Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Voices From the Classroom: VR in the Elementary Classroom

The Office of Instructional Technology has the pleasure of working with extraordinary teachers throughout the Cherry Creek School District. "Voices from the Classroom" is one way we highlight innovative teaching and learning from the teachers themselves, in their own words.

Our guest blogger today is Pete Dirindin, Instructional Technology Coordinator from Black Forest Hills Elementary.

The students in 2nd grade at Black Forest Hills Elementary do an alien project each year. Their final project is to learn about adaptations that would be needed by studying the solar system and its planets. This project is presented verbally and digitally to parents at the end of the unit by creating an alien with adaptations for where it will be living. Hats off to their terrific teachers for creatively integrating science, reading, and writing into this project. We worked together to help build up some of their knowledge around space with many apps and websites as resources, but something new this year that added a whole new excitement while building background knowledge was Google Cardboard and a couple of free apps that explore space.

We began getting our hands on the Google Cardboard Kit by checking it out from the district library. The only ones available were the Google Cardboard without the devices. We checked out 24 Cardboards and picked them up from SARC. Denise Wendl and her talented staff had them ready for me the Friday before we were going to use them. With no devices to use in 24 cardboards, we turned to our staff for help. We set up a Signup Genius asking our staff at Black Forest Hills Elementary for their own phones to help out. Now asking adults for their phones is a tough thing to do, but we were able to muster up 8 phones total.

After looking through lots of free Virtual Reality apps, we decided on possibly introducing three to the 2nd grade students: Liftoff VRVanguard VR, and Google Expeditions. In the Signup Genius, we asked that teachers have these three apps downloaded on their phones. After realizing that Google Expeditions needs to have all devices connected to the wifi, and what this means for personal devices when using them with students in our classrooms. Not to risk phone calls or texts coming to the personal teacher devices, we chose not to use Google Expeditions for this experience.

During the virtual lift off app the students had a BLAST! The app took about 7 minutes or so to get through. We had 8 phones and 106 students in 2nd grade. We ended up going through 2 classes in an hour on one day and then 2 classes the next day during that same hour.

With the eight phones, we were able to pull eight students at a time to experience the Liftoff VR app. This app is a virtual trip to near space alongside a rocket ship. With over 100 students in 2nd grade, we introduced the Liftoff VR app on Monday to the students. During their research time on Tuesday and Wednesday we were able to get through 2 classrooms in an hour.
The experience itself for the students caused a lot of excitement.

The students were introduced to the Cardboard and explained three things:

  • If they felt sick or dizzy during the experience to take the Cardboard off their eyes and focus around the room.
  • Students started by sitting in their chairs. They were were asked not to walk around during the experience, but they could stand up and rotate around if they wanted.
  • Students were explained that to start this particular app they would have to focus on the blue dot and then hit the trigger button on the top right of the Cardboard.

The VR experience helped the students to better get a feel for the space exploration that they were doing in class. Through paper books, ebooks, websites their teachers had chosen for them to do research, the VR experience was a cherry on top and a great way to introduce another perspective of their research. In the small amount of time that they were experiencing the VR apps through Google Cardboard, the impact it had was talked about for days and weeks later as we had students working on their projects.

2nd grade is planning on using the Google Cardboard again after spring break when they are working on a project that is exploring our different ecosystems. Again, this will be used to help deepen the knowledge of the research they are already doing by giving them visuals of the different ecosystems. We are planning on using about 17 android devices this time and will be able to use Google Expeditions! The students and staff at Black Forest Hills can’t wait for this next adventure!

Our deep thanks and appreciation to Mr. Dirindin and all that he does for teachers and students!

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