Share this page 

Tech Class

Using virtual reality to visit a true hot spot

A Grade 1 class explores a volcano through Google’s Expeditions app.

By Stefan Dubowski
Photo: Matthew Liteplo

Photo of Afzal Shaikh, Ontario Certified Teacher, seated at a desk with a group of young students. They are all holding iPads.
Grade 1 teacher Afzal Shaikh, OCT, uses virtual reality to teach his students about energy.

THE CHALLENGE: Help junior elementary students learn how powerful energy can be.

THE SOLUTION: Take them on a virtual reality tour inside a volcano.

LESSONS LEARNED: Afzal Shaikh, OCT, wanted the Grade 1s at The York School to not just learn about energy, as part of their unit of inquiry on how the world works, but to understand the awesome power it can have. So he introduced them to Google’s Expeditions virtual reality app and transported them from their Toronto classroom to the interior of Indonesia’s bubbling-hot Mount Bromo volcano.

“We wanted to have that ‘wow’ effect,” says Shaikh, The York School’s associate director of learning, innovation and technology.?

And “wow” they got. Over two periods (about 1.5 hours), teacher and students took to iPads to access the Expeditions software and content. This included background information about what volcanoes are and how they work, followed by what they’re like up close through animations, panoramic pictures, and video from inside the boiling beast.

Shaikh led the tour, using his iPad to control what students viewed on their devices. He read aloud from the teacher-focused information cards that popped up on his screen to provide context about what they were seeing, and to provide probing questions like, “What do you think the difference is between magma and lava?” (Magma is molten rock in the earth’s crust; lava is magma that comes to the surface.)

OBSERVATIONS: Shaikh solidified his understanding that young students (six- and seven-year-olds in this case) work best when they know the boundaries.

“If they’re having trouble following the instructions or following along, we we don’t use the iPads, and they don’t get the experience. And they’re aware of that. It helps them stay on task.”

He’s found that he doesn’t need to spend much time explaining how the technology works anymore — all of his students are comfortable using an iPad. But most importantly, the activity helps drive home the energy lesson.

“Students can be completely immersed in a virtual world,” Shaikh says. “Instead of looking at pictures of energy sources, they can watch the molten hot lava ooze out of a volcano …. I believe they have a greater appreciation of the world that surrounds them.”

HELPFUL HINT: You can take students of all ages on virtual reality tours. But if you’re working with early-elementary children, it’s best to use a tablet instead of a VR headset.

Many headsets makers recommend their products for 12-yearolds and up.

The College’s professional advisory Use of Electronic Communication and Social Media guides members’ professional judgment in the use of technology.

You Can Do It Too!

Follow these steps:

  1. Learn about Google’s Expeditions virtual reality technology and tours: edu.
  2. Download the Expeditions app to your and your students’ mobile devices. (Available on the Apple App Store and on Google Play.)
  3. Find a tour that works with your subject or unit of inquiry.
  4. Take your class on the tour. Use the onscreen information cards to provide context.