How Can Students Take a Field Trip to Mars?

A virtual field trip program from Google called Expeditions Pioneer uses a cardboard viewing device with a smart phone inserted, which allows teachers to let students take virtual field trips to over 100 locations.

by Jesse Leavenworth, The Hartford Courant / September 29, 2015
At the Bronx Latin School in New York City, students took a field trip to ancient Aztec ruins using Google Expeditions, a virtual reality teaching tool built with Google Cardboard. Google: Official Blog

(TNS) -- Scanning 360 degrees to take in ancient walls and soaring arches, Manchester High School students stood in Rome's Colosseum Monday. Suddenly, they were plunged underwater, turning to spy scuba divers and a ship wreck and craning their necks to the sunlit ocean surface. In the next moment, they gazed along a beach in Africa, the sea on one side, jungle on the other.

The school district was the first in New England to test drive a new Google technology, a virtual field trip program called Expeditions Pioneer. Using smart phones inserted into cardboard viewing devices, a teacher with a tablet can lead a class studying "Romeo and Juliet" down the streets of old Verona, a social studies class can stand on the Great Wall of China and astronomy students can experience a Martian's perspective of the Red Planet.

"The value is immediate engagement," Manchester technology integration specialist Jess Loucks said. "It hooks kids… Kids can go places they've never gone before."

District IT Director Kerri Kearney said Manchester already has purchased 25 pairs of the cardboard goggles and will soon buy devices as well. Expedition will be in regular classroom use by late fall, Kearney said.

Google has created a library of about 100 virtual field trips spanning outer space to the deep sea.

"Although nothing replaces hopping on the bus for a field trip, we see a ton of potential for virtual reality as a powerful tool for teachers to engage their students," David Quaid, developer of the application for the cardboard viewer, wrote in a blog post.

The Expeditions program is so new that Manchester students were told not to share the news on social media until after 1 p.m., when Google was to formally announce the program.

"This is a really, really big deal," Manchester High Principal Jill Krieger told a classroom of 50 students, the first to respond to a school email alert about the Expeditions field test late Monday morning. "We are so lucky."

"Ohs" and and "Ahhs" and other exclamations filled the room as students, viewers to their faces and occasionally bumping each other, peered at the different destinations. Titus Owusu tucked his viewer inside his knit hat to block outside light, an improvement he recommended to Google. The junior pronounced Expeditions "very fascinating."

"I think this would definitely make things more interesting than staring at a whiteboard," Titus said.

The field test was a benefit of the district's close ties with Google's education arm. Manchester High School recently hosted its second Google summit to introduce teachers throughout the state to the company's educational tools. Loucks traveled to Los Angeles during the summer to attend a Google-sponsored event that focused on geotechnical studies. Through connections she made there, the school district jumped to the front of the line for the Expeditions field test.

Expeditions kits also were used in a few classrooms at Illing Middle School Monday morning. On Tuesday, they are to be introduced at Keeney and Washington elementary schools, then at other elementary schools, school officials said.

©2015 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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