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Tips and Tricks for using Google Expeditions

I will be the first to admit that I love new and shiny gadgets quickly catch my attention. I love finding new tools and ideas that can help teachers and kids do their jobs better and more effectively. And here at ESSDACK, it’s actually part of my job. I get the chance to play with and learn about all sorts of shiny toys.

My latest gadget? Virtual and augmented reality tools. The potential for engaging students and using this sort of technology to gather, organize, and create information is pretty mindblowing. I especially love the work that Google is doing to make the tech more accessible for schools. The Google Cardboard virtual reality viewer is especially affordable and easy to use. Plus it’s designed to be used with a wide variety of third party tools. And the Google has also developed its own apps that work with their Cardboard viewer.

(Not familiar with the whole Google VR world? Head over here for a quick recap.) 

expeditionsTheir Expeditions app is a very cool tool designed to help teachers lead and facilitate small and large group conversations around a specific place and topic. In a nutshell, teachers and students install the app on mobile devices. The teacher selects a specific virtual reality Expedition and acts as the Guide for that journey. Students open their app and act as Explorers of the teacher selected Expedition. Whatever the teacher is viewing on their device is what the students see on theirs. The teacher can direct students to look at specific objects or places and track where the students are looking at during the process.

It’s a great way for teachers to lead engaging conversations about people and place in a virtual reality setting while maintaining a little bit of control of what students are experiencing. And while the best experience is the 360 degree world of 3D Google Cardboard via a smartphone or iPod, the app also works well on tablets such as an iPad.

The app has been around for a while but was only accessible on Android devices and in certain situations. The iOS iPad / iPhone / iPod app is now out and about giving everyone a chance to use it. I’ve been able to share the app and Cardboard experience with a lot of teachers but it’s always great hearing from people who have actually used it with kids.

Lisa Suhr from Sabetha Elementary School in the Prairie Hills district has also been using the Expeditions app. She recently shared some of her experiences with using it with grade school kids.

Lisa’s kids had read a book about the National Mall in Washington, D.C. that focused on monuments and museums.  They had also done some work with other national monuments such as Mt. Rushmore and the St. Louis Arch.  So she used two of the pre-made Expeditions that included those sites. The lesson went so well with her first small reading group that she repeated it in the afternoon with the rest of the class – who had read similar books but in other teachers’ rooms for small group time. The other teachers who experienced the app, love it and the kids were very engaged.

Lisa also shared a few tips and tricks that might help you as you figure out what Expeditions might look like in your classroom:

  • Use the Pause Tour feature to get kids attention during the tour. When I wanted the kids’ attention, I could just pause the tour and they see a message on their iPad that says “teacher paused” so I taught them before we started that if that message came on, they needed to sit and listen for my words.
  • The app has built-in details, context, and locations to show students while the tour is live. But be aware that when you pause the tour, this text slides back down and is hidden from the Guide / teacher. So be prepared for that. Lisa took a screenshot of that text to use while she had the tour paused.
  • Lisa also discovered that her district’s network settings allowed teachers to connect their devices with other teachers but that teacher to student connections didn’t work. Student devices could find the teacher as the Guide but a global proxy setting was somehow blocking full use. When this setting was removed from student accounts, no problem. Lesson learned? Test with a student device before going whole group and be sure to include your tech folks in that test.
  • One workaround that others have discovered is that once the tour has been downloaded to the teacher’s device, no actually internet access is needed. Just the wireless signal to connect devices in the room. So if there is a problem, ask tech support to set up a simple off the shelf wireless access point (without internet access) that all of the room’s devices will connect to.
  • Lisa learned to give more explicit instructions about how to hold the iPad and defined student “space” a little more clearly before they started. She had them push in their chairs, stand up, and practice turning in a circle moving only feet and then moving the iPad up and down to view the image above/below the plane they started on.
  • She also shared this online Google Sheets list of all of the current Expeditions. The list has more info about each of the Expeditions and also makes it a bit easier to find useful tours.

Need a few more VR / Expeditions goodness?

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