Marticville takes students on virtual reality field trips

Marticville Middle School students got to experience the future of learning when they participated in the Google Expeditions Pioneer Program Feb. 19.

The school served as a beta test site for Google Expeditions, a new product that enables teachers to take their classes on virtual field trips to discover Mars, the Roman ruins, the stratosphere, biomes and other destinations using cellphones and special glasses.

Throughout the day, Marticville social studies and science classes tried out the gear provided by Google – a teacher tablet computer and sets of cellphones equipped with the Expeditions app and Google Cardboard 3D virtual reality viewers.

Guided by their teachers, students experienced virtual reality panoramas – 360-degree photo spheres and 3D images annotated with details, points of interest and questions for students to answer. They could look up, down and side to side to get a panoramic view of the surface of Mars, the rainforest and other locations they were visiting.

“Many students were reaching into the air to try to touch things they were seeing,” said Marticville principal Chris Santaniello. “They were so excited about how real the virtual expeditions felt.”

The tours, she said, were “effortlessly implemented into the daily lessons.”

Google is testing the Expeditions program at schools throughout the world to get feedback from students and teachers before it begins formally marketing the program at the end of 2016. Marticville was selected as a test site after Shelby Foster, a Penn Manor technology analyst, applied to participate in the program.

“It was an amazing experience to have,” said Will Purdum, a Marticville eighth-grader. “It was so real that you felt like you were really there!”