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Google Expeditions takes Columbia students all around the world

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On Friday Feb. 5, students at Columbia Junior High School got to go on field trips to the deserts of Egypt, the depths of the sea and even inside the human body, all without leaving their school. No, it wasn’t through the Magic School Bus, more like magic glasses courtesy of Google Expeditions.

Google’s magic glasses to be precise. Representatives from the company outfitted students with various headsets throughout the day that gave the illusion of transporting them to another time and place. When students moved their head, the pictures in the headsets would adjust to show the new perspective, allowing students a 360 degree view of whatever their teacher wanted to present to them.

“One of the things this does for kids is it gives them background information and knowledge that other kids may not have. They may not be able to walk through the Louvre, and I haven’t walked through the Louvre, so being able to picture that or swim the barrier reef or check out Mars or walk through a human heart, it just plays into so many experiential opportunities for kids that they wouldn’t have otherwise,” said Jeff Nelson, executive director of teaching, learning and innovation for Fife Schools.

Using cardboard headsets, an iPad controlled what students were seeing as they looked around in virtual reality, getting a sense of scale of some of the more famous locales on earth and beyond. There were modes for both free form and guided tours from teachers leading the class via the iPad. The glasses are great for history classes, for example, as tours are not limited by things like space and time.

“There’s a lot of really interesting things we can do with it. In eighth grade we're talking about Andrew Jackson and the Indian Removal Act, so we did powwows to talk about that culture, which is an opportunity some kids don’t get to go through,” history teacher Michael Stro said. “It’s just more of an immersive view. It’s an amazing tool.”

Google came to Columbia after Nelson discovered the program on the Internet, figuring that the far flung adventures would be perfect for the students at Columbia Junior High.

“I saw this on Twitter actually and contacted Google and I think within 48 hours they said they were coming then Mark Robinson (principal at Columbia Junior High) and the staff pulled this together,” Nelson said. “We scheduled a rep to come out and they use the Google cardboard to go on virtual tours pretty much anywhere they want that has an expedition available.”

Google recently announced an app for Android that will allow schools to experience the virtual expeditions without Google having to set it up. The app is in Beta stage right now, but the technology seems promising, and while they may not replace real field trips, the virtual expeditions open up the whole world for students.