Google takes local students on virtual trip

Posted at 5:38 PM, Jan 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-28 17:38:02-05

MIDDLETOWN — Nearly every Mayfield Elementary School student will take a field trip Jan. 29, but not one will leave the school.

Using the virtual reality of the Google Expeditions Pioneer Program, some will go to the ocean to explore coral reefs, while others will visit the new Seven Wonders of the World. Some will even travel to different biomes.

“The students will feel like they’re right there,” said Melissa Prohaska, instructional technology specialist for Middletown City Schools.

The program is stopping by the school during the second phase of its pilot in the U.S. Students age 7 and up will use “viewfinders” to explore places they are studying or have recently learned about, as their teachers walk them through the experience from tablets.

“The students follow through, and she can guide them or let them explore on their own,” Prohaska said.

Mayfield Principal Andrea Blevins hopes the opportunity will enhance learning in subject areas teachers already are covering.

“Kids always do better when they can see what we’re talking about,” she said.

Prohaska, who is a Google certified trainer educator, recommended the program to Blevins after learning through an email that the pilot was coming to Greater Cincinnati. To be considered, at least six teachers had to express interest in the program, and an educator needed to fill out a short application.

“I’m very happy to say we had 100 percent buy-in,” Blevins said.

Although other districts in Cincinnati – including Oak Hills, Mason and Loveland – are taking part in the pilot as well, Mayfield is the only participating building in the Middletown City School District.

The program is a natural fit for the school, which has seen technology increasingly incorporated into lessons in recent years, Blevins said.

“This was just kind of a no-brainer,” she said. “It was an extension from that.”

After an all-staff training session in the morning, each second through fifth-grade class will spend 30-minute increments using the virtual reality technology. Because Google requires users to be at least 7, some first-graders will explore the program as well.

“I’m really excited for our students to experience this,” Prohaska said. “It will just take them to a whole new world that some of them will never get to experience.”

Although assistance will be available, teachers will be encouraged to explore the program along with their students.

“Myself and the teacher leader will be on hand to help guide them through the process, and Google also is sending people to help guide through process, but we want the teacher to take the lead on this,” Prohaska said.

While the program is still in the pilot phase, Blevins hopes to eventually implement it regularly at Mayfield.

“We’re just really excited by the opportunity and hope that it is something we can bring to our students not only now but in the future,” she said.