Recently, I had the immense pleasure of introducing one of the most exciting and significant Greek tragedies ever, written by the great Sophocles, to a group of highly motivated, supremely intelligent, and innately curious ninth graders. Our discussions were intensely profound and our analysis was rhetorically brilliant.
Well… that is what I would have posted on Twitter to make everyone think I was the best teacher ever. The truth is that this is my first year teaching ninth-grade English and I didn’t know any more about Greek tragedies than my students. I have taught English for many years, but Sophocles was a mysterious and abstract idea, and to be honest, quite scary.
As you can imagine, my freshmen weren’t really that interested in a Greek playwright who was alive 2,500 years ago. Nor were they fascinated by the evolution of drama or the creation of the first actor.
So what’s a teacher to do? In my preparations, I kept reading about the Theater of Dionysus, where Sophocles and the other superstars of Greek tragedy duked it out in front of the entire city of Athens in yearly competitions. I am such a visual person, I just couldn’t imagine the parts of the orchestra and stage, etc. that my teacher materials kept talking about.
During one planning period, while wrestling with my “tragic” ignorance, I Googled this Theater of Dionysus to see what it looked like. By happy accident, I found a link to the Google Earth location. I clicked the little person in the lower right-hand corner that symbolizes Street View and excitedly watched all the little blue dots pop up that represent a 360-degree view of that location. There had to be at least 30 or 40 different panoramic, wrap-around, concrete, informational, reach-out-and-touch-it images of this most famous of Greek theaters! I began clicking on all of them, observing with my own eyes the remains of the stage, the location of the chorus, and the amphitheater-style seating for 17,000. After I shared this with my students, I was going to be Teacher of the Century!
There is something magical about students being virtually transported to other places around the world. The engagement level is through the roof.
That’s a bit of an exaggeration. I don’t think any of my students were inspired to become Greek playwrights (or English majors). They were, however, considerably more engaged in our lesson about Greek culture 2,500 years ago!
After this virtual reality field trip to view the theater with our own “virtual” eyes, it was so much easier to make connections to this historical content. Then I could create new meaning out of those connections.
Virtual Reality Explorations
Since then, I have used virtual reality field trips in all of my classes when the students will benefit from “seeing with their own eyes” a place, setting, or a concrete example of a concept. There is something magical about students being virtually transported to other places around the world. The engagement level is through the roof. In addition, the concrete details and clear observations they take away are invaluable. They create a sturdy scaffold for students to create more content connections and engage in deeper learning.
If you have VR headsets, the trip is even more immersive. But these are not necessary. Students can still reap the benefits from virtual field trips without fancy equipment.
So that you can be Teacher of the Century, too (or at least brag on Twitter), I have curated a few fall-themed virtual trips and 360-degree panoramas that you can use with your students quickly and easily!
Field Trips, Right in Your Classroom
360Cities.net is a great resource for 360-degree videos or panoramic photos.
- Inside a Red Apple Tree – Looking out from inside the tree covered in bright red apples.
- The Big Apple Farm – Harvesting apples
- Pumpkin on Vine – Foliage and a pumpkin still on the vine
- Pumpkins Ready for Harvest – The foliage has died back and pumpkins are laying right where they grew
- Halloween Hide and Seek – Over 30 Halloween-themed items are hidden in this panorama for your students to find. Don’t forget to look up!
YouTube 360 videos lets you search for a plethora of immersive videos on all different topics. They can be used with VR goggles or you can drag the screen on a laptop.
- New England Fall Foliage Fly Through at Bartlett Arboretum – Produced by NBC, beautiful views of fall foliage in all colors and an excellent explanation of how and why leaves change colors.
- Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – The Changing of the Guard (Veteran’s Day) is a great 360 video of Arlington cemetery and explanation of changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
- Dia de los Muertos – Explanation and short video of Dia de los Muertos in 360 video
Google Earth – Go anywhere in the world and chances are there is a 360 street view. Google also has Google Voyager, which showcases 360-degree pictures with a theme.
- Voyager – Thanksgiving Traditions – This tour takes you from Plymouth Rock to the Lincoln Memorial and explains how the Thanksgiving tradition evolved in America.
- Voyager – World War I Memorials around the world – With Veterans Day approaching, this is a great tour of ten different World War I memorials around the world.
There are so many options available for VR field trips. This is just the tip of the iceberg. But no matter where you decide to take your students, they will reward you with excitement and engagement.
You can even be Teacher of the Century. I’ll share my podium with you. I don’t mind.
Let me know what other VR apps and tools you use to take students out of the classroom and into meaningful connections in comments.
I wrote a grant for our district and received the HTC Vive virtual reality system, wireless adapter, gaming laptop, and backpack for portability. My fourth graders have gone deep sea diving with sharks, swimming with sea turtles, landed on the moon with Apollo 11, and visited many points of interest in the great state of Texas. My students love to learn with VR experiences!
What a great idea, Laura! Writing a grant would be an excellent way to purchase VR equipment. Also, it sounds like you are doing amazing things with your VR. What a great way to close the experience gap for your students.
Thank-you for sharing!