JPPSS Students Explore Google’s Latest Virtual Reality Program

23645108672_8350ab4a74_kThe sights at Schneckenburger Elementary would’ve made any teacher smile.

Students literally “oohing” and “ahhing” as new topics were introduced….Every young person engaged in the lesson at hand…And as class time ended, there were calls for “more.”

These were just some of the reactions when the Google Expeditions Pioneer Program visited schools in the Jefferson Parish Public School System recently. This virtual reality technology truly immerses students into their lessons.

“It was definitely fabulous,” said Schneckenburger Elementary librarian Julie Broussard. “I love being able to bring reality into the classroom, especially through something panoramic like 360 view. The students listened to what I was saying at the same time and absorbed it all.”

23727473016_b7bfe014f5_zThe Google Expeditions Pioneer Program travels to schools around the world. Students beta test this new technology, experiencing these virtual field trips and providing feedback to a Google representative. Students use a viewfinder that’s installed with a mobile device. The teacher controls what students see in their viewfinders with a tablet. From the ocean depths to the surface of Mars, there are currently over 100 journeys.

“It’s amazing what this thing can do,” said Google Expeditioner Jessica Smith. “If the lesson plans are going to Paris or going to Verona, they can all travel there and they can see how it use to be.”

23753599395_9d50415fca_zSmith said popular destinations depend on the age group. Younger students enjoy swimming under the coral reef or exploring space. Older students are drawn to the rain forests or the thrill of a jungle tour.

“We do have one in the Congo that everybody loves,” said Smith. “It’s 3-D and there’s a huge gorilla right as you open it up that scares them. They love it.”

Currently, the Congo is the only 3-D journey. Each of the journeys do offer a panoramic, 360 degree experience. A new discovery waits with every turn and tilt of the head. That interactive feature is also why students are asked to stay in their seats while exploring.

23727440676_213a8b789d_z“They scream and they point and people talk to walls and they talk to each other,” said Smith. “It’s the coolest thing seeing their reactions.”

Broussard used her Expedition to enhance a research project students were doing on explorers. Along with bringing the history alive, this technology also gave students a clearer understanding of current events.

“The explorers they have been talking about in their classroom, they get to see the stations where they lived and how the exploration occurred,” said Broussard. “Then we even went through 1908 to today and how the climate’s changing and how tourism is affecting society…They were learning throughout it. I feel like I could ask high order thinking questions and they saw it hands-on.”

23727451566_ebcfe7d88a_zAlong with obvious academic benefits, Broussard thinks this tool will also have a positive impact on student behavior. It was an eye-opening experience for this award-winning teacher, who felt like she hadn’t even cracked the surface of what’s possible with this classroom technology.

“Let them have it in their hands and the learning increases exponentially,” said Broussard. “I just facilitated the lesson. They were actually doing the exploration, doing the hands-on, doing the learning.”