DANVILLE — What happens when you a combine a seventh-grade science lesson on plant cell anatomy with the technology of a three-dimensional movie?

South View Middle School teachers are about to find out.

And after a brief demonstration of the school's new 3-D projector this week, they're even more hopeful that it will result in higher student engagement and a deeper understanding of that lesson and other hard-to-learn concepts.

As soon as school dismissed, former seventh-grade teacher Bob Cundiff gathered his old homeroom students, now eighth graders, for a long-awaited preview of the technology, made possible through a Danville Public School Foundation grant.

After the kids put on their special "shutter glasses," Cundiff, now the school's data and instructional facilitator, demonstrated several math and science applications, starting with a plant cell lesson.

"Remember how difficult it was for you to understand that in seventh grade?" Cundiff asked, as the cell appeared on the screen not as a flat object but in a simulation of its natural form.

"Whoa!" said students, clearly captivated by the object as it rotated, allowing them to see it from all angles. Cundiff punched a few keys on his laptop to peel away the membrane and reveal the chloroplast and thylakoids, the site of photosynthesis. "You can't see it like this in a book."

The kids squealed and sat back in their seats when a dissected frog appeared before them, floating above a lily pad, seemingly inches away from their nose.

"See, we can check out his muscles and his skeletal system," Cundiff said. "We can even make him hop."

"It looks like a video game!" marveled Elijah Davis.

The 3-D simulations are part of the Classroom Cubed program, a state-funded effort between JTM Concepts, Inc., of Rock Island, and the Rock Island Regional Office of Education. It aims to enhance students' grasp of concepts that can be difficult to understand in a traditional 2-D format.

The past few years, the regional office of education has made the software available to schools throughout the state for free. But the cost of the 3-D ready projector with 3-D capabilities and glasses has prevented many from taking advantage of it.

Cundiff knew he wanted to bring the program to his kids when he learned about it two years ago. So, with help from the information technology department and Alan Rivers, he applied for a foundation grant.

"There was no question that we were going to do this," the foundation's executive director, Bob Richard, said, adding that the $3,844 expense was funded through three donations. "It's new and innovative. It's something that's beyond the standard classroom curriculum. And, it's just really cool."

Cundiff said the program offers a wide variety of applications in math, science and social studies, and also can be adapted for other classes. South View teachers can begin using it later next week.

Cundiff also showed students how it will be easier to understand math problems involving units of volume.

"It's hard to determine volume when you can only see part of it. With this, you can see it completely and look at all of the different pieces" to determine length, width and height, Cundiff said as he demonstrated with a U-shaped solid.

"If I had that, I'd have done better in math," said Chad Turner, the school resource officer.

Davis never liked science. But the new technology just might change that.

"It makes it fun," said Davis, whose favorite simulation was of the universe and an asteroid shower.

"It makes it more realistic," added Seth Richards-Chittick, who believes the program will help him in math, not his strongest subject. "You can see things better and understand them better."

While students like the cool factor, Cundiff likes some of the studies he saw. One compared the test results of students who learned to determine the volume of cube the standard way and then with the new technology.

"They saw significant gains with the (new) program, and the minority gains matched the gains in Caucasians and in some cases, exceeded those gains. It closed the achievement gap, which is what we're always trying to do in education. So I really believe this can help put students form any socioeconomic level on equal footing."


Noelle McGee is a Danville-based reporter at The News-Gazette. Her email is nmcgee@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@n_mcgee).