I recently arranged to have Google Expeditions come to my school to run some virtual reality-based workshops with the children in Years 1-6. Before I discuss the day in more detail, I want to mention how amazing the experience was for both the children and the staff.
What is a Google Expedition?
When Google visited our school, they brought with them about 60 mobile phones and 60 headsets. This was more than enough for the children in our school and I’ll be the first to say that Google were – as expected – fully prepared for the day.
The representative from Google, who was very friendly and easy to talk to, showed me how to control the virtual reality expeditions using an iPad. The app was very easy to understand and I was quite surprised at the simplicity of it. All I needed to do was to select the expedition I wanted and it would instantly appear on phone’s (which had been placed into the headset) so the children could be immersed in that virtual world.
By putting the headset on, the children were taken to the virtual world and the room around them was transformed. There was no floor, walls or ceiling anymore as I sent the children deep under the ocean, high over Everest or into the deepest jungle. As somebody who is fascinated by the Amazon, I was thrilled to be able to explore a 360 degree jungle from the comfort of my classroom.
Watching the children (and the staff) gasp and cheer with surprise whenever they entered a new virtual world or discovered a new area they hadn’t explored was great fun!
All the children from Years 1 to 6 were completely engaged by the technology and couldn’t believe what they were seeing. Several of the children jumped when they turned their head and there was a baby Gorilla staring at them from a leafy floor. I personally enjoyed the view from atop The Great Wall of China.
How Does It Improve A Lesson?
I think Google Expeditions can improve a lesson any way in which you want it to.
A key feature of the app is control.
You control what the children are looking at through 1 single iPad. This means if you click “pause” all of the children will receive this message and have to stop (after all, there’s nothing on their headset at this point). This means you can discuss what the children are looking at and, as each expedition has informational text attached to it, you can provide them with information whilst they’re using it.
The teachers in my school used the technology to enhance a variety of different subjects. For example, Year 6 had been looking at the Aztecs in their Topic lessons and thus used Google Expeditions to allow the children to explore different Aztec temples which helped deepen their understanding of the Aztec world. Another teacher used their expedition as a tool for inspiring a setting description whilst another took the opportunity to bring Roald Dahl books to life by entering a virtual world dedicated to his work. Finally, Year 4 took the opportunity to enhance their science lesson by taking a virtual tour through the entire digestive system.
You can search for a specific expedition (as there are too many to name) so you’re bound to find something which you can use in a lesson. We always ask children to imagine what it was like to be a Mayan or to swim with sharks etc, so why not take the opportunity to show them instead and use this world as a basis for their writing.
How Much Does It Cost?
Unbelievably, the entire service was completely free.
The staff and students at my school were able to enjoy this incredible technology for an entire day without having to spend a penny.
Whilst Google can only bring the equipment for a day, the app itself (along with the expeditions) are all free so you can even download them onto an iPad at school and access the virtual reality worlds at any time.
If you’d like to purchase a headset you can do so from Amazon and they’re not very expensive. However, to use the headset you’d also need to have a mobile phone to use the app – I know this instantly frightens people because of e-safety but I will say that, as long as you take the sim card out, you’ve basically only got a mini-iPad. You can use a ton of apps on a mobile phone without having a sim card inserted which really eliminates the e-safety issues that might arise.
To book a visit from Google Expeditions for your school, the best place to start is by visiting their website (right here) and following the instructions.
It was a fantastic day and I can honestly say that any school would benefit from having them visit.