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Scott Chandler's Sandbox

02/22/2016 12:15PM ● Published by Melissa Mendonca

Can You Dig It?

March 2016

By Melissa Mendonca

Photo by Amanda Sweeney


The latest interactive exhibit at Lassen Volcanic National Park started with the innocent sharing of a weblink. “Originally, my wife showed me a YouTube video and I thought, ‘I have to have one!’” Chico’s Scott Chandler says of the augmented reality interactive sandbox his wife Dorothy thought was impressive enough to show him.

“It teaches people topographic maps and about watersheds,” says Chandler. “If you scoop out a hole, it will automatically recognize it as a lake. Make a mountain and a snow-capped peak suddenly appears.”

He immediately set about looking for directions to build the interactive sandbox and found them on the internet published by the University of California at Davis, “so people like me could
build one.” 

With his community-minded brain, however, Chandler knew the project would have much more of an impact if he got students involved. A member of the leadership team of Expect More Tehama, Chandler strives to translate his personal passions into opportunities for young people to grow.

He spun his lifelong interest in hiking into the Tehama Wilderness Team, which started out taking six Tehama County students wilderness backpacking each summer. That project has grown to include multiple trips and has expanded beyond Tehama County.  He has transferred his skills as the marketing director at Rolling Hills Casino into an annual project with Corning High School graphic design students to create the poster for Corning's Wine, Food and Art Festival.

With the interactive sandbox, returning to Corning High School was an immediate idea. The school's administrator of district support services, Sally Tollison, saw the merit in the project and gathered a team of teachers, who in turn gathered students, to work on the sandbox. 

Arguably the most excited to hear the project announced was Faisal Alfanash, a computer science instructor at the school. “I'd seen the video of it a few months before Scott brought it to the school,” he says. He'd also been intrigued. As part of four teacher-led teams, Alfanash brought two students together to figure out the computer elements of the project. “The hardest part for me was not interfering,” he says. “I wanted them to figure it out on their own. It was such a steep learning curve.”

Essentially, the sandbox uses an Xbox camera which senses depth of the sand, takes a 3D picture and sends it to a computer. Colors projected on the sand then change to reflect the topography. The deeper a hole is dug for a body of water, the darker blue the “water” will become. If a hand is held in front of the camera, it will register as a cloud and send “rain” down on the landscape. People become fascinated with how the topography changes immediately as a consequence of their play.

Scott and Dorothy Chandler funded about half of the project personally, then helped find money to finance the rest of the approximately $3,000 project. A high-quality professional paint job was donated to make the exhibit ready for its stay at Lassen Park, where it will be in heavy use.

Alfanash worked closely with Nolan Kee, who brought in students to weld the frame, which included precise measurements in coordination with the computerized elements. Woodshop teacher Tommy Tomlinson oversaw construction of the sandbox itself, and Christine Lee's advanced media design students worked on visuals. 

Against the clock, the team of teachers and students managed to get the project done in time for the special Maker exhibit at the 2015 Tehama District Fair in late September.  “They got it set up at 2
o’clock in the afternoon on the opening day of the fair,” says Chandler with great pride, noting that the team earned a Director's Choice Award.

From the fair, the sandbox went to the Expect More Tehama Summit in Corning in November, where it stood out as an example of the good that happens when the community steps in to work with students and schools.

The next natural transition was the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center at Lassen Volcanic National Park's southern entrance, where it was set up in January. Chandler serves on the board of directors of the Lassen Park Foundation and derives great joy imagining even more young people having access to the sandbox. 

“It's not inconceivable – I did some numbers in my head – that 100,000 kids a year will play with it,” he says. “If they have it for 10 years, that's a million  kids,” he says.

As for the team at Corning High, they're gearing up to build a second interactive sandbox that will be used within the Corning school systems. Chandler marvels at how one small idea became so big with the help of so many. “It kind of just flowed together, one after another.” 

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