Building Computers for Virtual Reality at Washington

5th graders at Washington Elementary STEM Magnet build computers to support virtual learning 

Article courtesy of Shannon Mumolo
PUSD Magnet Newsletter, Winter 2017- The Technology Issue

Washington Elementary STEM Magnet aims to lead Pasadena Unified into the future of technology with experiential learning through virtual reality. Thanks to a grant from the Pasadena Educational Foundation, Washington is expanding its use of virtual reality (VR) as an instructional tool, with VR stations built by students using top of the line hardware, software, graphics, and parts.
 
This experience begins by increasing students' understanding of the structure and function of computer systems.  Students work with STEM Coach Damon Bonds and Technology Specialist Oscar Manzanares to reverse engineer a working computer system; students disassemble a working computer to learn about the hardware components and connections (motherboard, CD/DVD, graphics card, power supply, etc.). They then reassemble the computer using recycled parts to try to improve the computer's performance. If students' reassembled computer doesn't work, they learn to troubleshoot and correct any connection errors.

Next the 5th grade students will learn about the relative strengths and limitations of various types and models of components. For example, why would a computer engineer use a certain graphics card over another? With this knowledge, students will modify the computers to meet the various performance needs for a VR system.
 
Once students complete assembly of a new computer system built to VR specifications, they will work in small groups to participate in virtual reality based exploration of the concepts that they are learning in their core classes. For example, students travel through the circulatory system, adventure through the solar system, and learn about plant structures and functions in the garden while experiencing life as a plant cell in the virtual world.


Thanks to support from the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association, College Football Playoff (CFP) Foundation, and the generous support of the community for helping make PEF Teacher Grants and School-wide Grants possible. The grants will benefit thousands of students in Altadena, Pasadena, and Sierra Madre.