In a recent science block, grade 2 students were transported to a lush virtual-reality rain forest, where they searched among the foliage for insects like cicadas and rhinoceros beetles and learned more about the environment they call home.
“Wow!” one student shouted after finally finding a dead leaf mantis camouflaged into the forest.
The insect hunt is just one of thousands of avenues of learning for St. Margaret’s students through the school’s new Google Expeditions virtual reality and augmented reality cart, a learning tool funded through supporters of the PTF Library Luncheon and PTF Book Fair.
Though the cart makes its home in the Library, its portability allows it to appear all over campus. An introduction to augmented and virtual reality class in the Middle School is creating content to be used on the platform, and Lower School science teacher David Beshk has introduced it in a few of his blocks, as well, including the grade 2 science class during their study of insects.
“Our goal is for this to be used across all divisions. Any teacher has the opportunity to check it out and integrate it within their lessons,” said Angela Mackenzie, director of library and digital literacy. “The possibilities are endless.”
The cart holds 30 devices and virtual-reality viewers which connect via a closed Wi-Fi network to a tablet the teacher controls. The teacher can select which programs appear in each student’s viewer, and can even give instructions that students see inside the viewer.
For example, in a VR program that tours Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello estate, a teacher can direct students to look at a certain part of the room for an educational lesson. That directive appears as an arrow in the viewer. On the tablet, the teacher can see where all the students are looking in real time.
There are hundreds of educational programs across all subjects available on the platform. Students can view marine animals in the ocean, tour museums, or see Mount Everest up close.
Through its Strategic Plan, St. Margaret’s has prioritized introducing new technological advances to the classroom to deepen learning experiences, including virtual reality and augmented reality.
“We are grateful for the generous support of the PTF, which enables us to bring learning tools like this to St. Margaret’s,” Mrs. Mackenzie said. “We are excited to see students engage in this technology. It opens up a whole new world of learning.”