The classroom hits the virtual road

  • White Brook Middle School sixth-graders, from left, Sophie Skowronek, Zoe Oneill-Garvey and Abigail Dean trade Google Cardboard virtual reality viewers to “visit” different sites of antiquity in the Mediterranean during a class with teacher Judith Breier on Tuesday, June 20. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • White Brook Middle School sixth grade teacher Judith Breier reads a narration from her phone to her students while they use Google Cardboard virtual reality viewers to "tour" sites of antiquity in the Mediterranean on Tuesday, June 20, 2017, in Easthampton. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • White Brook Middle School sixth-grader Abigail Achmad assembles a Google Cardboard virtual reality viewer Tuesday, June 20, 2017, in Easthampton. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • White Brook Middle School sixth-graders, from far left, Sophie Skowronek, Zoe Oneill-Garvey and Abigail Dean, use Google Cardboard virtual reality viewers to “visit” sites of antiquity in the Mediterranean during a class with teacher Judith Breier, standing, on Tuesday, June 20, in Easthampton. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • White Brook Middle School sixth-grader Gianni Soucy "visits" sites of antiquity in the Mediterranean using a Google Cardboard virtual reality viewer during a class with teacher Judith Breier on Tuesday, June 20, 2017, in Easthampton. Behind him is Jade DeNucce-Simms. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • White Brook Middle School sixth-graders Nick Pierson, left, Mateo Navarro and Chloe Gawle view images of planets using Google Cardboard virtual reality viewers during a class with teacher Judith Breier on Tuesday, June 20, 2017, in Easthampton. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • White Brook Middle School sixth-grader Erik Hardy “visits” sites of antiquity in the Mediterranean using a Google Cardboard virtual reality viewer during a class with teacher Judith Breier on Tuesday, June 20. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • White Brook Middle School sixth grade teacher Judith Breier reads a narration from her phone to her students while they use Google Cardboard virtual reality viewers to "tour" sites of antiquity in the Mediterranean on Tuesday, June 20, 2017, in Easthampton. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

@kate_ashworth
Published: 6/26/2017 9:03:33 PM

EASTHAMPTON — To guide her students as they studied ancient Greece and Rome this spring, sixth-grade teacher Judith Breier took a different approach from the traditional textbook lesson. On June 20, the class took a trip to the ancient civilizations — virtually.

“Look to your right,” Breier said to her class at White Brook Middle School. “That’s the Parthenon.”

Students gripped their cardboard virtual reality headsets — with their personal iPhones and Androids inserted inside — to their eyes. They looked up and down, and from side to side as they tried to find the temple for the Greek goddess Athena.

Chatter filled the room, with a couple of students letting out “whoas.”

And so the expedition began for the students.

Breier said she had been seeking the cardboard sets for two years, and was finally able to afford them thanks to a $250 grant from the Rotary Club of Easthampton. The 28 headsets are now available to classes and after-school programs at White Brook.

“We’re thrilled they were able to help us,” said Rachel Achmad, a parent volunteer who helped Breier seek financial support for the headsets, which give the students a glimpse of the world beyond the classroom.

Officially, the headsets are called the V2 Cardboard Virtual Reality Headset made by a company called I Am Cardboard. Special lenses help create the illusion of an alternate reality.

To get started, Breier asked students to use their smartphones — just about every student had a phone of their own, though some shared — to download the application Google Expeditions, which is a virtual-reality teaching tool. It provides lesson plans and has close to 500 expeditions, such as walking through a museum and swimming with sharks, according to the program’s website.

After downloading the app, students placed their smartphones inside the cardboard headset and watched as Breier led them on a narrated tour. Icons showed where the students are looking.

Students peered through the lens, turning around in their seats as well as turning their heads in every direction. It caused some students to get a little dizzy.

“If any of you get seasick, take your phone out,” Breier said.

By changing the setting on the phone, students were able to view the virtual world without a headset, but that just isn’t as cool.

“You need to see this, it’s like paradise,” Emmalyse Wozniak, 12, said passing her headset to a Gazette reporter. The image showed the island of Santorini south of Greece, with its blue water and green hills.

Gianni Soucy, 12, thought the experience was cool, but also looked at the lesson from a practical perspective.

“I think it’s more efficient to do this than to go there because you save money,” Soucy said.

And just for fun, Breier added the aurora borealis to the virtual-reality lesson. Students saw the colors of green and pink above a landscape in Alaska and then viewed the Earth from outer space, observing how the collision of gaseous particles creates the northern lights.

Students weren’t tested after the virtual-reality lesson because grades were closing, but Breier said they loved seeing what they had studied. 

“It’s more cool than what you see in your book,” said Mateo Navarro, 12.

Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at cashworth@gazettenet.com.




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