SUMMIT, NJ - There were no TSA lines and passports were not required, as Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School (LCJSMS) students visited exotic and iconic locales such as Rome, the Amazon Rainforest, as well as many other far flung destinations thanks to Google Expeditions, a new product that allows teachers to take their classes on virtual field trips.
Students who had previously researched impacts to various biomes were able to “travel” to their biome as well as experience an expedition that shows how climate change has affected it without leaving the confines of their school. Librarians Megan Hartley and Beth Thomas coordinated a day of expeditions which had more than 600 students take field trips under the guidance of their subject-area teachers.
“Oh wow! There’s the Colosseum,” shouted 6th grade Social Studies students. “Who researched the rainforest biome?,” asked Ronna Silagi, 6th grade Science teacher. “Can you tell me what the uppermost layer of the rainforest is called?”
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Students were able to experience these trips by using Google Cardboard devices outfitted with a smartphone. Google sends a representative who provides all of the equipment needed as well as teacher training. Prior to the visit, teachers select which expeditions they want to share with their students.
Hartley and Thomas put the call out to the entire staff, and the response was so overwhelming that Google sent two representatives with four different kits so expeditions were able to run in four separate locations all day long.
As a result, every academic team in 6th and 7th grades, as well as cycle classes such as art and music, were able to experience expeditions. Teachers control the expeditions through an app on a tablet and are able to pause to ask questions or to point out areas of interest. According to Google, “These trips are collections of virtual reality panoramas -- 360° photo spheres, three-dimensional 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.”
Perhaps the best part of hosting the expeditions was seeing a variety of teachers connect them with what they have been teaching in their classes all year, as evidenced by French teacher Andres Lara leading his group’s tour of Versailles in French and conversing with his students in the language he has been teaching them.
Music teacher Justin Toomey had his General Music students visit the Berklee College of Music, taking them on a college tour of sorts, asking them if they could identify the different instruments they have been learning about in their cycle course.
Theresa Martin teaches ancient civilizations in 6th grade Social Studies, and her love of history and geography has inspired her to travel all over the world. Her classes’ expeditions were enhanced not only by her subject area knowledge, but her travel experiences as well.
However, even if a teacher hasn’t been able to visit a site, the Google Expeditions app provides a script with details about places of interest that can be shared with the class. Google has partnered with a variety of organizations to create meaningful learning experiences 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. Google continues to add new expeditions to their already large list 7th grade Science teacher Karen Cotter marveled at the choices available and how many of them connected to her curriculum.
For those students who were not able to experience the expeditions, the LCJSMS Library Learning Commons has a collection of Google Cardboards that have been generously donated by parents and they are circulated just like books. Students check them out and are provided with a list of free virtual reality apps recommended by the librarians. All a student needs is access to a smartphone or an iPod Touch and they can launch their own experiences from the comfort of their home.