Briar Science Classes Dive Into Geologic Sandbox

Amy Didion uses her new Augmented Reality Sandbox to teach students about geologic formations.

Briar Middle School students in teacher Amy Didion’s science classes this week got to play in a swanky new sandbox – one that lights up and offers students a glimpse into earthly formations.

The “augmented reality sandbox” is a three-dimensional, interactive device used to teach topography, landforms, mapping, and watersheds – and more. 

“This is something I always wanted,” Mrs. Didion said. 

This summer, after receiving the 2021 Arthur S. Holden Teacher Award for Excellence in Science Education, Mrs. Didion used the $7,500 grant that accompanied the award to buy the table-top sandbox. She unveiled it to Briar students and her colleagues this week. 

“I haven’t played in sand since I was 9 – and I’m 14 now,” said student Joanna Barbee as she carved miniature mountains and valleys into the white sand. 

As students mold land features into the sand, lights above the sandbox dynamically display contour lines that illustrate the grade of the land.

When students wave their hands over the sand, blue lights illuminate the sand and show how water would flow along the landscapes. With a flick of a switch, the mountains turn into volcanoes, the blue lights turn red, and lava flows into the valleys.

Briar students try out the Augmented Reality SandboxStudents in groups of three or four work at the sandbox at a time. When their time is up, they rinse their hands and move onto the next station. 

Meanwhile, Mrs. Didion’s other students work in groups to study topography maps and drawings, and work on puzzles on the geologic processes of weathering, erosion, and deposition. 

And these middle school kids do not seem to mind the chance to get into the sand. 

“Look at them,” says Mrs. Didion. “They love it. They’re getting their hands dirty.”

Other Briar teachers, counselors, and therapists have access to the sandbox, Mrs. Didion says. Beyond science, she says the sandbox has many applications for students and teachers, including those preparing for the annual land-use debate. 

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