Some of the great wonders of the world were brought to life for students at Simonds Elementary and Lochiel U-Connect last week, as the students tested out state-of-the-art Google Cardboard devices.
Holding what looks to be an inexpensive cardboard ViewFinder to their eyes, the students were transported to the Great Pyramids, the Amazon Rainforest, Machu Picchu, and even outer space, in a way only made possible through virtual reality technology.
Using thousands of photographs blended together in a computer program, the pilot devices, which were brought to the schools as part of the Google Expedition Pioneer Tour, offer 360 degree views that are responsive to human motions.
While in Egypt, the students could tilt their heads upwards and see brilliant blue sky, or tilt their heads downward and see kilometres of desert sand. Walking in a circle offered them a complete view of the Great Pyramid, as if they were seeing the structure in person.
With the teacher guiding students through a connected tablet, the technology adds a new element of education that a photograph in a textbook simply cannot, said U-Connect teacher Lorrie Burnham.
“This is huge,” she said.
“It’s one thing to look at a two-dimensional (image) on a screen, but this is virtual reality where you can actually immerse into this world. You can actually look in and be a part of it.”
While younger students explored worlds far away, older students from Lochiel U-Connect demonstrated some of their own work with virtual reality technology, robots and network logics.
Using frontline technology, the students are learning to create applications and business plans to market them.
The classes are also interdisciplinary, combining the use of math skills, history, and technology.
“We want them to be able to use (the technology) but we also want them to be creators rather than just consumers,” said U-Connect instructor John Harris.
“These students are part of a software team that are creating some very, very exciting apps and some amazing projects.”
In past years, some of Harris’ students from U-Connect created underwater remote-operated vehicles that were tested at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, and earned them NASA’s Excellence in Design award.
Teaching his students “real world” skills is not only a passion, but a necessity, Harris said.
“The time is done when schools can just be isolated in their little ivory towers.
“We’ve got to get kids learning real world skills now.
“There’s no excuse. They’ve got to develop the entrepreneurial skills, they’ve got to develop the technology skills, and just as important, integrity skills working together in teams and being with other people.”