By: Alicia Sands Lurry
Imagine visiting the Galapagos Islands, the rainforests of South America, the canals in Italy, and the surface of Mars – all in one afternoon.
That is exactly what 120 third, fourth, and fifth graders from John Hope-Charles Walter Hill Elementary School experienced on Friday, Feb. 5. The students “traveled” to various field trips around the world – thanks to the Expeditions Pioneer Program, a virtual reality platform built for the classroom and designed to be incorporated with teachers’ lesson plans. Powered by Google, the app-based program immerses students in entirely new experiences through cardboard viewers. With the use of a tablet, teachers serve as virtual tour guides to take their students on journeys.
Hope-Hill Elementary was among the first schools in Atlanta to unveil the technology to students and teachers. In addition to students, teachers and Google representatives, State Superintendent Richard Woods and his staff also stopped by to see the demonstration.
Fourth graders like Mikayla Westbrook and Ashara Parker couldn’t wait to take an expedition. The two girls spent most their time peering wide-eyed through the cardboard viewers, which resembled goggles, while they viewed images of natures, as well as the moon’s surface.
“I was on the moon,” 9-year-old Ashara squealed with delight. “It was fun and creepy at the same time.”
“I saw two people standing behind me,” Mikayla, 10, said in disbelief. “It was creepy because they were staring at me.”
Their classmate, Jennifer Ramirez, was mesmerized by the experience.
“It’s fun,” said the 9-year-old fourth grader, while viewing the busy streets of New York City. “You get to be on the moon and go other places, too.”
Hope-Hill Principal Maureen Wheeler was just as excited.
“This is huge,” Wheeler said of the Expeditions program. “It exposes kids to things they may not see in their lifetime. The great thing about it is they don’t realize they’re learning. What I love is that it takes learning to a new level. It makes school fun and engaging.”
During the demonstration, fifth-grade teacher Monica Jones guided her class through expeditions, where they viewed everything from coral reefs, sharks and jelly fish, to volcanoes, land forms, and New York City.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for students to explore and feel like they’ve actually been to these places,” Jones said of the demonstration. “As a teacher, it allows me to tailor a lesson they can learn from and enjoy, and does my heart good to know they love it.”
State Superintendent Woods said he hopes to use the technology as a tool to advance and support student learning throughout grades K-12.
“There’s so much we can expose students to, and this technology opens a whole new world to them,” Woods said. “It actually goes beyond the classrooms, and proves that you don’t have to have four walls for kids to learn. It’s wonderful to see this level of excitement and engagement.”
For John Childs, a former Hope-Hill Elementary teacher, the program has endless possibilities.
“Students are getting virtual field trips to places they may not normally see,” said Childs, whose afterschool program, Mental Fitness, works with Hope-Hill and other Atlanta Public Schools to provide students with science technology, engineering, art and mathematics activities. “This is standards-based, visual learning that helps students learn even more. This should be a staple in every school, at every grade level.”