Bringing a Special Sandbox Inside the Classroom

High–Tech Sandbox from UC Davis to Teach Howard University Middle School Students Earth and Watershed Sciences

Quick Summary

  • Augmented Reality sandbox given to sixth grade science classroom at Howard University Middle School in Washington D.C.
  • Students use 3-D technology to build mountains, dam rivers and make virtual rain.
  • UC Davis developed the ARsandbox and its free-open source software. At least 150 built worldwide now.

The University of California, Davis, is providing one of its Augmented Reality, or AR, Sandboxes to sixth graders at Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science in Washington D.C. today, April 28.

The sandbox is anything but old school. For starters, it’s not on a playground. Rather, the sandbox will be unveiled at its new home inside Nilwattie Hardeen-Persuad’s sixth grade science classroom.

Kids play with Augmented Reality sandbox
Children play with UC Davis' Augmented Reality Sandbox at the 2016 USA Science and Engineering Festival. Credit: Heather Segale/UC Davis 

And unlike your typical sandbox, students will use 3-D visualization technology to build mountains, dredge and dam rivers, and make it rain with their hands.  As they “play,” they will be learning about earth and watershed sciences in a truly hands-on way.

“With its hands-on, interactive technology, the Augmented Reality Sandbox is well suited for education and outreach,” said Louise Kellogg, a professor in the UC Davis Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and director of the W.M. Keck Center for Active Visualization in the Earth Sciences, or KeckCAVES, which developed the sandbox. “We are excited to bring that to the students at Howard University Middle School.” 

A Sandbox for ‘Digital Natives’

The Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science is a public charter school on the main campus of Howard University in Washington D.C. While the sandbox will live in the sixth grade science classroom, seventh and eighth grade teachers also plan to integrate the sandbox across the curriculum. 

“This sandbox will allow our students to literally play in the sand while learning,” said Kathryn Procope, Howard University Middle School Head of School. “What could be more perfect? It brings the subjects of topography and geography to life for our students who are digital natives. By using their hands and technology, they will have the ability to terraform, see watershed effects on the physical earth, and understand the importance of stewardship of our natural resources. We are so excited and grateful to be selected for this project.”

The ARsandbox combines a real sandbox with a 3-D camera, a digital projector, and a powerful computer. It is an innovative tool for teaching people of all ages—from kindergartners to university students and museum visitors.

Supported with funding from the National Science Foundation, a prototype of the ARsandbox and its open-source software were developed by UC Davis research scientist Oliver Kreylos at KeckCAVES.

As part of the original project, an additional three exhibits were built: one at the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center in Incline Village, Nevada; another at ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center in Burlington, Vermont; and a fourth at the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley, California.  

Do You Want To Build A Sandbox?

Since the project began nearly five years ago, at least 150 exhibits have been built around the world using the free open-source software.

“The ARsandbox is being used in so many creative ways by people around the globe,” said Geoffrey Schladow, director of the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center. “It is a challenge for our team to keep track of the growing user group and to help incorporate some of the best ideas into updates that all can share in.”

The gift to Howard University Middle School marks the end of a spring “tour” for the sandbox in Washington D.C. In the past month, the ARsandbox was on exhibit at the White House, The Coalition for National Science Funding Capitol Hall Exhibition, and at the USA Science and Engineering Festival, where more than 350,000 people attended.

Media Resources

Gloria Mobley, Howard University Middle School, (202) 427-7383,

Kat Kerlin, UC Davis News and Media Relations, 530-750-9195,

Primary Category

Secondary Categories

University Environment Science & Technology Education