Smarter takes students to whole new worlds
It’s 1 p.m. on a Tuesday. You just finished a pop quiz in social studies class. Now, you’re staring down a wide-eyed jaguar and dodging furry kinkajous leaping through the treetops of the Amazon rainforest.
What began as an average day at Fort Worthington Middle School in Baltimore became extraordinary when students stepped into their science class. This is not your average classroom. It’s a Lenovo Virtual Reality (VR) Classroom, equipped with technology that enables teachers to send their students to the far corners of the planet -- and beyond.
Fort Worthington is one of about 500 classrooms across the United States, the United Kingdom and several other countries around the world that are transforming the way students learn with Lenovo VR. When students put on their Lenovo Daydream headset, they can travel to thousands of locations — from the Sahara Desert to the surface of Mars. That means a child sitting in a Baltimore classroom might find herself gazing down the sandstone squiggles of the Grand Canyon or the blustery peak of Mount Everest in seconds. No school bus, permission slip or chaperone required.
“They couldn’t do that before. You have kids literally looking around like, ‘Wow we’re at the beach.’ You throw on the headset and you have a completely different experience,” says Farron George, a technology teacher with Baltimore Public Schools.
For Fort Worthington student Brian Williams, that’s a big deal.
“When I’m wearing [a VR headset], I’m more in my zone,” Williams says. “You get to see stuff you don’t get to see in real life”
“It’s just a whole different experience for them learning-wise,” adds Chris Patterson, a science teacher with Baltimore Public Schools. “Through the VR goggles, students have a hands-on experience so they feel like they’re really there.” And such intensive immersion helps “the knowledge stay with them,” while keeping outside distractions at bay, he says.
With the Lenovo VR Classroom, teachers have another tool to get students excited -- and engaged -- in the subject at-hand. It’s an invaluable asset for educators, who’ve long relied on the standard tools of learning to complement their lesson plans (textbooks, PowerPoint presentations, educational videos, and so on). A unit on nutrition can be complemented by a VR field trip inside the digestive tract. A lesson on the sun? Enhance it with a quick jaunt to the Milky Way. Wearing VR headsets, students are all in, immersed in the subject like never before -- and studies have shown that immersion leads to engagement, which leads to knowledge retention.
Fear not: Teachers won’t be left alone to navigate the jungles of South America. Lenovo offers educators a complete classroom solution, from the hardware to the lesson plans. Besides the headsets — all of which come equipped with WorldSense™ motion tracking with 110° field of view, a hand controller for interactivity and sanitizable head cushions -- each kit includes Lenovo 300e Chromebooks, a Ruckus R510 Access Point for fast Wi-Fi, a Google Expeditions app with more than 1,000 virtual field trips, Wild Immersion videos supported by Jane Goodall and 10 custom lesson plans.
It’s a big world out there, and technology like VR is helping to broaden the horizons of teachers and students while serving as an equalizer for children who don’t have the ability to visit the Louvre or the National Mall in real-life. Traditional education has long focused on fact retention and rote memorization. With so much information swirling through the classroom and the digital space, students are easily overwhelmed, their focus unmoored. Though students may retain facts gleaned from a textbook, they’re rarely equipped with the tools to implement the information, to apply their school lessons to real-world situations that require both knowledge and critical-thinking skills.
Virtual technology is helping ease this long standing pedagogical pain point. When students enter a virtual world, like the aforementioned Amazon rainforest, they’re not simply learning about the dietary preferences of a capybara or the aposematic coloration of a poison dart frog -- they’re observing science in-action and within context. They’re learning about the subject by virtually living it.
In a Lenovo VR Classroom, students are also gaining the technological skills that will be required of them in a contemporary workforce. Term-long typing classes will no longer suffice. Future workers must know their way around advanced technology. Learning to operate within augmented and virtual realities is the first step for these students’ crucial, and ongoing, technical educations.
A 2013 paper by Columbia researchers asserts that certain unique skills will be required of 21st-century students, including “empathy, systems thinking, creativity, computational literacy, and abstract reasoning.” All of these attributes, the researchers concluded, “are difficult to teach,” especially with traditional methods like verbal lectures.
The researchers assert that VR holds the key to providing “more immersive, engaging experiences,” with far-reaching implications and applications. Using VR in a classroom, the study found, provides students with more engaging, authentic, empathic and creative learning experiences.
Fort Worthington Principal Monique Debi has witnessed the VR transformation firsthand.
“We’re really seeing an increase in excitement, in learning,” she says of the Lenovo VR Classroom. Students are engaging with the material so thoroughly, she says, they’ve begun to ask questions extending beyond their curriculum.
“They’re like, ‘Now I do want to do some research,” Debi says. “Now I want to see what the mountains in Fiji look like!”