BOYCE — In most art classrooms students can expect to use different media, such as paint or clay, to create their pieces.
But at Powhatan School, virtual reality (VR) has now become a new creative tool.
On Friday, Ryan Royston, who teaches art to fifth through eighth graders at the private school in Boyce, put on a VR headset while holding a remote in each hand. With his right hand he began drawing in the air, as his three-dimensional drawing was projected onto a screen for the class to watch. In his left hand, he changed the virtual art tools he was using to draw a figure of a woman sitting with her legs crossed.
“This is so cool,” one seventh-grade student said as she watched Royston draw into the air.
Later, a few students were able to draw with the VR tools themselves. Powhatan seventh grader Ben McClellan, 14, drew a rainbow while seventh grader Sydney Dymack, 12, began to draw a virtual image of a demon throwing paint on an angel.
Sydney said she’s excited to begin integrating art and technology in her classes.
“This is just a whole new concept of different things to do, and I love the idea,” Sydney said. “I love how you can create your own world in your own imagination.”
Powhatan began integrating VR into its classrooms two years ago, but the technology can be more fully used after the school recently received 10 VR headsets and controllers sets. Students in the fourth through eighth grade will be able to use VR in their classes.
VR won’t be used just in art class, said Nicole Miller, the school’s innovation and technology teacher. It could be used for science, language arts and history classes, particularly using a 360-degree feature where students could put on a VR headset and then be transformed into a whole new setting as if they were actually there.
Attaining the VR tools was made possible through a donation last year by someone in the Powhatan community, Miller said. Specifically, students will be using the Oculus Quest to submerge themselves in VR.
For science, the school purchased a program that will allow students to dive into the ocean and interact with different sea animals. In history class, students will be able to wander through different time periods.
Shenandoah University has been developing its VR program as well. Powhatan students have visited SU’s VR lab, and the university has helped Miller find more ways to implement VR into the classroom.
In seventh grade, students have created Mars colonies in virtual spaces for the past two years. They research what was needed to survive on the planet and then draw out what they think their colony would look like. With the VR headsets, students will now be able to walk through the virtual landscapes they created, Miller said.
“It’s a way to take the students outside of the walls of their classroom and just be able to immerse them into these spaces where they wouldn’t be able to technically travel to or physically go to,” Miller said.