Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Google Expeditions - Behind the Scenes: Part 2

IMG_2193.JPGIn Behind The Scenes: Google Expeditions: Part 1, I explained my school’s relationship with Google and how I created an Expedition at the Google headquarters in NYC back in 2015. After the Google engineers worked their magic and created the expeditions, it was time to pilot in the classroom with students while engineers and employees from Google observed. In hyping up an already awesome day and creating a true experience for my students, I challenged them to dress up as tourists. I even made them fake passports with their names and pictures on it, which they loved! It made the entire experience that much more authentic, enjoyable, and memorable.

Many of the students in my Special Ed classes struggle with engagement, motivation, and communication, in addition to behavioral, emotional and learning disabilities. However, on Pilot Day when students looked into the Cardboard and a chorus of ‘OH MY GOSH’ filled the room, 100% of them were engaged and immediately drawn into the lesson for the entire class period! To facilitate a valuable learning experience, the day before Expeditions was spent reviewing major architectural themes and accomplishments from the Classical Greek and Roman civilizations, comparing and contrasting it to the art and architecture of the Middle Ages. Taking the time to build and focus on that knowledge was crucial in seamlessly implementing Expeditions and facilitating rich and meaningful connections with content material.
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Fake passport with student picture, name and a message from Captain Raskin! (My maiden name)

As the lesson continued we alternated between using the viewfinder to look at images and asking/answering discussion questions that I had pre-made based on each specific site on the Expedition. The ‘Pause’ feature on the tablet proved to be invaluable, as it allowed me to refocus my students and draw them back to the topic despite the high levels of excitement and energy in the room. With that said, it was incredibly powerful to watch students connecting with the imagery on the screen and to observe their excitement as they saw tangible evidence from the topics we had discussed.

Some of their responses included:

”Look! There are arches and columns, just like what we learned about in Ancient Greece!” 
“This is the coolest thing I’ve ever done! I want to learn like this every day!” 
“I love this, but I really wish there could be video and sound.”

Then Google asked my students for feedback. Knowing that their opinions were being listened to and valued had each and every student participating on a level that was unprecedented. It served as a reminder of how essential it is to elevate student voice and empowerment within my classroom on a regular basis. I was blown away with the feedback they provided especially students who were typically reserved and quiet. They suggested adding video, a head strap to the Cardboard viewfinder, a voiceover or guide for each slide, music, and they requested the ability to create their own Expeditions. This last suggestion was what students were most passionate about, which comes up in just about every session I run on Expeditions.

ISTE 2015 in Philadelphia.
Since the pilot, I have been fortunate enough to continue my work with Expeditions. Last June, I attended ISTE with Google and presented numerous sessions on Expeditions. It was absolutely amazing to see educators and adults from all over the world step into virtual reality for the first time. Then, in the fall, I attended the ECET2 conference in which the incredible Jonathan Rochelle was leading a session on Expeditions. I chimed in and asked, "Do you have an Expedition on the Middle Ages? I made that!" A few months later JR and I presented together at a conference in New Jersey, which was truly an awesome experience! More recently my school has continued working with Google to facilitate the Expeditions Pioneer Program within my district in which students in grades K-12 (and staff!) got to try out Expeditions and, of course, loved it.
Jonathan Rochelle and I presenting together on Google Expeditions.

In a completely ironic timing of events, as I write this I just had one of last year’s students stop by my class to say hi. He told me, ‘Exactly one year ago today was the best day of school ever! It was Google Expeditions day and I will never forget how much fun that was!’ Knowing that I (well, really Google) provided my students with a memorable learning experience that stayed with them is what school is all about! Virtual reality experiences such as Google Expeditions and other #edtech resources can be powerful supplemental tools that afford our students with interactive, hands-on experiences that redefine what school is and should be. 

Reader challenge: A question to ponder, blog, talk, or tweet about...
How do you think #GoogleExpeditions & #edtech have redefined what school is and should be?

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