Julio pets the stegosaurus
Virtual-reality technology is helping students understand science, writes Carolyn Jones on EdSource.
The technology is “extraordinarily helpful,” said Tammy Dunbar, a 5th-grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary in Manteca in San Joaquin County. “Is it the future? It has to be.”
In Dunbar’s class, students use a computer application called Lifeliqe (pronounced “lifelike”) that includes more than 1,000 3-D images of plants, animals and natural features like volcanoes and rivers. Using laptops provided by the district, students can click on a beetle, for example, and zoom in, turn it around, read descriptions of the wings, thorax and other parts, and even move the beetle into a science report or photograph.
Mark Andersen, the co-founder of the San Francisco-based Lifeliqe, brought a headset, controllers and other gear to the school “so each of Dunbar’s 30 students could have a five-minute opportunity to inspect a grazing dinosaur, swim along an ocean floor, wander around the inside of a plant cell, explore the International Space Station or embark on other virtual science adventures,” writes Jones.
Julio Meza was the first to give it a try. While he moved around a prehistoric jungle, the images he viewed in the headset were broadcast on a large screen so the other students could watch. “Oh, God, it feels weird! It’s so cool,” Julio said as he climbed a virtual palm tree. “It’s kind of scary. It’s like you’re actually there.” “Julio, when you pet the stegosaurus, he’ll go into a defensive posture. Just so you’re not alarmed,” Andersen said. “Remember, you can fly if you want.” Julio did just that – pet the stegosaurus, then flew around its side to look closely at the dinosaur’s scales, spiky tail and the plates on its back.
In addition to Lifeliqe, teachers are using Nearpod, Facebook’s Oculus and Google’s Expeditions “to provide virtual field trips to natural history museums, tours of the solar system and human bloodstream, and other science-themed experiences,” writes Jones.
Educational applications include 3-D tours of Machu Picchu, the Palace of Versailles and King Tut’s tomb.