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High-Tech Learning Hits N.J. High School In Form Of 'Virtual Classrooms'

NEW MILFORD, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- At one New Jersey high school it's all about thinking outside the box.

New Milford High is going super high-tech with 3-D "virtual classrooms."

On Friday, CBS 2's Cindy Hsu was on hand to witness students learning chemistry in a whole new way. First of all, everyone with a headset on could verbally communicate with other students throughout the school.

"This is my headset where I can talk to different people, so they don't need to be right next to me for me to hear," 10th grader Angie Bellanich demonstrated.

As part of the learning experience, each student creates his or her own avatar that features their likeness. Bellanich showed Hsu her avatar, "the Real Angie," and how she could change it up any time she wanted.

"Then I can change the hair color and hair style," she said.

As the presentation continued, the students' avatars visited all sorts of "virtual classrooms" on the computer. It's part of a pilot program where students and teachers explore the possibilities of virtual learning by breaking down the barriers of a traditional classroom.

"It's really cool because we can communicate possibly with people across the world," 10th grader Emily Sailer said.

White boards, called media boards, were the areas where students from different classes posted anything they wanted -- from YouTube videos to questions -- to help each other understand chemistry problems.

"Sometimes people learn differently, so one way I explain something can be more helpful to someone, then what the teacher says," 10th grader Sarah Almeda said.

So while it's a lot of students helping students, science teacher Vikki Smith said the approach allows for her to moderate without being intrusive.

"I can actually monitor each student without having to be by them and see what they're doing, how is their learning progressing," Smith said.

Smith said teachers need to think out of the box to keep up with how kids are learning these days.

While the virtual classroom was just a pilot program initially, teachers said their virtual lessons in the future could be available 24-7, on all sorts of devices, so students who are home sick or have a snow day won't have to miss anything, Hsu reported.

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