CaveSim offers a hands-on, non-traditional learning environment | Local News
When kids crawl through the man-made caves created by Dave Jackson, they can have a hands-on learning experience in science and safe cave exploration.
âI really love to see the light bulbs in children’s heads come on,â says Jackson. âMy hope is that maybe a certain percentage of the children who discover our caves will have more fulfilling lives, better education and better outcomes in their lives in one way or another because of our programming. “
Jackson is the inventor of CaveSim, life-size man-made caves that can be walked by children and adults. Caves contain electronic sensors that provide information about a user’s caving skills.
CaveSim offers its caves in two different formats. The company creates permanent cave exhibits inside buildings. For example, at the CityROCK Indoor Climbing Hall, CaveSim designed an underground cave system that can be explored.
Another format is that of the company’s mobile caves. CaveSim has caves which, when transported on large trailers, roam the country and are mainly used as educational opportunities for children.
âThe first one we built was in 18 states and was used by over 25,000 people,â Jackson said.
Jackson, 39, is from New York and studied electrical engineering and computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He started caving in college and continued his hobby after moving to Colorado Springs in 2007.
Soon after moving to Colorado, Jackson became involved with a cave rescue training organization and saw the need for better training opportunities. This is how the CaveSim concept was born.
When he started CaveSim, Jackson also worked for Keysight Technologies. About 18 months ago he decided to focus solely on CaveSim and hopes to bring his programming to more schools in Colorado Springs.
âWe tend to do a lot of programming in other states. Last year about half of our programs were in Texas. We would like to do more local programming, âJackson said. âRight now it’s a tough time for teachers and we’re here to help them with these online programs. After COVID, we would like to bring the cave to their schools. “
Jackson spoke with the India on CaveSim, its development and educational programming. To learn more, visit cavesim.com.
India: How did you create CaveSim?
Jackson: After moving to Colorado Springs, I got involved with an organization called Colorado Cave Rescue Network. This is an informal group that does cave training from time to time. When my wife and I moved here we started to enter the local caving community. In 2008 we had our first class at Glenwood Springs at Glenwood Caverns. The training course consisted of two parts; there was an aerial part and an underground part in a real cave. So for the aerial part, they set up these picnic tables which was supposed to be a cave. There was duct tape hanging down to replicate the stalactites, and I noticed people were just brushing them aside. They put people through this structure. There were people outside holding these picnic tables, and people just weren’t safe and they weren’t really learning because you can’t rule out the icicles. This group included cavers, but it also included members of search and rescue teams such as firefighters and paramedics. The cavers know what to do, but the people at the agency don’t really know the cave environment. On the second day, I saw people casually leaning into the cave formations. Some formations are kind of powdery, and I noticed there was powder all over the cave floor from these things that can sometimes take 1000 years per cubic inch to develop.
It’s a long drive from Glenwood Springs to Colorado Springs so I had plenty of time to think about it. I went to MIT for Electrical Engineering and was thinking what I could do as an engineer to fix this problem. I wanted to create a cave that would give you a score, tell you how successful you have been, and help you learn from your mistakes.
We were new to the cave rescue community at the time, and I thought these trainings were happening all the time, but I realized that they only happen once every two years or so. So I built this cool thing, and at the time my wife was a teacher at Palmer High School, and I thought why not use it in our schools. My wife now works at the Catamount Institute, and we have started doing programs there. Catamount Institute is a local school with a strong focus on outdoor and environmental education. So we started programming for them, and then we started traveling to different states. Since then, we have worked with over 25,000 children.
What can people learn from a CaveSim experience?
When I first started doing cave rescue training, one of the things I saw was that people, in this case adults, were damaging objects in the caves like stalactites and stalagmites. So, one thing people can learn is how to be careful in a natural environment. In this case, the natural environment happens to be a cave. We try to teach people to be aware of wild places. So our man-made caves have stalactites, stalagmites, and things like ancient cave paintings and bats. If they interact with any of these things the wrong way, they will hear a beep and points will be deducted from their score.
It’s a bit like the game Surgery. We have these electronic sensors behind the wall that can tell if they are interacting with something the wrong way. Sometimes a recorded voice will give you lessons about the cave. At the end, you can see your score on the computer screen. People watching from outside the cave can see you while you are there. We have night vision cameras in the caves for your friends to watch.
“I hope that a certain percentage of the children who discover our caves may have more fulfilling lives.”
Another thing people can learn isâ¦ think about one of the science subjects you had in school – biology, earth science, chemistry, physics. All of these topics, we find a way to connect with our program. So if I give you the example of chemistry, in the old days people would explore caves with carbide lamps and you basically had fire strapped to your head. The reaction of carbide is fascinating. If you drip water into the carbide, it produces a flammable gas like a torch cutting acetylene. We have carbide lamps that work and we show the lamps to the kids, and we can show them things about the chemical reaction. For physics, we have a 12 foot tower which is portable. We take it out of our mobile trailer and put it in place. Children can learn about the physics of pulleys and ropes; they can climb up and abseil down and learn these science concepts firsthand.
How has your work been impacted by COVID-19?
One thing is that we have stopped doing in-person programming. We haven’t done any programs since mid-April, but we do a lot of online learning. We offer programs live online, through Zoom or Google Meet, whatever platform a teacher wants to use. We will participate in the meeting when students from a certain school are in class. I did one last week for a school in Eagle. I will be doing demonstrations and they will do practical work with simple materials that their teacher has collected. Last week, for example, was devoted to geology. The children were doing tests on stones they had picked up around the school. They were doing tests to see which rocks came from caves. They would put vinegar on the rocks to see which ones would bubble. I’m going to do more exciting tests with fire and things like that. So we did some live online programming.
But some schools cannot do live online programming. Maybe they don’t have the resources or the devices or the bandwidth. So we recorded nine different lessons that we posted on our website. Teachers can create a simple login and access this content. So, at their convenience, children can watch the programming.
Another way we have been affected is that we have been creative in building our caves. We actually speeded up our construction process. We were going to build a new trailer, but we are currently building two new trailers. We unfortunately had to lay off our staff because we have no income at the moment, but we have some amazing people in our community who came to help us during their summer vacation. One is the vice-principal of Holmes Middle School and the other is an elementary physical education teacher at Queen Palmer. They had expertise in construction. They helped us a lot for free to build them in exchange for unlimited free programming in their schools. We normally charge schools a fee for programming, but these guys and girls have been amazing. When we get through COVID, we would like to do more programs in schools, especially in our local schools. We even had students helping us, almost like an apprenticeship.
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