I want to be Ms. Frizzle when I grow up. When I think about the ideal classroom, the Magic School Bus quickly comes to mind. This show (which is getting a reboot soon on Netflix) is what good learning is all about. Seriously! Can you imagine being able to take your students literally anywhere, any time, to do, just about anything? Learning should spark a sense of wonder. The experiences we create and share with our students should be the first spark that spurs them to want to dig deeper and explore more.
Nearly three years ago, I wrote about some early experiences with the Oculus Developer Kit. I was immediately struck by the possibilities. Fast-forward to today, I’m excited to share that we’re making it happen! Through a partnership with foundry10.org, we’ve launched our first VR Space in Surry County Schools at Meadowview Magnet Middle. Getting started with VR in schools doesn’t require a dedicated space, however, as part of library makeover, we wanted to create a space that kids would beg to be in. What once was a dusty book storage room has been transformed into a state-of-the-art space where we, like Ms. Frizzle, can take our students anywhere!
Part of the challenge has been educating our teachers and administrators about the technology. VR is hot stuff these days and there’s a wide-range of gear. Some schools are starting to explore the possibilities with phone-based VR using tools like Google Expeditions. This is a great way to bring VR experiences to many students at once, however, the experiences lack the immersive quality of high-end computer-driven VR like you might experience with the Oculus or HTC Vive.
Thanks to foundry10, our space utilizes the Vive. The Vive takes VR a step further in that it allows for what’s been dubbed room-scale VR. Simply stated, this means you’re not confined to a chair for your experience, but can actually move about the room while immersed in a VR experience. Take a step forward in the room and you move forward in the virtual world you’re exploring. And, don’t worry. A virtual grid materializes in front of you if you get too close to a wall. We started with hands-on experiences for our teachers. Simply having a great first experience seems to spark teachers’ imagination for the possibilities. Our Lead Digital Learning and Media Innovation Facilitator, Alicia Ray, has been working closely with Meadowview teachers to match the growing variety of VR experiences to the curricula they teach. From there, teachers are scheduling times to bring their students into the media center (another bonus) to rotate through selected experiences.
There’s an exciting variety of explorations our students are trying, too. Our social studies students have been exploring the world with Google Earth VR, stepping inside the Roman Coliseum or walking the streets of London. Our science students can travel through the body’s circulatory system or deeper, still, into individual cells. Likewise, we can take them scuba diving for an encounter with a Blue Whale in Wevr’s the Blu. We’ve explored Saturn’s rings in Titans of Space and we’re soon hoping to let students build their own unique worlds with Vivecraft (a VR-ready Minecraft mod) and physics simulator, Modbox! The exciting thing? We’re just seeing the beginnings of what’s possible.
Perhaps I’ll be Ms. Frizzle after all.
If you’d like to know more about the resources we’re putting together for high-end VR in schools, check out the VR Page on the SCS Digital Learning Wiki.