Google app takes Brentwood students on virtual global expeditions
Paige Mortimore gasped as she made her way through the hallways of the Roman Colosseum back in its heyday, while standing inside Brentwood Middle School.
“Look, it's so cool,” she said, pointing to the life-like images that appeared on the smartphone in her hand. “It's like it's actually real.”
As a part of Google Expeditions' Pioneer Program, utilizing augmented reality, all 300 Brentwood Middle School students on Friday had the chance to tour ancient Rome, go inside of a hurricane or explore the inner workings of the heart — all through the tip or tilt of a phone.
The Google Expeditions app, when utilized with a virtual reality headset and smartphone, already takes students — or anyone with the devices — to nearly anywhere they wish to go.
The Google Expeditions augmented reality app, which is in beta testing, doesn't require a headset and takes users to places simply on their phone with an overlay of their current location — somewhat like the “Pokemon Go” game does, explained Chris Pierce, an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Brentwood Middle School.
“Expeditions allows teachers to weave immersive computing into their lessons, bringing abstract concepts to life and giving students a deeper understanding of the world beyond the classroom,” a Google representatives said in a statement.
More than 2 million children have gone through virtual reality Google Expeditions, the first phase of the program using Google Cardboard. Google is not releasing how many students have tested the augmented reality pilot program.
Pierce, the social studies teacher, applied for Brentwood to be a test school for the augmented reality program. The students at Brentwood will complete a questionnaire to provide their thoughts on the program.
“They're some of the first students across the country that get to use it. That's pretty neat,” said Nick Caponi, seventh-grade social studies teacher.
Students “eww'd” and “aww'd” as they explored each place or catastrophic event.
As they toured, Pierce taught.
He provided the history of the colosseum and took students through its importance, while comparing it to Pittsburgh's stadiums.
“OK, we took a trip through ancient Rome. How would you guys like to go someplace else? Maybe someplace out of this world?” Pierce asked the room of nearly 30 students.
With the touch of his phone, outer space appeared on all of the students devices.
They were able to see the planets and explore inside them.
Pierce admitted it's fun. But it's also about learning.
“We can tailor this to our instruction. This is a way for us to appeal to the interests of a digital generation,” he said. “We're able to bring it to life for them.”
Bella Grimm, 14, and Lauren Milcic, 14, both eighth-graders, said learning becomes easier when they can see things instead of just having to read about them in a book.
“It's going to make it easier for us to learn,” Bella Grimm said. Students worked together in teams to explore. That collaboration and teamwork is important, Pierce said.
“I think having this will help you pay attention in class,” said Paige Mortimore, 13, an eighth-grader.
Brentwood already has 15 virtual reality headsets. Smartphones also were purchased to be used solely with the devices. The Brentwood Middle School parent-teacher group provided funds to support the purchases.
Principal David Radcliffe said programs like this keep students engaged.
“You can see the excitement on their faces,” he said.
Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.