Virtual Reality (VR) is the next step in the educational technology revolution. Virtual Reality allows students to visually immerse themselves in an environment other than their own. Students are transported to places all over the world without ever leaving their seat. Google Cardboard is perhaps most well known for using this technology in classrooms. However, thus far, their outreach has been limited classrooms with access to smartphones.
Nearpod has worked to change this dynamic. The classroom-proven, edtech company recently came out with their own version of Virtual Reality based lessons that ONLY depend on devices with INTERNET ACCESS. Nearpod’s version of VR combines their unique presentation software format with short bursts of VR.
Rather than the VR being the sole component of this amazing educational tool, it is used to enhance engaging, interactive lessons. Nearpod offers 28 interactive VR lessons used for a wide variety of grade levels beginning with grade 1 and extending to grade 12. Nearpod uses Virtual Reality to teach geometry, literacy, science, social studies, and history in a way that could not been imagined just a few years ago.
Visiting Nearpod’s site for the first time, teachers create an account and are able to download the pre-made lessons, many of which can be modified by the teacher to meet their specific needs. Creating presentations from scratch is a thing of the past. Hours of prep time are saved as teachers are treated to pedagogically sound teaching material created by some of the nation’s best teachers. Users pay around $3.99 to download each VR lesson or they can pay an annual fee and download as many lessons as they like. Once the lesson has been purchased, the user will have access to it for as long as they have their account and only need to pay per teacher--not a student.
This week, I used Nearpod’s VR lessons in grades 1-5. I taught shapes, communities, patriotic symbols, volcanoes/layers of the Earth, and about renewable energy resources. Each lesson included at least three VR experiences and a variety of other experiences including polls and questions for students to respond to, websites, discussion questions, short educational videos, quizzes, photographs, and facts. A wonderful example is the VR lesson based on Communities Types. First, students are taken to Times Square. They are treated to a 360-degree view of this location. For a group of students who have grown up in a suburban neighborhood and may never have ventured out of it, teaching about urban communities can be a challenge. Looks and sounds of astonishment rang out when I asked them to move the iPad and look up. Students were amazed to be looking at the tip-tops of New York’s skyscrapers rising high above their heads. Previous to VR, answers to questions like, “Do people in urban communities live in houses?, How do people in urban communities get from place to place?, What things would you see in an urban community?” was surprisingly difficult for students to answer. However, the Virtual Reality experience left the students with little ambiguity--the answers were obvious. Rural communities were next. Farmland and cattle were a stark difference compared to the lights and business of Times Square. Next, students were introduced to the vocabulary: rural, urban, and suburban and asked to answer the question, “What type of community do you live in?” Next, I asked students to describe the similarities and differences between their community and the ones they visited. Finally, students were treated to a visit to a California suburban neighborhood and asked what type of community they would prefer to live in when they grew up. The results of this poll were shown to the students on their own devices and a discussion ensued. First graders gave precise reasons for their opinions and were able to participate in a meaningful discussion. The VR experiences made my young students feel as if they were immersed in each location resulting in a much firmer grasp of concepts and ideas.
Combining VR with web browsing, surveys, short answers, long answers, collaborative work, educational videos, digital drawing, and discussions is an enormously powerful tool that allows students to dig deep into concepts, root around and pull out the knowledge they might have missed without this extraordinary experience. The power to engage students resulting in excitement about learning is a rare gem in the educational field. Don’t miss out on this outstanding jewel!