Using haptics to teach Science and Geography

One study on the use of haptics in education is of middle and high school students’ exploration of virtual viruses (Jones et al., 2003). In this exploratory study, students used a nanoManipulator, (combination of an atomic force microscope, a desktop computer, and a haptic desktop device) and received tactile and kinesthetic feedback from 3-D images of viruses. Students were able to push, cut and poke the virus and feel the interaction between this virus and the probing tip of the haptic device.

Another study using haptics in education was an interactive program introducing the concept of levers. It allowed students to create a lever by manipulating the fulcrum location, beam length, and amount of load placed on a lever. Five screens (e.g., Move Fulcrum, Apply Weights, Choose, Explore, and Answer) were sequentially viewed by each student. Students in the “Move Fulcrum” screen created their own lever by placing the fulcrum anywhere along the and in the “Apply Weights” screen, any number of 8 weights. (Each with equal masses) could be placed on the beam. In the “Choose” screen, the program generated a second lever that varied in terms of the number of weights applied, the fulcrum positioning or both. (

These are two examples of how haptics can be used to teach science. I decided to take from these ideas I create a few of my own lesson plan ideas. Here are a few ideas for Geography/Science lessons for grades 1-3 (Ecosystems would be for grades 4th and 5th).


In early elementary school, students learn basic Geography. They learn about maps. They learn about continents, countries, oceans and landforms. Haptic technology could be a creative way to present these common geography lessons.

Creating virtual maps

Using the Geomagic touch, students can create maps with landforms. The map can provide feedback. You can feel the pull of the virtual river. You could feel the temperature of the climate in Antarctica. You could feel the roughness of the mountains on the map. Maps are usually 2 dimensional. Students could even design globe with latitude and longitude lines.

Exploring and creating virtual landforms

Using a haptic glove, students can build virtual landforms and create a virtual country. They can even give it a name. It would be similar to playing in a virtual sandbox. Students could build and understand in a very concrete way the properties and locations of mountains, volcanos, islands, waterfalls, glaciers, etc.

Exploring ecosystems

Using a haptic glove, students can create changes in virtual biomes to see how when something changes in the environment it affects everything else. With more advanced haptics, such as a virtual reality headset and even a vest to experience climate change, rain etc., this could be a pretty cool lesson. Students would learn the terminology involved in the lesson as well.

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