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Agawam Public Schools introduces virtual reality learning to classrooms

Date: 2/19/2019

AGAWAM – Students in Agawam Public Schools now have a new way to learn thanks to the IT team.

Students in grades K-12 now have access to virtual reality devices for the classroom. By appointment, teachers can “check out” the equipment to provide additional insight into lessons.

There are a total of 30 device kits available which include 30 Mattel Deluxe Master Viewers, 30 Magellan Devices, a Zenpad for use by teachers to guide the expedition, a wireless router for Internet connectivity, four USB Quick Charging Stations and three custom fit rolling cases.

The devices look like binoculars and are linked to an iPad.

Edward Jacques, Ciriculum IT?Specialist for Agawam Public Schools, explained that the devices are user friendly for students of all ages. “The ‘core’ of the VR experience is the Magellan android device, which shares similarities to many modern smartphones. Navigation within the Google Expeditions VR?app on the Magellan device relies simply on the motion of the student. Students rotate their view about the 360 degree imagery by rotating their heads and bodies.” Jacques said.

The devices are equipped with lessons on numerous subjects for every grade. Jacques shared, “So far this year, students have been able to explore the world, look inside the human body and explore inside atoms, amongst other things. We have had Social Studies students explore Aztec and Egyptian ruins, elementary students visit the North Pole and Antarctica, and ELA students visit the United States Holocaust Museum. Students in Health classes have explored the systems of the human body. Chemistry students have been able to safely explore what happens in a chemical reaction.”

Michael?J. Feeley, IT?director for Agawam Public Schools, said he was inspired by his son to incorporate virtual reality systems in the classroom. “My son had gotten VR glasses a few years back, and Ed had played with Google Cardboard as well. We had discussed ‘virtual field trips’ in general, and thought that it would be a nice supplement to our curriculum,” Feeley said.

After some research, the price was right, and Feeley and Jacques took their idea further. “I contacted a few vendors through Entre Computer and found a reasonably priced classroom kit of 30 that we thought would do well for a pilot. They were easy to use, durable and mobile so that Ed could cart them from school to school. We were aware of Google Expeditions and Ed sent out a listing of these ‘field trips’ which included suggested lesson plans and we were off and running,” Feeley said.

Both Feeley and Jacques said they are happy with the launch. “We are very pleased with this pilot program. We expected the VR units to be more engaging than powerpoints or YouTube videos in the classroom, but they have exceeded our hopes. Teachers have put in the work to constructively employ this technology into their curriculum and we hope to expand the program next year,” Feeley said.

“In general, we have found that the VR kit and the various expeditions we have gone on have been great ways to extend the existing curriculum and make it more relevant and tangible to students. We have received feedback from teachers and students alike that the VR kit aids in visual learning,” Jacques added.

Jacques said it’s been good to see the extension of curriculum with the virtual reality devices.

“Personally, I find that virtual reality allows for natural extensions of the existing curriculum. One of my favorite uses of the VR system so far was in a high school English class, where the students did a virtual ‘day in the life’ of a public defender after having read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ This allowed students to see a modern day take on the character of Atticus Finch from the novel,” Jacques said.

Teachers can sign up to use these devices through the IT Helpdesk.