Google ‘field trip’ sends Middletown students around globe

Grade school students here Friday became the first in Butler County to take virtual field trips deep into the ocean, face-to-face with a jungle gorilla and around the Great Wall of China.

The students at Middletown’s Mayfield Elementary “traveled” courtesy of a new Google classroom visor experiment that immerse them in three-dimensional, 360-degree panorama of exotic locations from around the world.

Incorporating a Google-provided, iPhone-like viewer inserted into a cardboard visor students hold to their faces, the youngsters were among the first in Southwest Ohio to experience Google’s unveiling of its nationwide “Google Expedition Pioneer” program.

Second grade students squealed with delight when they slipped the visors on.

Their heads and bodies immediately began to swivel in circles – and gazing up and down – taking in each vantage of the life-like photo.

“Oh my God there’s a whale!”

“Whoa! There’s a dolphin!” shouted another student, who reflexively pointed in the direction he was looking in the visor.

“Look down!” another student shouts to classmates. “There are fish swimming underneath you.”

Teachers can see the same images and wirelessly control what all the students see by punching buttons on an iPad. They can instantaneously direct their students’ gazes by projecting arrows on each student’s visor image, directing them where to look.

And they can circle objects and animals – such as a humpback whale swimming above a massive school of fish – and read aloud facts about the wildlife as part of their classroom instruction.

“It’s awesome,” says second-grader Brezeal Davis. “It’s like a field trip.”

The new total visual immersion device is a quantum leap in classroom technology and learning, say Google officials, who are experimenting and surveying student and teachers reactions to the Expedition program at various test schools across America.

Their motto: It takes your students on field trips where no school bus can go.

For those old enough to remember View Master — the simple, two-dimensional photo slide viewer used in schools decades ago – Google officials say their high-definition panorama version is “View Master on steroids.”

“It’s a program designed by teachers for teachers,” Jacob Moore, Google Expedition specialist told teachers whose first reactions mimicked the youngsters, including shouts of excitement and spinning around.

Moore says the program is now only available on loan for schools to try out for a limited time but that by the fall, school districts will be able to purchase the program.

Google is also working on adding video-motion panorama to the program, he says.

Fourth-grade teacher Jackie Temming called the experience “revolutionary.”

“I don’t think they (students) have experienced anything like it. These virtual field trips are amazing, and I’m super excited about using them in my classroom,” says Temming.

“With this, we can take them to lands we may never experience, even as adults,” she says.

That is especially important to students in school systems composed largely of lower income families. More than 76 percent of Middletown’s students are poor enough to qualify for federal assistance for reduced cost of school meals and many lack the money to travel for educational purposes, say Middletown school officials.

Moreover, in recent years public schools across the nation have limited the number of traditional school bus field trips due to budget cuts.

Middletown Board of Education President Chris Urso joined students in the head-turning virtual tour and said the program’s cost, which hasn’t been determined yet by Google, may be worth it.

“They (students) can see outside Middletown and see the world,” says Urso. “It makes their learning more relevant.”

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