howard University Middle School Head of School. “What could be more perfect? It brings the subjects of topography and geography to life for our students who are digital natives. By using their hands and technology, they will have the ability to terraform, see watershed effects on the physical earth, and understand the importance of stewardship of our natural resources. We are so excited and grateful to be selected for this project.”

The AR sandbox combines a real sandbox with a 3-D camera, a digital projector, and a powerful computer. It is an innovative tool for teaching people of all ages—from kindergartners to university students and museum visitors.

Supported with funding from the National Science Foundation, a prototype of the AR sandbox and its open-source software were developed by UC Davis research scientist Oliver Kreylos at KeckCAVES.

Since the project began nearly five years ago, at least 150 exhibits have been built around the world using the free open-source software.

The gift to Howard University Middle School marks the end of a spring “tour” for the sandbox in Washington D.C. In the past month, the AR sandbox was on exhibit at the White House, The Coalition for National Science Funding Capitol Hall Exhibition, and at the USA Science and Engineering Festival, where more than 350,000 people attended.


Reported by Kat Kerlin, UC Davis News Services. Read the full release.