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Exploring careers using virtual reality

Mobile learning lab offers hands-on trades learning

Photos by Deb Gau Marshall Middle School student Gavin Schrieber tries welding with the help of special augmented-reality equipment at the Big Ideas mobile learning lab on Thursday.

From the outside, it looked like a semi trailer. But Marshall Middle School students entering the Big Ideas Mobile Learning Lab were about to find a hands-on classroom.

“Do you know what welding is?” instructor Joe Schotzko asked the group of eighth grade students gathered around him.

“Burning metal together?” one student said.

Schotzko said that was a good description. But the welding simulator the students operated Thursday didn’t involve heat, even if they used equipment that looked a lot like a real welding gun and mask. Instead, computer sensors and screens gave the kids a safe way to try making their own virtual welds.

Not far away, other students put on virtual-reality goggles to try an industrial painting simulator, or sat down in a Caterpillar simulator booth to try driving an excavator.

Having the mobile learning lab come to Marshall was a way for MMS eighth graders to explore different careers. The skilled trades can offer young people a lot of possibilities, said Big Ideas instructor Andrew Kish.

“There’s really no closed doors, as long as you’re willing to learn,” he said.

The mobile learning lab visited MMS on Thursday and Friday.

“We were very thankful to receive a grant from Pride in the Tiger which brought the lab to our eighth graders,” said Beth Ritter, director of teaching and learning at Marshall Public Schools.

Ritter said the mobile learning lab would also expose students to some of the types of classes MPS plans to offer at a new Career and Technical Education center.

Big Ideas, Inc., is a Minnesota-based group that was founded in 2017, with a mission to give people opportunities to explore skilled trades. Big Ideas has offered training classes in a variety of industries, and starting last March the organization went on the road with the mobile lab.

“We’ve been all over the state of Minnesota,” Kish said.

On Thursday, MMS students rotated through simulator stations in the mobile lab, and also got to try some self-guided programs loaded onto Oculus VR headsets.

“There’s 26 different options they can go into,” Kish said.

That way, students are able to explore the trades that sound interesting to them, he said.

“I did one on cars,” said MMS student Keegan Fossum. “I did an oil change.”

This year, MPS has started focusing more on career and technical education. The district already offers welding and certified nursing assistant programs, but there are plans in the works to expand into automotive and other programs. MPS recently bought property on U.S. Highway 59 in Marshall, with the intent of renovating it into a CTE center.

Having the Big Ideas mobile learning lab come to Marshall was one way to help get students interested in skilled trades, Ritter said.

“By exposing our middle school students to many different trades careers, it helps them begin to explore possible future careers that they might be interested in,” she said.

“It also gives them exposure to some of the classes that we’ll be offering at the Marshall Career & Technical Institute and get them excited about learning more about those classes. We are excited about our expansion and exposing our students to all different types of careers.”

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