Mineral Point Schools experienced a special and unique event last week that brought virtual field trips alive for students.

5th grade teacher Lifka Bennett applied to Google for their new Expeditions program to make a stop at the elementary at no cost to the District.

Expeditions is a new product that allows teachers to take their classes on virtual field trips, immersing students in experiences that bring abstract concepts to life and giving students a deeper understanding of the world beyond the classroom.

Student quotes show the enthusiasm of the day:

“The pyramids of Machu Picchu came ‘alive.’  I felt like I could reach and touch everything in the view.”  

“This was the most awesome technology that we have had this year.”

“I felt like I was climbing into another world!”

“Can we ask our principal to get those for our school?”

Prior to the visit, a box arrives with everything one needs to travel: a tablet for the teachers, and Cardboard viewers and phones for every student. Google Cardboard is a virtual reality viewer made almost entirely of cardboard. Cardboard allows anyone with a modern smartphone to experience virtual reality.

Next, the teacher selects a destination, and the entire classroom jumps there automatically.

Offerings included the following for Mineral Point students:

Keri Radtke, Denise Gorgen, and Susan Klem’s classes, Coral Reef; Lifka Bennett: Seven New Wonders; Judy Benish, Great Barrier Reef; Laurie Heimsoth, Project Engineering; Deb Molle, Sue Niehaus, and Carmen McDonald, Biomes; Paige Grimm, Livia Doyle, and Lynn Ross: Ellis Island; Bethany Riechers, Mount Everest; McKenzy Brown: Ruins of Rome; Courtney Lutzen (student teacher), American Museum of Natural History; and Jeff David, History of Jazz.

While nothing replaces hopping on the bus for a field trip, Expeditions provide an unparalleled opportunity for supplemental learning.

These trips are collections of virtual reality panoramas–360 degree photo spheres, 3D images and video, ambient sounds–annotated with details, points of interest, and questions that make them easy to integrate into curriculum already used in schools.

The Wildlife Conservation Society, PBS, the American Museum of Natural History, the Planetary Society, and the Palace of Versailles contributed to developing the curriculum for students.

“The fact that students were able to go somewhere that they probably will never get the chance to travel to, such as The Great Wall of China or Mars, is so exciting,” said Bennett.  “This is not about watching a video or sitting in front of a screen.  This is about immersion in learning.  The students were completely engaged and learning from each other.”