Two state agencies are helping upgrade the STEAM programs at Vermont schools.

The Educate and Innovate Initiative, a program by the Agency of Education and Department of Liquor and Lottery, is integrating new learning technology into the classroom. Jacqueline Posley of the Department of Liquor and Lottery says schools typically apply for funding to upgrade classroom technology.

“Each year, we award two schools $15,000 worth of equipment,” Posley noted. “The proposal that they give has to incorporate STEAM, which is science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.”

The Swanton Central School was one of the winners this year, introducing a system called “MergeEDU” to students. The system uses augmented and virtual reality to increase classroom engagement. Students can also interact with 3D objects by projecting them onto a real-life cube through a smart tablet.

Jennifer Mitchell, the school’s Education Technology Integrationist, discovered this type of technology in her certification training courses. “Students can actually see something that’s been described in a textbook in action,” she explains. “That visual piece really helps solidify some of those concepts that otherwise are really hard to picture in your head.”

Students say it’s already much more engaging than a textbook or lecture.

“It became really fun to start to learn with it,” sixth-grader Kennedy Longway said. “It’s better than just having a boring lesson. It’s something we can do on our own.””

Paityn Paradee said it’s a chance to see the world in a different way. “On a piece of paper, you can’t move the picture around, and you can’t look deeper into it.”

Sixth-grader Miracle Bugwiza says, “It’s better because you can learn it visually, instead of knowing it in your head and trying to imagine it.” He added, “It’s really when you visually see it, you get a good sense of what you’re working with.”

Winooski Middle and High School plan on using funding from the initiative to redesign their computerized music-making program.

The Education Agency and Vermont Lottery are hosting a STEAM showcase at both schools to give faculty, parents, and community members a chance to see the technology students have been working with.