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How Google is helping pupils become VR Pioneers

By Ann-Marie Corvin

From Mars to Mount Rushmore, Google’s Expeditions Pioneer Programme aims to bring lessons to life and take students to places they’d never otherwise be able to go to by bringing virtual reality into the classroom.

The search giant has teamed up with museums and other content partners from around the world, and digitised their content to create over 300 virtual ‘expeditions’ that pupils can use to enhance their learning.
Now, over the 2016/17 school year, Google will visit selected schools with kits containing everything that a teacher needs to run a virtual school trip, including Google’s Cardboard viewers.

Once a class has the kit – which Google supplies for the lessons - a teacher can send synchronised 360 degree panoramas to each student’s Cardboard viewer directly from their tablet, pointing out areas of interest in real time to take them on a voyage of discovery.

‘The experience is so easy to set up – it takes about 5 minutes – and from an education point of view, the students are inspired to talk and write about subjects they’re learning about through high quality imagery,’ says Jon Duffy, a computer science teacher at Chesterfield High School in Crosby, Merseyside.

The Expeditions team visited Chesterfield High in September, where four teachers were on hand to guide their year 7s (12 to 13 year olds) through a virtual tour.
‘Our Geography teacher took students through the tours involving volcanoes and to see how valleys are carved, while the science teacher took the kids on trips to the Moon and Mars. In History, pupils are learning about the trenches in World War One, and the Expedition managed to get them more involved,’ says Duffy.

Jon explains that for students studying the US National Parks, the tour had an added ‘wow’ factor as they were able to view close up the extreme depths that people went to carve the presidents’ faces into Mount Rushmore.
‘The pupils were really taken by that, and the fact that you could zoom in to see the detail,’ Duffy adds.

Students touring the world’s largest structure – the Burj Khalifa in Dubai – also got to climb to the top and take in the view. ‘There were lots of ooohs and aahs, with pupils even removing their viewers because it was just so realistic!’ says Duffy.

The school’s PE teacher took his pupils on a tour of a football match at Wembley – going behind the scenes, into the changing rooms, looking at the different kit that players use and giving pupils insight into the life of a professional athlete and the psychology of the sport.

Chesterfield High students explored other careers too – including what it’s like to be a park ranger and a zoologist. ‘The teacher gave the narrative of what was expected in the role while the pupils experienced what these people see and encounter when they walk out of their office and start their day’s work,’ Jon explains.

‘Having access to that level of detail in an image – you just don’t normally get that kind of resource that’s already curated for the very purpose of teaching. It’s a tool that makes lesson planning easier and engages pupils right from the start.’

The Pioneer Programme is free to both primary and secondary schools and the content can be tailored across all year groups. Places are limited though, so Google is encouraging schools to sign up as soon as they can. 

Want to get more of an idea of what’s involved? Take a look at this YouTube video which shows children at St Peter’s Catholic Primary School immersed in a VR lesson about marine life. 

Each week we will be reporting on how some of Google’s secondary school Pioneers are getting on. If your school has taken part in the programme, we’d love to hear what you thought. Email content@parentzone.org.uk.

Image courtesy of Chesterfield High School