Students take virtual journeys around the world

Girl looks through virtual reality glasses

Herkimer Elementary students recently explored Yellowstone Park, visited the San Diego Zoo and trekked to the Great Pyramids in Egypt — without ever leaving the school library.

The students’ virtual field trips were made possible through Google Expeditions, software that allows students to experience 360-degree views of real-world scenarios using virtual reality viewers.

Model School coordinator Derek LaLonde brought Google Expeditions into elementary classrooms and the library so that students and teachers could experience swimming with the sharks, exploring polar bear habitats and more through the virtual reality technology.

What the expeditions do is offer a first-person view of these experiences, so the students can place themselves in their own learning and take a sense of ownership of it,” LaLonde said. “Everywhere they look, they are immersed in this virtual environment, and it brings with it a sense of excitement about what they are learning.”

But Google Expeditions offers much more than just a thrilling visual experience, LaLonde explained.

“It is one thing to see an image in a book or on the Web of a shark or the Great Pyramids, but it is another thing to be virtually placed in these same environments where they can experience the true nature of what they are learning about,” LaLonde pointed out.

In addition to allowing students to explore the virtual environment, Google Expeditions allows teachers to guide their students to specific areas or activities.

“Teachers have the ability to draw within the expedition using a live annotation tool, so if the teacher sees something that is relevant to the students, they can literally draw the students’ attention to it,” LaLonde explained.

And the interface even shows teachers if a students’ attention wanders.

“As a check for understanding, the Google expedition also provides guiding questions in each expedition to ask your students, so they can comment and have a conversation about the content they are seeing,” LaLonde said.