To introduce the concept of ecosyste, Saint Francis High School biology teacher Roberta Chisam whisked her classes away to the coast of Tanzania, where she instructed her students to scrutinize the wildlife and the vegetation they see there.
After their excursion to Tanzania, Chisam and her students hopscotched around the world, exploring the Galapagos Islands, Yellowstone National Park and Australia. At each stop, she asked them what they can deduce from their observations.
In reality, her students did not actually leave the comforts of their classroom. Instead, they used Google Expeditions, a new tool that allows students to see in 3D 360-degree images out of a cardboard viewer that contains a smartphone. With a tablet, teachers point out areas of interest to guide the virtual reality field trips.
“A video can be a good tool, but if you could feel like you were a part of the experience, you get a whole new dimension of study,” Chisam said.
This fall was the second time that Google engineers came to partner with Saint Francis teachers and students in hopes of further refining this classroom tool. Other Saint Francis instructors who tested the virtual reality viewers as part the Expeditions Pioneer Program were Spanish teacher Margaret Miller, who took her students to visit ruins in Latin America, and Chinese teacher Winnie Huang, whose students explored the Great Wall. Economics teacher Hector Camacho also took part, taking his students to visit the New York Stock Exchange and Wall Street as an introduction to the Great Recession.
For students, the highlight of the tool was the immersive experience. As they looked through the viewers, they immediately responded with oohs and ahs.
Students also enjoyed the ability to travel around the world right in their classroo. Teachers can choose from hundreds of virtual field trips already created, including far-flung locations such as the Great Barrier Reef and Mars, or they can create their own excursions.