A middle-school student borrows an iPad, holds it up to the fish marker and smiles when a 3D rainbow trout swims across the screen.

“Did you see the eagle?” Michelle Carpenter asks the boy. “Come check out the eagle—he’s my favorite.”

A steady stream of middle and high schoolers were likewise captivated by CU Denver’s augmented reality exhibit at [email protected] at Ellie Caulkins Opera House on April 16. More than 2,000 students attended TEDxYouth—a state gathering of technology, entertainment and design that features emerging leaders, performers and researchers in an exchange of forward-thinking ideas. CU Denver was presenting sponsor of the event for the third year.

Scenes from TEDxYouth:

“We like to be involved in TEDxYouth because it’s a great way to expose young local students to the value of CU Denver,” said Karen Klimczak, the university’s director of marketing. “It’s important to build relationships with students early on in a fun educational environment. Experiences like these resonate with young students as they think about college, and we hope CU Denver will be at the top of their list.”

A team led by Carpenter, an assistant professor in Digital Design in CU Denver’s College of Arts & Media, showed the students a fun way to learn about Colorado wildlife by using the devices they carry around—iPads and smartphones. “The kids are just kind of amazed,” Carpenter said. “It’s like magic. They’ve never seen anything like it before.”

The app created by undergraduate students in Carpenter’s Design Studio 3 class brings 3D images of animals as well as natural sound effects onto handheld devices when held in front of a coded sign. The interactive experience—a display of information about the animal also appears on screen—is called augmented reality and is gaining popularity worldwide.

The teaching tool allows tech-savvy youth to engage with the outdoors in a fun and educational way. “This allows them to be on a hike, or in an urban environment, like on a city tour, to get more information about what’s happening in the environment or endangered animals,” Carpenter said.

CU Denver’s Learn with Purpose table was also a crowd-pleaser, as students selected clever Learn with Purpose buttons and engaged with interactive art materials. More interactive fun was outside as kids checked out the Topsy Turvy Bus, which was displayed by civil engineering students in CU Denver’s College of Engineering and Applied Science. The bus gets students excited about the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) while teaching them about green chemistry and engineering.

The middle and high schoolers also enjoyed mingling with Milo the Lynx and were enthralled by CAM’s Digital Animation Center’s (DAC) motion-capture system exhibits.

In the Buell Theatre next door, students flocked to see DAC’s motion-capture demonstration. “It’s a great way to expose students of this age to all sorts of options as far as their learning—a place where technology, art and commerce meet,” said Howard Cook, assistant professor and DAC director. “People are interested in seeing this kind of technology because it only exists in their minds and in the movies. Most people haven’t ever seen (a motion-capture system), so it’s always fun to get out and let people see it.”

CU Denver’s Mobile Device Ensemble—eight CAM student and faculty performers using laptops and iPads as musical instruments and wearing CU Denver T-shirts— entertained the huge Caulkins Opera House crowd to open the second TEDxYouth session of the afternoon.

“At TEDxYouth, students get to see how technology and innovation is a part of their everyday life,” said Joann Brennan, associate dean of CAM. “In a way, all of our programs in CAM are about helping students have careers in all of these areas.”

The many students who visited the CU Denver exhibits, or left the auditorium wearing a Learn with Purpose button, took from their TEDxYouth experience a wider view of the interesting things they can learn at CU Denver when the time comes.

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