Innovative Ariz. class turns students' dreams into reality

A student in Raytheon Corporation's "The Cave"
A student in Raytheon Corporation's "The Cave"
CBS News

(CBS News) TUCSON, Ariz. - When the Gridley Middle School in Tuscon, Ariz., added a virtual reality class in the fall, 13-year-old Rashad Stevenson was skeptical.

But he was truly surprised at how much he liked it.

Laura McGill
Laura McGill CBS News

The course, he said, taught him "to keep your imagination open. Don't let people shut it down."

In the class, 6th and 8th graders design and 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 and defense contractor.

"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," said Laura McGill, the company's deputy vice president of engineering.

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," Rashad said. "You can really see your pieces, 'cause they're pretty much art brought to life. And it's a beautiful sight."

A student in Raytheon Corporation's "The Cave"
A student in Raytheon Corporation's "The Cave" CBS News

In the classroom, 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," Emily said.

Science teacher Lisa Kist has had no trouble filling the pilot class. She already has a waiting list of about 40.

"Just the power to expose them to what's possible gets their minds working," 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," he said. "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.

  • Anthony Mason
    Anthony Mason

    CBS News senior business and economics correspondent; Co-host, "CBS This Morning: Saturday"