Imagine you are in the arctic, watching baby penguins toddle around. You turn your head and spot a seal slipping across the ice! A familiar voice explains that the seal is using its fins to propel itself across the ice to move faster. You are in awe at this frozen wonderland, but you are toasty warm. An arrow appears in your vision, directing your attention to a tiny iceberg…that is actually a mountain of ice below the surface. This is the magic of virtual reality in the classroom.
This past week, while at a STEM expo in Enumclaw, I had the chance to experience Google Cardboard. They are inexpensive viewing glasses that attach to a smartphone (not so inexpensive) and allow students to look around and experience places they may never have the chance to visit, and certainly couldn’t go to on a field trip! Meanwhile, their teacher has access to information in order to provide the “tour” feel, and can direct attention to places of particular interest in the students’ fields of vision. She can also pause the “field trip” if things are getting a little too rough.
I wanted to talk about this for my blog post this week, because I think that the possibilities to include this kind of technology into an integrated curriculum are endless. The teachers can include any place in the world into their classroom at the touch of a button. With a little bit of added innovation, students can relive the journey of Lewis and Clark while listening to the narrative written by Lewis himself. They can explore and ask questions, and make connections to their lives and other knowledge with the experience right in front of them. One of the lessons I am planning for my 4th grade class is about the Ozette dig, where the Native American village of Ozette was discovered buried along the Washington coast. Washington State University has a virtual tour on their website to show students what it was like to be there. This is a supplemental lesson in their curriculum, meant to augment the reading they’ll be doing for social studies. I will be doing this lesson with the students, and while photos on the internet open up a lot of possibilities, think that a true virtual field trip could expand on that learning and excitement. With the ability to actually be in the place they are reading about, the students would be able to construct the knowledge for themselves rather than acquire it from a secondary source.