2016-04-22 / Front Page

Globetrotting without the miles

Google takes them around the world without leaving the classroom
By Michael Kelley Staff Writer


Scarborough Middle School students took a trip unlike any other Thursday, April 14 when they virtually toured the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and Mount Everest through the Google Expeditions Pioneer Program. The students are part of the testing phase of the project. Google hopes to have the technology publicly available at the end of the school year. (Michael Kelley photo) Scarborough Middle School students took a trip unlike any other Thursday, April 14 when they virtually toured the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and Mount Everest through the Google Expeditions Pioneer Program. The students are part of the testing phase of the project. Google hopes to have the technology publicly available at the end of the school year. (Michael Kelley photo) Sixth- and seventh-graders got dropped off at Scarborough Middle School Thursday, April 14 just like any other morning, but later that day they went on a field trip a world away thanks to technological advances by Google.

Since 2013, Google has been working on a smartphone application that allows teachers to take students on virtual field trips to bring curriculum to life. The device operates much like a viewfinder did, but allows students to look up, down, left and right as teachers give a narrative tour of what they are seeing.


Scarborough Middle School technology instructional coach Holly Graffam leads students through a virtual tour of the Statue of Liberty. The New York Harbor tourist attraction is one of hundreds of expeditions Google has created to help students explore the world around them. (Michael Kelley photo) Scarborough Middle School technology instructional coach Holly Graffam leads students through a virtual tour of the Statue of Liberty. The New York Harbor tourist attraction is one of hundreds of expeditions Google has created to help students explore the world around them. (Michael Kelley photo) “The teachers are taking students on virtual field trips and traveling to different places around the world without leaving the classroom or the school itself,” said Fitzsimon Ogbo, an associate with Google’s Expedition Pioneer Program. The technology, Ogbo said, is available now through the Google Cardboard application. The latest pursuit, he added, is aimed at incorporating it into education.

At the beginning of the school year, Google associates began bringing the technology into classrooms all across the world for students to test before making it publicly available at the end of the school year, or September at the latest.

“A lot of students, like myself, are visual learners, so they learn by seeing rather than reading about it in a book and getting information that way. With this, they can see and experience first-hand everything they learn from a book,” Ogbo said.

Ogbo’s travels brought him to Wentworth School in early April and Scarborough Middle School Thursday, April 14.

The middle school students used the technology to virtually visit Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor and Mount Everest in Nepal. Holly Graffam, a technology teacher/technology integrator coach at the middle school, said the two locations fit into the curriculum nicely because sixth-graders just read “Peak,” a children’s novel written by Roland Smith detailing a 14-year-old’s scaling of Mount Everest, and the seventh grade is amidst a unit on immigration.

“We focused on Mount Everest and Ellis Island today, but there are 100 expeditions. There is career exploration, college and university expedition,” said Graffam, who along with JoEllen Clive, a technology integrator at Wentworth School, helped to bring the experience to Scarborough. “We are doing social studies today, but there is science, space. There is real potential.”

Graffam said the application can offer students a “game-like experience, but be educational.”

“While nothing replaces hopping on the bus for a field trip, Expeditions provided an unparalleled opportunity for supplemental learning,” Jo Ellen Clive said. “Our third-, fourth- and fifth-graders were virtual world travelers thanks to Google.”

One of the biggest barriers of bringing the technology to Scarborough, Graffam said, was purchasing enough smartphones, or similar devices, so every student would have one. It may be possible to have the devices donated, or purchased through a grant from the Scarborough Education Foundation, or another grant organization.

Andrew Norsworthy, a seventh-grader, was impressed with the application.

“I thought it was really interactive and a lot better than reading from a book. We got to do a little more hands-on work,” Norsworthy said.

Fellow seventh-grader Ian Ramsden said it is a great way to see the world without going anywhere.

“There could be no need for vacations because you can simulate any single destination in the entire world and because it is virtual reality, you feel like you are there,” he said.

Wentworth School Principal Kelli Crosby said the experience was a good one for students and staff at her school as well.

“Teachers selected an Expedition that fit with their current curriculum, such as Yellowstone National Park, Antarctica, biomes, volcanoes around the world and the moon,” she told the Leader in an email. “The chorus of excited voices attested to the level of interest and engagement.”

Ogbo said there are more than 300 simulations available, including trips to the bottom of the sea, Mars, the moon and landmarks all across the world, and Google is looking to add more based on user feedback. He said users have requested the ability to create their own virtual reality expeditions of their school or community, or expeditions involving things like a view of the world from an ant’s perspective or a trip through the human body.

Ramsden said he would like to see virtual trips to places like Amsterdam, Hong Kong or San Francisco. Norsworthy added Mt. Fuji in Japan would be an interesting destination as well.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

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