Sunday, January 3, 2016

Are We There Yet? Arrive faster with Google Expeditions.

At the end of September 2015, Google announced its Expeditions Pioneer Program.  Google Associates arrive at your school with everything you need to take a trip around the world using virtual reality!  We were honored and excited at my middle school to learn that only 45-60 schools would be able to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity and we were one of around 800 schools in the world to experience this program!

Our associate arrived in December 2015 with 2 kits.  Each kit contains 30 Asus Smartphones, an Android tablet, a router and 30 Google Cardboards or View-Masters.  We were fortunate to use both Cardboards and View-Masters.

What is a Google Cardboard?

Assembled Google Cardboard VR
Google Cardboard

A Google cardboard is a virtual reality viewer made almost entirely of actual cardboard.  Cardboard allows anyone with a modern smartphone to experience virtual reality.  As a teacher, I enjoy how accessible it is for students to obtain a model similar to the one on the left.  My only concern is forehead grease.  Have you ever had a greasy pizza in a pizza box?  Well, humans produce oils and I have noticed it is left behind on the Google Cardboard if not protected.  You could use a small Post-It note or cover the area with clear packaging tape.  I would like to see a Google Cardboard come with it already covered with clear packaging tape.


You may prefer a View-Master instead.  Yes, they cost more than the Google Carboard style and are heavier for students to carry, but they are made out of plastic and can easily wipe down!  After our Pioneer Program day,  opinions seemed to be split down the middle as to which style students prefer.  A few students went out the same afternoon and purchased their own View-Master!

 What is Expeditions?

Expeditions is a new product that allows teachers to take their classes on virtual field trips, immersing students in experiences that bring abstract concepts to life and giving students a deeper understanding of the world beyond the classroom.  The classroom teacher takes on the role of a field trip guide using a tablet.  Teachers control where they visit from over 140 choices made up of a collection of virtual reality panoramas, 360º photo spheres, 3D images, video and ambient sounds annotated with details, points of interest, and questions for teachers to easily integrate into exsisting curriculum used in schools.  Teachers can see where students are looking by viewing little white smiley faces on the tablet.  Teachers can also call attention to a specific spot on the image they are viewing by placing a finger on the area.  This will create arrows for students to follow.  I was very impressed with the app for students who tend to get motion sickness.  If you tap the screen of the smartphone with 2 fingers, it will change the view so that all students can enjoy the experience.  I do suggest keeping this type of lesson/activity to about 20 minutes as the VR tends to give some students headaches if used longer.

How can I integrate this into my curriculum?

Expeditions was easy to integrate into quite a few content areas.  Social Studies was the real winner with this app!  From Geography to American History this app was a hit!  If you teach Life Science, there are many trips you can take as well!  Our students loved diving into the ocean to study the Great Barrier Reef.  We also had Spanish teachers explore with their students various cultural aspects of the Expeditions.  I could see Physical Education and Math being able to use this app to apply to history of certain sports or even a math challenge involving calories burned climbing a specific area of Machu Picchu.  I did try out the Career Expeditions with my Career & Technology classes.  I was not as impressed with these Expeditions.  I would like to see Google link a career expedition to a place, like an archeologist to the Mayian Ruins.  

My favoite part of this experience was how excited and engaged students were.  Expeditions allows content to jump off of the pages and immerse students.  In the video above, 6th grade students were learning about El Capitan and the young lady in the video clip was literally "Wowed" by the sheer greatness and size of El Capitan.  I do hope Google makes this app available to GAFE users soon.  I would love to see Google create a sign-up code much like Kahoot or Pear Deck uses.  This would be a wonderful feature for BYOD districts like mine!

While nothing replaces hopping on a bus for a field trip.  Expeditions provides an unparalleled opportunity for supplemental learning.  This is one wonderful way for teachers to integrate VR into their classes.