There was a small eruption of oohs and aahs as a clutch of Grade 5 students at St. Rose elementary school were transported inside a human mouth courtesy of the virtual reality glasses they were wearing.
Expressions of astonishment turned to disgusted cries of “eew” when their travels through the digestive system gave them a look inside the stomach as it processed a raspberry.
It’s enhancing the curriculum. Virtual reality is like a field trip
Across the room, a smaller group of Grade 4 students each held an iPad as they intently moved around an empty space on the floor. Using an augmented reality program, what the students actually saw through the screen were 3D versions of a bird camouflaged in a tree or a cheetah climbing a limb. Moving the iPad gave them every possible view of their furry or feathered subject as they explored animal adaptations.
Welcome to teacher Nichola Pitre’s high-tech science lesson Monday.
A student at St. Rose Catholic Elementary School in Windsor is shown using a virtual reality unit in the classroom on Monday, November 26, 2018. DAN JANISSE / WINDSOR STAR
Pitre’s split class was demonstrating some of the new technology acquired by the Windsor Essex Catholic District School Board aimed at enhancing the learning experience.
The board purchased three Google Expedition kits. Each $9,000 kit includes 20 pair of virtual reality glasses, a router and a demonstration tablet for the instructor.
Pitre had delivered a more traditional lesson on the digestive system earlier in the day and then the 15 Grade 5 students got to see it up close.
“It’s really fun,” 10-year-old Sidney Burrell said. “When you’re in it, it’s like you’re in a different reality. It’s like outer space or something.”
Burrell said she and her classmates also explored a set of lungs and the inside of a bee hive with the VR glasses.
Hands shot into the air when Pitre asked a question about what they were seeing Monday.
Students at St. Rose Catholic Elementary School in Windsor are shown using virtual reality units in the classroom on Monday, November 26, 2018. DAN JANISSE / WINDSOR STAR
“It’s definitely making it more engaging for them,” Pitre said. “The hands were going up. They were engaged, they wanted to be a part of it. They couldn’t wait to share their thinking.”
That’s the whole point, according to Doug Sadler, the board’s principal of information technology.
“You’re immersing the student in the content,” Sadler said. “You’re taking them out of the classroom and into that content and the experience of it.”
Sadler noted there are 150 lessons available for free on Google Expeditions and more on YouTube 360.
“It’s not a gimmick,” Sadler said. “It’s enhancing the curriculum. Virtual reality is like a field trip. It’s taking them out of the classroom. Augmented reality is all about getting them to ask questions. You can bring 3D figures into your space and you’re moving around with it, you’re not just sitting there taking it in.”
The kits are being used on a pilot basis as the board studies their impact. One kit is available for use by elementary schools while the other two are being shared by the STEM Academies at Villanova, Holy Names and St. Anne.
Sadler said eventually, the board would like to have a kit in every high school.
The board also purchased two 360-degree cameras to create its own virtual and augmented reality experiences.