Land and Sea discoveries


Augmented Reality geoscience takes a tour around Aotearoa New Zealand

Land and Marine Geoscience

What do you get when you cross a humble sandbox with cutting edge augmented reality (AR) technology? The most immersive and exciting geoscience lesson ever!

GNS Science experts Jenny Barretto, Dr Katie Jacobs, Dr Wanda Stratford, Fiona Sanders, and Ashley Pocock have been on the road with the AR sandbox – a hands-on learning tool that gives tamariki the chance to explore geoscience by shaping and re-shaping the topography of a landscape.

By piling up and digging into the sand, kids can create their own landscapes covered in mountains, valleys and plains.

Augmented reality layers such as elevation colour markings, topographic lines, and bodies of water are projected onto the sand, and adjust in real time as an interactive sensor detects landforms being shaped. With the wave of a hand, virtual rain, sea level rise and tsunami can be created.

The sandbox is designed to teach people about land-water interactions, the effects on waterflow of manmade modifications to land features, and the impacts of sea level rise to our coasts and neighbouring island nations.

GNS Science experts guide this learning by presenting kids with real-life scenarios and problems to investigate.

“This kind of learning through play appeals to everyone – but it’s a particularly powerful approach to teaching intermediate-aged students who tend to be most open to exploring complex concepts through reasoning, logic and imagination,”
says project leader Jenny Barretto.

Image caption: Augmented reality layers update in real time as the sand is moved and shaped. Credit: Jeff Brass, GNS Science

“It also means the activities are inclusive of students with different learning needs and interests – including those who might have struggled to engage in a traditional classroom setting. Several students with dyslexia took part and really enjoyed being able to fully participate with their peers.”

The AR sandbox is supplemented with four other learning stations that reinforce different learning areas, including interpreting features on and navigating using maps, and using creative and descriptive language to share observations.

The 2020 AR Sandbox project was made possible by Unlocking Curious Minds funding and reached more than 250 intermediate-aged students from across the North Island.

Support from REAP Wairarapa, REAP Central Plateau, and Partnership Through Collaboration Trust was invaluable in coordinating delivery of the project to students.

Additional AR sandbox experiences were delivered this year at Wings over Wairarapa, the MOTAT STEM fair, Te Rangihakahaka Centre for Science and Technology, and at a GNS Science GeoCamp.

The AR sandbox concept and software were developed by the UC Davis W.M. Keck Center for Active Visualisation in the Earth Sciences. The design and fabrication of the transportable sandbox for the project was done in partnership with Frank Beinersdorf at WelTec.

Image caption: Students build a landscape in the AR sandbox. Credit: REAP Wairarapa

Image caption (top): Students build a landscape in the AR sandbox. Credit: REAP Wairarapa

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