Cloudy skies and threats of storms didn’t stand a chance of keeping students at the Arlington school district’s Newcomer Center from their field trips on a recent morning.
A new Google initiative called the Expeditions Pioneer Program brought the sights to them in interactive virtual reality, from China’s Great Wall to the moon. The 3-D experience inspired oohs, ahs and enthusiasm for learning.
“It’s so cool because you feel like you’re there, like it’s real life,” said Ashley Batres, 13. Her eighth-grade U.S. history class used the Mattel View-Masters provided by Google to virtually tour the Gettysburg battlefield while their teacher guided them using an iPad connected to their devices.
Technology giant Google is bringing the Expeditions Pioneer Program to thousands of schools around the world during the 2015-16 school year, according to the company’s website. At selected schools, a Google representative brings in the View-Masters and a set of similar Google Cardboard viewers, shows teachers how to guide students through the experience and then lets teachers take students on the virtual trips related to their subject area.
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The Newcomer Center, home to more than 200 seventh- through 10th-graders who have recently arrived in the U.S., was one of the first to get a demonstration. At the school in southeast Arlington, students are taught district curriculum but with a heavy emphasis on language acquisition. Some have had their education significantly interrupted by conditions in their home countries.
This gives them and some of the teachers opportunities to see things they’d never see in the real world.
Steve Braulick, Arlington Newcomer Center teacher who applied for Google activity
Steve Braulick, who is the school’s lead ESL teacher and teaches 10th-grade English/language arts, applied for the Expeditions visit two months ago and was thrilled when he found out that Google had selected his school. He said the Expedition experience answers a fundamental challenge that teachers at the Newcomer Center face: giving students shared experiences that they can discuss and relate to the curriculum they’re learning.
“This gives them and some of the teachers opportunities to see things they’d never see in the real world. We’re really excited about it,” he said.
The range of destinations offered is as diverse as the Newcomer Center’s student body. While Batres’ history class focused on Gettysburg, another teacher chose to explore the galaxy and gaze on Earth from space. In another class, heads swiveled, fingers pointed, and some students got up from their seats as they tried to spot zebras and elephants on the African savanna.
36 different languages and dialects spoken by students who attend Arlington Newcomer Center
Field trips are always a great way to connect classroom lessons to the real world and to cement learning, said Principal Christy Strybosch. She said that’s particularly true at her school, where about 36 different languages and dialects are spoken.
With the Google trips, “the language barrier is no longer there; it’s visual,” Strybosch said. The virtual trips also aren’t limited by what kids can reach on a short bus ride or where the school can afford admission.
“This is perfect for them,” she said.
Austin Craver, who teaches 10th-graders, said he chose some students for the Expeditions class who have been difficult to draw in.
“I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to show them learning can be fun.” he said. The experience didn’t disappoint. The students were “captivated.”
“It was awesome … even better than expected,” Craver said.
For more information on the Google Expeditions Pioneer Program, visit www.google.com/edu/expeditions.