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3D History: Exploring the world with Virtual Reality & Google Cardboard

There’s nothing quite like being part of several thousand social studies teachers – all hanging out together in Washington D.C at the #NCSS2016 conference. It doesn’t get much better than spending four days chatting about history and best practice and tech integration and resources and geography and civics and econ while spending the evenings at the new Smithsonian African American museum, the Newseum, and the National Portrait Gallery.

And getting the chance to lead a couple of conference sessions – one of them with Kansas Council for the Social Studies president and superstar middle school teacher Kori Green? Icing on the cake.

Kori has been using the Google Expeditions app and Cardboard VR viewers with her kids this fall semester. Together we shared her experiences and a few other suggestions for classroom use. For those of you not able to make our session, I’ve posted some of the conversation and a few additional resources here for whoever might find them useful.

This is a short list. Have some of your own goodness to share? Post ’em in the comments.

General resources

General suggestionsexpeditions

  • Cardboard is pretty sweet but it can do more that just look at cool StreetViews of the Great Pyramids or be part of a virtual fieldtrip. What sorts of thinking to you want from your kids? Is it a hook activity? An exit card strategy? Part of a writing prompt? Does the app supplement a student’s text or primary sources? Is the Expedition the actual primary source? Could you have students create local histories based on photospheres that they create on StreetView? Be clear about your end in mind.
  • But learning should be fun. So don’t freak out too much – especially in the beginning – if your activity is not directly aligned to NCSS and ISTE standards.
  • When you want the kids’ attention, use the Pause Tour feature in Expeditions and they’ll see a message on their iPad that says “teacher paused.”
  • The app has built-in details and context that you see on your device 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 by taking a screenshot of the text to use while you have the tour paused.
  • All Expedition tours come pre-loaded with targets that you can use to direct students to specific spots on the 360 image. But you can create your own targeted hotspots by tapping and holding the image on your device.
  • Some district networks have blocked teacher to student device connections so be sure to test things out with a student device before going whole group. 
  • A workaround? Once an Expedition tour has been downloaded to the teacher’s device, no actual internet access is needed to push it out to students. You need just the wireless signal to connect devices in the room. Setting up a simple off the shelf wireless access point (without internet access) will connect all of your room’s devices and avoid the quirks of your district filters.
  • Use keywords in the search box of the Expeditions app to find tours or browse this online Google Sheets list of all of the current Expeditions to quickly see what’s available. The list has more info about each of the Expeditions and makes it a bit easier to find useful tours.
  • Kori and I really like the Cardboard viewers from Knoxlabs. Just $5 and stands up well to lots of v2use.
  • If your kids are using personal devices, make sure they hook into the district wifi. 3D and VR can be a killer on data plans.
  • Find new and useful VR / Cardboard apps by including “vr,” “virtual reality,” and “cardboard” in your search terms.

Support tips and lesson plan ideas

Other Tools

360 Video

Augmented Reality tools

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. I have tried to find a way to make a Google Cardboard Viewer to use with an iPad. Our district has gone 1 to 1 with iPads and students don’t have access to their own phones or district provided phones. Do you know of any resources where our maker space class could find a template to make a viewer? I know this is a long shot, but I so want to try this. Thanks

    December 1, 2016
    • glennw #

      Unfortunately the Cardboard viewer was designed for smartphones or iPods, not iPads. The problem of course is that if a viewer was large enough that an iPad would fit inside it, it would be incredibly hard (if not impossible) to angle the two lens – that would need to remain at the same width of our eyes – to somehow create a coherent image. The Google Expedition and Street View apps do work on an iPad – you just don’t get the virtual reality experience.

      My suggestion is that this is a perfect time to have a discussion with tech folks and admin that it’s time to allow student devices onto the school network. If not the whole network, at least have the tech people set up a wireless access point that is not connected to the internet for using the Google Expedition app. (Once the tour has been downloaded onto your device, you don’t need internet access to push that tour out the devices of your students – just the wireless signal.)

      I understand the reluctance of some to allow student devices but it is 2016. And if the devices in their pockets can be leveraged ti improve learning? Then let’s find a way to use them appropriately. Google Expeditions is appropriate in my book.

      But I feel your pain. It’s not always easy trying to find workarounds for new tools and strategies. I would love to continue the conversation. Contact me via email at if you want to talk more!


      December 1, 2016

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