Sunday, May 22, 2016

Engaging Students with Google Expeditions

Last Wednesday, my school had the honor of hosting Google Expeditions for a day filled with fun. (And don't worry, lots of learning too!) I signed up for the Expeditions Pioneer Program in March knowing that most likely they would not be doing any more visits in our area. To my surprise and excitement, they contacted me in April letting me know they'd be in San Diego in May. When I got the email, I started dancing around my classroom. 

In order to coordinate the Expeditions, another teacher and I got subs so we could help teachers manage devices and troubleshoot in our two Expeditions spaces (library and cafeteria). My sub was awesome, and took pictures while I hosted my own classes. He had so much fun participating with Google Expeditions and learning along with our students. 

I loved watching students who are usually disengaged asking questions and exploring. When their class's time was up, they didn't want to leave! A few of the teachers who brought their classes had never used Google Cardboard before, and had similar reactions to the students--awe and wonder. I loved sharing this experience with my school, and I'm thankful for Cristianna from the Google Expeditions team, my fellow teachers, my supportive admin, and for our students for making this incredible day happen. 

Below is my writeup that I submitted to my district's newsletter: 

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My 3rd period science class checking out
active volcanoes from around the world! 
On Wednesday May 18, 2016, Mar Vista Academy welcomed the Google Expeditions team for a day filled with virtual reality adventures and excitement. “Expeditions are guided tours of places schools buses can’t go. They are comprised of virtual reality panoramas and are led by a guide or teacher. Using a tablet, teachers can guide up to 50 students wearing virtual reality viewers. Teachers can guide their class and point out highlights while referring to editable notes” (www.google.com/edu/expeditions).


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Students turning to look at a feature pointed out
by their teacher.
The technology is simple. Each student has a Google Cardboard with a smartphone enclosed. The smartphones are connected to the teacher tablet via wifi. The teacher selects the expedition from a list of over two hundred locations around the world, and sends out a 360° image to the student device. Students are able to independently explore this image simply by turning their head, looking up, and looking down. The teacher platform comes with notes about the location, people, and organisms at the location, making it easy for a teacher to guide an Expedition with little to no background knowledge.


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AVID Excel students on their Expedition
Throughout the day, twelve teachers and over three hundred students participated in the Expeditions. Students visited the rainforest, observed ocean life, traveled to the moon, and explored historical sites, without ever leaving school.


Students had a blast visiting new places and learning as they explored. Seventh grader Andrew says, “It can help me see things that would be impossible to look at in schools and I will be able to understand things better since I am a tactile learner.” Our students enjoyed their new learning, and even students who do not typically enjoy school found themselves highly engaged. Seventh grader Vanessa reports that she “learned about the research they are doing to bring back some extinct species.” Our seventh graders studied about human impact on ecosystems and endangered species this semester in science. Eighth grader Jamie reports “My favorite part of the Google Expeditions experience was being inside a picture and always having something to look at, no matter which side you turn. I mostly enjoyed seeing animals in their natural habitat.” Not only were there many science-related expeditions, but also our students were able to view historic battlefields, such as Gettysburg or analyze the geometry in the architecture of Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.
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Mr. Williams taking his 7th grade math class
to the Great Barrier Reef.


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Ms. Johal exploring the surface of the moon with her
8th grade science students
Additionally, our Mar Vista Academy teachers were wowed by the experience. Our teachers were just as engaged as our students. Mr. Williams enjoyed taking his seventh grade math students, and perfectly sums up the experience. “The Google Expeditions activity was a great hook for my class and a fun way to get students thinking about the world around them. We toured the Great Barrier Reef for the purpose of analyzing percents. An actual trip for this simple purpose would have obviously been cost prohibitive. Letting students explore on their own generated great excitement and conversation and then being able to guide students to a portion of each picture to view allowed me to teach at the same time. The reflection and sharing after we put the google devices away was surprising. Student that are sometimes afraid to share their work or justify their answers in math were eager to share what they thought and liked about the expedition. I noticed more participating from those students during class immediately following the Google Expedition.” Each and every teacher that participated had similar thoughts about their experiences.


Students and teachers have been asking if and when Google Expeditions will come back to Mar Vista Academy. Everyone had a great time, and we exploring the world together.


Thank you, Google Expeditions!

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