SIOUX CITY| Jeffery Zeitler seemingly had the world in his hands.

The Spalding Park Elementary School fifth grader was busy slicing and dicing Earth with an electronic stylus pen on a computer screen.

"Check this out, I'm dissecting the planet," Jeffery said, alternately destroying and saving the third rock from the sun.

"Wow," lab partner Landon Leander said, tugging at a pair of 3D glasses. "Do it again."

In anticipation of an upcoming study unit on the solar system, Spalding Park's fifth grade class spent time, Oct. 31, juggling the order of the planets and taking a tour of the sun, via a virtual reality simulator in a mobile school bus parked outside of the 4101 Stone Ave. school.

Working with K-12 students and teachers, the Sunnyvale, California-based zSpace helps school districts incorporate virtual reality into science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) lesson plans and curriculum, according to the business's Midwest sales director Pat Salstrand.

"From our traveling zSpace classrooms, we've had students dissect organs, dive into volcanoes and so much more," he explained. "zSpace enables fearless learning. Kids learn best when they're trying and doing things with their own hands.

"You may not be able to alter the solar system in real life," Salstrand added. "But you can do it in a virtual reality environment."

This is why fifth grade teacher Candice Schoenherr was so intrigued by zSpace.

"Teachers are always looking for ways to engage their students," she said. "Showing the solar system in a textbook is one thing. Being able to interact with a 3D version of the solar system takes the subject to the next level." 

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal
Spalding Park Elementary School fifth graders Gianna Grieve, left, and Haylie Kritis explore the solar system while using a zSpace virtual reality simulator in a mobile classroom on Oct. 31. Wearing 3D glasses and using virtual reality technology, kids could move around planets, dissect the Earth and even tour the sun.

However, Salstrand quickly pointed out that virtual reality in the classroom isn't all fun and games.

"Our system doesn't bulky headsets," he said. "By using simple 3D glasses, we're allowing teachers to interact with their students and letting them collaborate with their lab partners."

That was also important to Spalding Park Principal Mimi Moore.

"Teamwork is a big part of learning," she said. "No matter what profession they go into, students will be collaborating for the rest of their lives."

An understanding of the universe is also encouraged.

"We want our students to understand that the universe is large and they're a part of it," she said. "We want our students to become both problem solvers and global citizens."

Fifth grader Gianna Grieve simply wants to grow accustomed to some decidedly high-tech eyewear.

"At first, the 3D glasses felt weird," she said. "Now, they're cool."