With the cost of field trips for public schools, especially those serving economically deprived areas, being cost prohibitive, some students may never experience anything outside their hometowns. Add the time restraints educators often feel due to the demands of standardized testing, field trips are almost extinct in many areas.
Technology giant, Google, is expected to launch an educational program, Google Expeditions, which has the potential to solve both the time and money concerns of central office personnel. Students at two Suffolk schools – Elephant’s Fork and Mack Benn Jr. Elementary School – won opportunities to test drive Expedition, a virtual field trip program for students – as part of Google’s nationwide testing program of Cardboard, a smartphone made essentially of cardboard with a special lens that makes things appear three-dimensional.
There is no cost to school divisions chosen to participate in the Google Expedition trials. This allowed third-grade students at Elephant’s Fork Elementary to take virtual field trips on Friday to places such as the Great Barrier Reef, Roman ruins, the surface of Mars, the rainforest, Egyptian pyramids, Thailand and a Civil War battlefield. Students at Mack Benn Jr. Elementary will take their virtual field trips on January 28.
Paula Pulley, one of the lead instructional resource technology for Suffolk Public Schools, said, “Many of these field trips are to places that many of us would never be able to travel to even if we have the means. This is so much more than they could ever get from a textbook and photos. All you need for this is an app and the (Cardboard) glasses.”
A third grader who “visited” the Great Barrier Reef experienced dolphins and sea turtles close enough to touch. As she twisted around in a circle with her Google Cardboard viewfinder virtually glued to her face said, “This is amazing. When I look through here, I feel like I’m swimming through the sea.”
Another third-grader exclaimed, “This is fun. I love being able to go on these different adventures. It’s just like being there.”
Teachers used a tablet loaded with the Expedition app to control exactly what students would be able to view. Students were transported to distant locations while looking into glasses equipped with phones synced to the phone. As one would expect, both students and teachers are extremely intrigued with this new technology. According to John Littlefield, technology director for Suffolk Public Schools, the division will evaluate purchasing it once Google makes it available for purchase.