In one of the most rural elementary schools in the metropolitan Quad-Cities, a quiet revolution is beginning in the science curriculum.
On Tuesday, Buffalo Elementary School formally introduced virtual reality, or VR technology, that will become part of the school's — and district's — science curriculum.
The innovations, Davenport Community Schools Superintendent Art Tate said, are a critical part of the future.
"We can't sit still and let these students get behind," Tate said during a media event in Buffalo.
Buffalo Elementary is said to be the first in the country to incorporate VR into the Next Generation Standards Science Curriculum.
Three students, including Shelbi Buchanan, who wants to explore space some day, showed off a top-of-the-line VR system. The fifth-graders explored lessons on the solar system and on water quality, which featured the work of Living Lands and Waters and activist Chad Pregracke.
Kate Runge, with Living Lands and Waters, said education is a large part of the organization's purpose.
"Cleaning up rivers is one thing we do, but keeping them clean is another," she said.
Use of the VR devices expands the reach of the organization "in a huge and awesome way," Runge said. Curriculum creators flew to Louisville to film Pregracke and his crews, who explained the work they did along the Ohio River, from Cincinnati to Louisville, Kentucky.
Steve Grubbs, owner of Victory VR, talked about curriculum development. It was only last summer when the VR devices became commercially available, he said, so Victory VR explored the technology in an effort to elevate learning potential.
Grubbs listed three benefits to using the technology, which was purchased through a grant from the Bechtel Trust:
• It removes distractions and focuses on a lesson plan.
• Students are transported, realistically, to the area of study.
• The experience helps instructors explain what students are seeing, and it captivates the children's interest.
The curriculum is intended for grades 5-8; there are 23 science units in the Davenport curriculum. Victory VR has so far produced two of the 23 units but will finish the others by next school year, Grubbs said.
Future efforts to film and form curriculum are to include the Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico and a tour of the California tech firm Oracle.
Buffalo Principal Heidi Gilliland called the educational benefits "almost limitless" and noted VR helps the Buffalo students overcome budget and time constraints based on the school's location in the west end of the district, 13 miles from central Davenport.
Virtual reality creates an enthusiasm for learning, beyond traditional methods, Chris Cournoyer said. Cournoyer, a member of the Pleasant Valley School Board, works for Victory VR. The video feeds allow the students to travel to places far beyond the borders of Buffalo, she said.
Shelbi, for example, asked to see the solar system with her VR headset because she likes to study the planets, and the galaxy.
"I want to explore it some day," she said.
Tate, a champion for innovation in Davenport, saluted the new curriculum and VR devices.
"I'm so proud of Buffalo," he said. "You're moving forward."