Immersive VR Experiences for Middle and High School Students
A library media specialist shares how to create engaging cross-curricular virtual reality tours for students.
What better way to learn about evolutionary traits than to see them firsthand? With the help of virtual reality (VR), educators can add engaging virtual reality experiences to their classroom, whisking students away to faraway places without ever leaving their desk. Students can travel all the way to the Galápagos and beyond.
After Google pulled the plug on their VR apps, I found myself—a media specialist—sitting next to a now-useless Google Expeditions kit and wondering how I could continue creating VR tours for my elementary students. While perusing an ISTE blog, I came across Expeditions Pro, a new app promising educators the opportunity to create, share, and guide classroom VR tours. The app is free to download, and all of its content is currently free as well.
Expeditions Pro is not only compatible with our Google Expeditions kit but also works with Google Cardboard and other low-tech VR goggles, thus ensuring that all students will have the same experience regardless of device, as long as they are connected to a guided tour.
To begin, educators need to create an Expeditions Pro account and download the app on their teacher tablets and student devices. Student devices will only need to sign in using the Expeditions Pro guest account, as their tours will be guided by the educator.
Similar to Google Expeditions, when the tour starts, a code pops up on the student devices, allowing them to connect with the tour. Educators can create their own tours or browse and guide public tours, like my Galápagos Archipelago tour.
Before creating your own VR tour in Expeditions Pro, I suggest creating an outline in Google Docs, listing out the scenes with your 360-degree photos, showing points of interest with your close-up photos, and writing out all of your titles, descriptions, and talking points.
As I created my VR tour, I was constantly moving things around and having to reupload and rewrite my descriptions. By creating an outline, you’ll avoid all of this unnecessary hassle, and your VR tour information and files will be organized and ready before you begin creating it with Expeditions Pro.
After you download the guided tour on your teacher tablet—to avoid a traffic jam with your wireless network—if you’re able to, I suggest plugging in a separate wireless router and connecting your teacher tablet and VR devices to it. This wireless router does not need to be connected to the internet after the tour has been downloaded, and student devices do not need an internet connection to connect to the Expeditions Pro guest account and guided tours.
If you are an educator who is looking to add immersive cross-curricular experiences into your classroom, Expeditions Pro is just what you need. I took the leap of faith, created an account, installed the app on all of my Google Expeditions devices, and built a cross-curricular lesson merging AASL, ISTE, and NGSS standards that students absolutely loved.
Using VR to Teach Evolutionary Traits in the Galápagos
To help third-grade students understand the complex topics of trait variation and biological evolution, I used Expeditions Pro to create a VR lesson, utilizing 360-degree photos from the Galápagos Archipelago. This VR tour allowed students to immerse themselves in Bartolomé Island, Isabela Island, Santa Cruz Island, and Santiago Island, where they learned how environmental conditions greatly impact the evolution of Galápagos sea lions, blue-footed boobies, lava lizards, giant tortoises, marine iguanas, and Galápagos penguins (NGSS 3-LS3-2).
My goals for this lesson were to activate and build upon students’ scientific knowledge; engage them in an inquiry-based interactive experience that allowed them to share, connect, and learn from their peers; and empower them to want to learn more (AASL 5.A.3, ISTE 1-7-a).
While guiding students through Tortuga Bay on Santa Cruz Island, I asked them to take a minute to observe the environment around them and be prepared to share what they noticed and what they were curious about. With the app, I was able to zoom in on points of interest, which are controlled by the educator guiding the tour, so they can decide which points to direct students to and for how long. This is especially helpful if you are short on time or only want to highlight a specific topic or species.
An underwater photo of a marine iguana eating algae off the rocks was a point of interest I wanted my students to focus on while I asked the question, “What do you think marine iguanas evolved to do and why?” As students adjusted to the new underwater scene, I could hear their excitement as they tried to determine an answer:
“Look at him, he’s underwater!”
“How can he swim? I thought lizards were cold-blooded?”
“Why is it eating underwater?” “Maybe there’s no food for it on land.”
When I simply provided them with a question to think about while exploring, my students began collaborating as they tried to determine the evolutionary traits of marine iguanas. Using Expeditions Pro, I was able to embed questions, talking points, and points of interest, all of which popped up on my tablet as I guided my students on the tour. These features allowed me to ensure that my students were taking the time they needed to understand the standards behind our lesson.
I was also able to pause the tour at any time to regain the attention of my excited students.