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Teachers Use Virtual Reality to Explore Lessons Outside the Classroom

ALTOONA, Iowa -- Technology can help teachers make learning come alive and serve as a teaching tool.

Step inside Megan McLennan's classroom in Altoona Elementary and you will experience what it is like to be in kindergarten. In addition to lunch decisions, the Pledge of Allegiance, and reading, the students have a special guest with a special surprise. Jamie Gilchrist asked the students, "Are you excited? Do you even know what we're going to do?"

Gilchrist is Southeast Polk's Technology Integration Coordinator. She brought a suitcase full of Google Expeditions virtual reality goggles. The students were delighted when each put on a pair and saw what life is like under the sea. "My favorite part is the first time they pull up the goggles and they all go, ‘Whoa!" said Gilchrist.

The class has been studying ocean animals for two weeks. "I see a mommy whale and a baby," said kindergarten student Brady Kuebler.

The goggles bring the lesson to life. "We've watched videos, we've read stories, but I feel having them actually diving in and being able to get into there. I think they'll really enjoy that," said McLennan.

The ocean isn't the only thing students in Southeast Polk are discovering. "We've used it with kindergarten today. We've used it with high school students and everybody in between. We've studied ocean animals to volcanoes to foreign countries, historical events. We did American colonies and the Revolution last week.”

The district got the first set of about 30 goggles last year. It now has three sets. Each set costs about $5,000. Community grants, including from the Southeast Polk Education Foundation, paid for the technology. "Kids obtain and remember information in different ways, so this is just one more tool for them to remember or make connections with."

The kids seem to be making connections. Brady said, "You can turn it around in different ways and you can look up and down. That's why I like this."

Teachers are learning how to use the technology, so they can check out the sets and use the goggles anytime it adds to what they're currently studying. The district is applying for more grants to get more sets.

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