A virtual experience

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By Dedra Cordle
Staff Writer

One of the best and worst times of the year for David Hampson was when his students at Finland Middle School were preparing for the annual trip to Washington D.C.

As a social studies teachers, he was excited to share in the experience of their first trek to see the nation’s capital but also cognizant of those who were staying behind.

“It was so heartbreaking,” he said.

Like many educators in his position, Hampson raised funds and sought scholarships for those who could not afford the trip, but sometimes those best efforts did not come to fruition.

“It would always make me so sad when I had to tell them there were no funds or scholarships available,” he said. “Students shouldn’t have to miss an opportunity like this due to a lack of equity.”

While Hampson has left his position in the traditional classroom setting, he is still trying to get as many students as possible to experience Washington D.C. His latest efforts will now allow them to see the city first-hand while never stepping a foot outside of the classroom.

As the South-Western City School District’s new technology liaison, Hampson began researching cutting-edge tools to use to expand K-12 learning beyond the pages of a textbook. Two years ago, he discovered the perfect program.

“I wrote a grant to try to bring virtual reality and augmented reality kits into the classroom,” Hampson said. “We received the grant and have been traveling to space, the ocean and everywhere in between since.”

Initially, the grant was slated for one year but the program proved to be so popular that it became fully implemented for this school year and beyond.

“The first year of the (pilot) program was extremely successful,” Hampson said. “We could see improvement in the way students wrote about the subject they experienced using virtual and augmented reality versus what they experienced just reading about it in a textbook.

“Using these devises allows for a more in-depth and nuanced approach,” he added. “It can make it seem like you are really there.”

An example he used was in a classroom at the intermediate level where virtual or augmented reality kits were used after a unit on space. After the traditional learning aspect was completed, the teacher worked with Hampson to download images from the Mars rover Curiosity in order to take the students on a trip to the red planet. While there, they received a 360 degree view of the planet taken from the rover and “walked” around making observations about what they were seeing.

“They concluded that there had to have been water on Mars due to the cracks in the ground,” he said. “They made that connection using what they knew from their own reality and knowledge of river beds when they dry and what they learned from pictures in virtual reality.”

More examples he used regarding the success of the program was high school students learning about animals by walking with lion prides, gazelles and giraffes, kindergarteners getting “up close” with sharks while studying the ocean, and students becoming teachers by making their own tours of ancient cities.

“It was so neat to see them learn about ancient Egypt, India and Rome and then go and make tours to present to their fellow students,” he said.

But one of the most rewarding things about this program for him personally, he said, is when he brings virtual and augmented reality kits to middle school students who were not able to go on the Washington D.C. trip.

“We go on a tour in the White House, see the view from the top of the Washington Monument, and visit the National Mall and Museums – all without the crowds,” Hampson said.

He said that while the virtual tour may not be as good as the tour in person, he believes these devises will go a long way in making education and knowledge accessible and easier for all students.

“I think there are great things ahead for our students and teachers with this program,” he said. “The technology is rapidly changing and the number of expedition tours are increasing so the sky is not just the limit for this program.”

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