Tucson models 'classroom of the future'

By Anthony Mason, CBS News

When the Gridley Middle School in Tucson, Ariz. added a virtual reality class in the fall, 13-year-old Rashad Stevenson was skeptical.

Mason: "Were you surprised at how much you liked this?"

"I truly was actually," Stevenson said.

"What have you learned from it?"

"To keep your imagination open. Don't let people shut it down," Stevenson said.

In the class, 6th and 8th graders design & model their own virtual reality projects, anything from video games, to military equipment to a frosted donut. It's a pilot program developed with the Raytheon Corporation, the giant Aerospace & Defense contractor.

Laura McGill is deputy vice president of engineering.

"What we're trying to do is invest in today to insure that we'll have the engineers and technical professionals that we'll need in the future," she said.

Raytheon has pumped nearly $100 million into science, engineering and math education over the past five years. As part of the Gridley program, Raytheon engineers bring the kids and their projects to their state of the art 3D design screen called "The Cave."

"It's cool. It's magical," Stevenson said.

"Because it takes it to another level?" (16:02:30)

"It does," Stevenson said. "You can really see your pieces. Cause they're pretty much art brung to life. And it's a beautiful sight."

In the classroom, the kids, like 14-year-old Emily Jonatan, is encouraged to collaborate.

"So if we need help we have to go and ask students and figure it out by ourselves," Jonatan said.

"Just the power to expose them to what's possible [and] gets their minds working," said science teacher Lisa Kist, who had no trouble filling the pilot class.

"In fact, you have awaiting list?"

"We do. About 40 strong right now," Kist said.

The Gridley Middle School plans to add two more sections next semester because of the impact the class is having on students like Rashad.

"It's made me more involved. I liked school okayish, but now I see how I could pull in math or language arts or science and make something from it."

How do you trigger a child's motivation? They may have found a model in Tucson, Ariz.

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