Virtual Journeys: Google Expeditions comes to MCHS

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By Tia Lynn Ivey managing editor

Morgan County Middle School (MCMS) becomes the first and only school in Georgia to test out the BETA version of Google Expeditions, an interactive program that allows students to experience educational lessons through virtual reality. A Google Expeditions team made an appearance at MCMS on February 8. The program allowed students to embark upon “virtual field trips” in order to gain a more in depth understanding of the larger than life world in which they live.

A group of skeptical seventh-graders filed into a classroom filled with cardboard-bound goggles with smart-screens inside, unaware that these seemingly simplistic lenses would serve as a jarring portal to destinations across the world. Within seconds of students pulling the goggles to their eyes, squeals of amazement filled the classroom.

“It’s not easy to get middle-schoolers excited about learning,” said Patti Baldwin, assistant principal at MCMS. “To hear them like this, it’s just the most wonderful sound in the world.”

“This is the future of education,” said Tiffany Markley, an informational technology instructor at MCMS.

Alex Cooper, a social studies teacher at MCMS, guided the students on a virtual tour of Jerusalem, as he explained the significance of religious locations and traditions the students were seeing through their goggles. Students reported feeling like they were flying or could reach out and touch what they were seeing through the goggles. Cooper then led the class through an erupting volcano, which was a class-favorite.

“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,” said Baldwin. “These virtual field trips are collections of virtual reality panoramas — 360° photo spheres, 3D images and video, ambient sounds — annotated with details, points of interest, and questions that make them easy to integrate into curriculum already used in schools.”

According to Baldwin, Google Expeditions is another technological tool that will enhance the learning opportunities of MCMS students.

“While nothing replaces hopping on the bus for a field trip, Expeditions provide an unparalleled opportunity for supplemental learning.”

The February 8 visit was geared toward the curriculum of MCMS sixth and seventh graders. “On this Expedition, the MCMS focus will be on Social Studies for sixth and seventh graders,” said Baldwin. According to Baldwin, The Wildlife Conservation Society, PBS, the American Museum of Natural History, the Planetary Society, and the Palace of Versailles contributed to developing the curriculum for students. Students are immersed into a virtual reality through the use of Google Cardboard.

“Google Cardboard is a virtual reality viewer made almost entirely of actual cardboard. Cardboard allows anyone with a modern smartphone to experience virtual reality. There will be more than two million in circulation by the end of the year,” explained Baldwin.

Last year, Baldwin signed up MCMS for a Google Expedition visit, and requested it once a month for the last year, until The Google Expedition team finally announced their arrival to the region.

“Since they only come IF they are in the area, I continued to request each month until I hit the jackpot this month. They have just released that they will be in our southeastern region for the month of Feb,’ said Baldwin.

According to the Google Expeditions guide, “Expeditions are accessed and viewed through the Expeditions App. Teachers can choose an Expedition and lead a group of students through a virtual field trip, selecting the content they’re viewing and pointing out specific points of interest along the way. Teachers are able to pause trips to get the class’s attention, play ambient sounds to make the experience more immersive and even let students explore on their own…While Expeditions can be used on devices already in the classroom, they come alive with Google Cardboard. Our Pioneer Program kit is a collection of all the hardware needed to go on Expeditions — a tablet for the guide, VR viewers for each student, a speaker to provide ambient sounds, and a durable box to transport, charge, and store it all.”

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