Today, we hosted the Google Expeditions Pioneer Program at our middle school! The program uses Google Cardboard, which is a viewer similar to the Viewmaster toys many of us had as kids. Except this time, the view is in 3D and you can turn a full 360˚ and see everything around you.
The Expeditions program is still technically in beta form and they are “taking their show on the road” to let schools try out the app and get feedback. They have an extensive and varied list of places and things to see around the world, including Mt. Everest, coral reefs, various cities around the world, and national parks and monuments.
While the scheduling process was a bit tricky, we were able to figure out a plan that allowed every 6th, 7th, and 8th grader at our school to take part in at least one Expedition. 8th grade world studies students learned about Syrian refugees and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, 7th grade social studies students checked out the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and world language students went on a tour of Barcelona and saw the Sagrada Familia in its yet unfinished state (complete with construction cranes).
The students were absolutely mesmerized! Many of these students may never get to see these wonders of the world in real life, but the 3D viewing capability makes it feel like you’re really there. Many of them asked if they could buy the Google Cardboard viewer for themselves.
My one frustration with the whole process is that our teachers didn’t have any idea what to expect from the program. Though they were encouraged to choose an expedition that supplemented their curriculum, they didn’t get a chance to see what they’d actually be doing with their students until just before school started. Once the program is widely available to teachers and schools, I can see how something like this could be incredibly valuable in the classroom. Imagine learning about the Great Wall of China and then going to visit it in 3D in the next lesson!
What is amazing to me is that now geography doesn’t even hold these kids back. If they want to see the Colosseum in Rome, all it takes is a few clicks of the mouse and they can be standing right outside. While it’s definitely not as good as being there in person, it’s much better than looking at an Atlas or a photo in an encyclopedia like previous generations. My hope is that seeing some of these sites will make these students want to travel the world themselves one day. I know it’s definitely making me want to check my own passport!