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South students take virtual trip to Washington, D.C.

South students take virtual trip to Washington, D.C.

Although South Williamsport Area High School social studies teacher Michael Rodgers knew that a class trip to Washington, D.C., was out of the question, he decided to do it anyways. And while the experience may not have been a traditional field trip, it did give students a much better appreciation of the magnitude of a place around which his entire course is focused.

Seventh graders took a trip around Washington, D.C., through Google’s virtual reality (VR) app, Expeditions. Rodgers used the program as a starting point, designing his own trip with Poly, also a Google product, which allows for the creation of 3D images and tours.

“From there, I was able to access a host of 360-degree images on Google to create my own tour,” he said. “I had my pick of hundreds of shared photographs to get the clearest photos I could and that would emphasize the aspects of each location that I wanted students to take note of.”

Students were able to see the White House, Supreme Court and Capital Building, including a look inside the Capital rotunda, as well as an up-close look at the Washington Monument, World War II Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery.

The students, Rodgers said, really seemed to enjoy the opportunity to have a first-hand look at what they’ve been learning about. Most of the students had never been to Washington, D.C., and with the exception of the White House, would not have been able to recognize the Capitol or Supreme Court.

“Sure, I could show them a picture, but the VR goggles provide a cooler experience,” Rodgers said. “In person, these places are just so impressive and with the VR goggles, you really do get a sense, as though you’re standing right there. It allows for such a better appreciation of the magnitude of these places, both in terms of their size and majesty. There’s nothing better than to have your classroom filled with comments of ‘oh, that’s so cool!’ and ‘that’s beautiful!’ Many of them were pointing out different things to each other as they were working.”

Rodgers first discovered the idea for a virtual field trip at a STEM workshop he attended in November. While there, attendees learned that BLaST IU has a lending library that offers class materials that can be signed out for use, including the Google Expeditions kit, complete with virtual reality goggles and an Android phone.

“When I heard about the goggles, my mind immediately went to a trip to Washington, D.C.,” he said. “A large portion of my class centers around the government – who government is and what they do – yet most of my students have never been to Washington and might not know or be able to picture the places where government takes place.”

In fact, Rodgers conducted an informal poll on the day of the activity, which revealed far less than half of his students had physically been to the nation’s capital. He questioned how they could truly appreciate the scope and size of the work of government if they can’t envision government’s home and where it exists.

Rodgers’ class involves the study of the work and structure of each government, how power is divided and the principles that the government was founded upon, many of which he said are reflected in different parts of the monuments, as well. With that in mind, he developed the tour as a way to help students experience a visual connection to the positions in government that they are learning about in class.

“Hopefully now, when we talk about the legislative branch, it’s not just this faceless thing that exists somewhere else,” he said. “Now, hopefully they have a picture to go with it.”

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