Woodland Heights School students, from left, Zavier Legendre and Summer LaFlamme, both 10, practice on a virtual reality program with the assistance of Huot Technical Center student Jason Clay, 16. (David Carkhuff/Laconia Daily Sun)
By DAVID CARKHUFF, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — Poised on the edge of his seat, Zavier Legendre, 10, adjusted his virtual reality glasses and surveyed the inner workings of an internal combustion engine.
The complex parts, portrayed as pixels on a computer screen, responded to remote probing by fellow student Summer LaFlamme, 10. As LaFlamme tilted a pointer, the engine rotated, like something out of a video game. Legendre seemed intrigued by the glasses, which resembled 3D glasses from a movie theater.
"I'm surprised that it's just like a pair of glasses that you wear to make it work," Legendre marveled. "Every time I see it (VR), it's this big, clunky binocular headset that you drop onto your face."
This month, Legendre and 14 classmates at Woodland Heights Elementary School received a taste of pre-engineering know-how from high school-age students from the Huot Technical Center.
If not for the week's snowfall, the Woodland Heights students would have fired off rockets that they crafted with their older peers.
"When we go to a school, we typically take over an entire room, and we stay for the entire week," said Huot Technical Center pre-engineering instructor Ken Martin, architect of the shared learning program. "With this group, because of the weather, we're going to come back in the spring and finish what we're doing here, and fire off the rockets."
Martin said the tech school tapped a $10,000 incentive grant received from the New Hampshire Department of Education last year. The grant helped Martin launch a Mobile Makers Space, a space on wheels that can arrive at a school and help students learn creative thinking.
The Mobile Makers Space rolled into Pleasant Street last year, and Martin said he hopes to bring it to Elm Street School in the spring.
And because the Huot Technical Center is a regional program — the center reaches high school students at Laconia, Gilford, Belmont, Inter-Lakes, Franklin and Winnisquam — where it provides career and technical education programs, Martin said, "We're going to reach out to all of them."
Eric Johnson, principal of Woodland Heights Elementary School, said he relished a reunion of sorts with former students.
"I've had a lot of the kids who are in high school now come through the system, so I've had them as principal in elementary school, so to see them come back ... and help out our kids who just love this enrichment, it's really good to see," he said.
The fifth-graders gravitate to topics such as robotics, three-dimensional computer imagery/virtual reality, snap circuits and solid fuel rocketry.
"It will hopefully interest boys and girls in the engineering field, it's wonderful to see," Johnson said.
The virtual reality applications teach astronomy, botany, chemistry, earth science, mechanical science and zoology.
Irene Stinson, Woodland Heights instructor, said teachers there reached out to the Huot tech center wanting to bring STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — into the elementary school classroom.
Five children from each of the classrooms at Woodland Heights gathered for a week with the tech center teens.
"They are loving it. They will not stop talking about it," Stinson said.
Jessica Ortolf, another Woodland Heights instructor, said, "It's an engaging way for the kids to collaborate and to share. The high school kids are extending what they have learned to teach a younger child, and our kids are just eating it up."
Woodland Heights offers career readiness opportunities and field trips to colleges, but the Mobile Makers Lab was decidedly hands on.
"Meanwhile, tech center students learn an advanced depth of knowledge, by teaching what they learned," Martin said.
"I was blown away at how well they did, so kind, and a lot of them came here, so they have that pride of, 'This is my school.' They talked to all of their old teachers."
Jason Clay, 16, one of the tech student teachers, said virtual reality especially intrigued the youngsters. "It's really interesting to see how the kids are taking the ability to take things apart and look at them, a lot of them like to pull it out of the screen and see how hands-on the program can get."
Woodland Heights School's fifth-grade students were "off and running" with the tutorials, Martin said.
Legendre, fascinated with the virtual reality technology, said, "Virtual reality? This is the first time that I've ever experienced it, but I've watched YouTube videos about it. This is fun, this is one of those things where I'd rather stay home from school and do it all day. Not only is it fun, it's also educational, since my dream job is to be an engineer."
A K-Nex rollercoaster built by students at Woodland Heights School is a "Rube Goldberg device," an overly complicated contraption that completes a simple task of moving balls. The project was a cooperative effort with students of pre-engineering instructor Ken Martin from Huot Technical Center. (David Carkhuff/Laconia Daily Sun)
A virtual reality program gives glimpses of the human heart, courtesy of a Huot Technical Center shared learning effort. (David Carkhuff/Laconia Daily Sun)