Virtual reality brings learning to life for Schuylkill Valley students

Schuylkill Valley first grader Logan Henne views a 3-D image of a dinosaur during Google Augmented Reality Pioneer Program on May 9.
Schuylkill Valley first grader Logan Henne views a 3-D image of a dinosaur during Google Augmented Reality Pioneer Program on May 9. Lisa Mitchell - Digital First Media
Schuylkill Valley first graders Katie Kalash and Jonathan Rodriguez view 3-D image of a volcano during Google Augmented Reality Pioneer Program on May 9.
Schuylkill Valley first graders Katie Kalash and Jonathan Rodriguez view 3-D image of a volcano during Google Augmented Reality Pioneer Program on May 9. Lisa Mitchell - Digital First Media

A dinosaur jumped off the iPhone screen in 3-D, much to the amazement of dinosaur fan Logan Henne, a first grader at Schulykill Valley Elementary.

“The dinosaurs, they make it real,” said Henne. “Cool. Teeth, horns. Dinosaurs are very cool.”

Kindergarten to fourth grade students stood within the eye of a hurricane, swam with fish and witnessed a volcano erupt during a virtual reality lesson using iPhones during Google’s visit at Schuylkill Valley Elementary for their Google Expeditions Augmented Reality Pioneer Program on May 9.

While students were immersed in the virtual reality, teachers reviewed related facts in subjects like dinosaurs, oceans and weather. Volcanos received the biggest reactions from students, eliciting awe and excitement while driving conversations about the recent volcano activity in Hawaii.

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“This was really fun,” said first grader Noah Shuman.

Mary Kate Raytek, Schuylkill Valley Discovery Learning teacher, said students were excited to have the chance to see something they would not otherwise see. She explained that the teachers found subjects related to their curriculum and students explored those topics. First grade, for example, was learning about dinosaurs so the students looked at different dinosaurs in 3-D images.

“The students can see more than just what they would read in a book or see in a video. When they can actually interact with it and see a 3-D version of it, they can see the different sides, it opens a whole new inquiry-based learning for them. They’re able to explore on their own rather than telling them this is what they should be learning and this is how they should be learning it. They get to explore all of that on their own,” said Raytek. “We look at our students as 21st century learners and this incorporates all of that.”

She said students talk together about what they are learning and take what they are learning in class and apply it to an augmented reality.

“They can use their critical thinking skills by applying what they are learning in class and then actually seeing it come to life,” said Raytek.

“It’s fantastic. It’s really exciting. The kids have been oohing and awing all day. It’s been excellent,” said Tod Witman, Schulykill Valley technology integration coach grades 5 to 12. “It gets them excited about the topics. They’re high interest topics to begin with, insects, dinosaurs, solar systems, coral reef, volcanos, but they’ve been really excited.”

Witman said teachers reminded students facts that they’ve learned throughout the year as they do the activity.

“It’s a really unique experience for our kids today,” he said. “It gives us the opportunity to demonstrate and show them things and make it come to life more so than we can in a book or even on a two-dimensional screen. They actually get to move around and interact with animals and geographic landforms. It’s pretty amazing.”

Schuylkill Valley Elementary registered in the fall to be a potential school to receive a visit from Google with the Google Expeditions Augmented Reality Program, free of charge. The 60 activities available through the program have not been released to the public yet. Groups of students were handed an iPhone on a selfie-stick to view 3-D images from tornadoes to animals, pertaining to different grade-level curriculum.

“I was very excited when we were chosen,” said Witman. “It’s been a great day. The kids are really liking it and tons of great feedback from the teachers. It’s a really great experience.”

About the Author

Lisa Mitchell

Lisa Mitchell is the editor of The Kutztown Patriot and Managing Editor of Berks-Mont Newspapers. Reach the author at lmitchell@berksmontnews.com or follow Lisa on Twitter: @kutztownpatriot.