What is Virtual Reality?
I don’t know how many times I have sat in a classroom as a student, as a teacher, and as an administrator and thought, “If I just could be there to see it or touch it, how much more meaning would this have to me?” Virtual reality in the classroom does that in many ways. Before I delve into virtual reality too much, in my research for this, it hit me over and over again how special this could be for our low social-economic students who this may be the best way they get to see the world and experience something without leaving the classroom!
So what is virtual reality? Virtual reality creates an entire digital environment; an all encompassing 360-degree experience that the users feels like is real.
Benefits of Virtual Reality Apps in the Classroom
The benefits for virtual reality come out somewhat in the definition, but think of the benefit of a student who is not just watching the dissection of a pig, but they are the ones actually cutting open the virtual pig and then dissecting the pig’s organs (Dissection Simulator) or a have a student stand in the middle of a Jurassic age forest and build a tyrannosaurus rex using the bones to make the dinosaur (T-Rex Skeleton Crew).
A teacher can teach their students a lesson about the Colosseum in Rome and then have them walk around the actual building—talk about meaning and relevance.
Another benefit I can think of is for our students who have never been more than 10 miles from their own home for whatever reason (mainly economic reasons). A world history teacher could put a student that has never actually been in a museum and then hold one of King Tut’s masks (King Tut VR). Yes, it is virtual, but the student would be seeing, holding, and immersed in history—meaning and relevance at its finest.
Great Virtual Reality Apps to Try in our Class
Here are some of my favorite virtual reality apps find to try in your classroom…
In Mind VR 2 (Science and Social Skills)
In my research, a large number of VR apps lean toward either science or history, but this app combines social skills with science. A boy named Tim is the focal point. The participant will help Tim become an actor, scientist, a policeman, or a senator. The participant will help Tim learn how to control his emotions by shaking his head. The app then dovetails into the roles that chemicals play in our brain (dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, endorphins, etc.). This teaches biology and the results of our emotions at the same time…I think we would call that a win-win!
VR Lesson by Thinglink
Picture a student sitting in the French Alps or a jungle in the archipelago of Northern Australia and the student being able to reach out to find different aspects of the ecosystems. VR Lessons by Thinkglink has made this possible. Think of the impact this would have on students who have never left their own ecosystem. VR Lesson has even added in different aspects (these are examples) like the sound of the wind, owls howling, and annotations when explaining different parts of the ecosystem. Highly interactive.
King Tut VR
Every world history class has to spend some time on the Egyptian culture, power, and etc. This VR app allows the students to travel to Cairo and visit artifacts like the Death Mask of Tutankhamun. The app takes the viewer into the tomb where visitors are not allowed. If a teacher can place their students into this experience, the students should be able to better understand why this part of world history is worth studying.
Let’s take a little trip..through the urinary system, circulatory system, gastrointestinal tract, etc. With Anatomyou VR students in any class (I am thinking more Anatomy and Physiology) can really travel through the human body. One of my favorite classes to do walkthroughs in is Anatomy and Physiology where it is so interesting to see students’ faces as they have to learn the volume of parts in different body systems. How much more understanding would one have from not only learning the order in which food passes through the body, but actually traveling through it themselves?
Learn Language VR
The best way to learn a language is to totally immerse yourself into the language, culture, and live there if you can. Not sure a field trip to a foreign country for that long fits into the budget for most schools, but with Learn Language VR, for as long as the virtual reality goggles are on, the students will be immersed in the language they are learning. The choices range from Chinese, Dutch, French, English, Japanese, Swedish to many others. Also, what a great way for students who have not or can not visit these places to learn a language.
National Geographic VR
Our World Geography teachers ought to get a kick out of this the next app…the National Geographic VR app. The State of Hawaii brags (and rightfully so) that you can ski and surf all in the same day. Now we can take students and place them at the North Pole and the South Pole all in the same class period. Talk about taking students to places they have never been before!
Titans of Space VR
Speaking of places students have never been before, what about a trip through the Solar System with Titans of Space VR. In the VR app you see all the plants, see stars that you can’t see from Earth, and learn about all of the planetary objects from your classroom. What a great way to expose an elementary student to the solar system, space, and get the feeling that you are all encompassing journeys through the planets and their moons. The app also does a good job of giving perspective of how large these objects are compared to your ship or the Earth.
Anne Frank House
This is one of two apps that I found were a little out of the ordinary, but could be extremely useful. English and history teachers would find great value in the Anne Frank House. Over a million people a year visit the house where the child was hiding in from the Nazis. Now these teachers can take their class there to the house and provide even deeper relevance to a study of the book or to that time in history.
Lastly with Gadgeteer, a student uses a physics-based puzzle app where they can build all kinds of crazy machines and contraptions using different parts and gadgets to make it work. This STEM lab allows students to either use pre-made set-ups or, if they go to sandbox mode, they can have more freedom to explore and be creative. I can’t imagine what a hit this would be at my house with my eight-year-old who sets up domino tracks and legos. Now he could set up all of this virtually and I would not have to pick it up!!!
I had to leave off many useful apps for this article. The possibilities as the price point drops and the technology improves are endless. But do not forget, this is just like any other technology in the classroom…it can enhance the lesson and make it easier to teach, but the teacher still has to know how to use the tool properly.