The rocky, unforgiving landscape reminded Logan Flay of the scraggly peaks of northern California or the daunting 14ers of Colorado.
Flay, a seventh-grader at Fox Ridge Middle School, had just toured the heights of Mount Olympus, the Greek mountain once believed to be the home of ancient and powerful gods. That landmark wasn't the only site Flay and his classmates in David Thomas' social studies class toured on Nov. 29 – the group made the rounds of some of the most noteworthy sites in Greece, including the bustle downtown Athens, the ancient temples of the Acropolis, the monasteries of Meteora and the breathtaking vistas of the island of Santorini.
They made all of these stops without leaving their classroom at Fox Ridge, thanks to the power of virtual reality. Specifically, the class used Google Cardboard, an app that pairs a smartphone with a simple set of cardboard glasses to transport users to another time and place. The students strapped smartphones to the goggles and were able to explore a virtual version of Ancient Greece.
"Over the course of the lesson, the students had the opportunity for self-exploration where I gave them a variety of locations to visit. They were able to explore a variety of environments," Thomas said. "Thanks to Google Street View, they were able to walk around and explore … and really get a sense of what Greece is made of.
"This an opportunity make learning come alive," he added.
Thomas had access to the goggles and the smartphones thanks in large part to a $1,000 Educator Initiative Grant from the Cherry Creek Schools Foundation. The Foundation's EIGs are made available to educators every year, and are designed to support projects across the district in every discipline. The funds also reflect the core mission of the CCSF, which is dedicated to funding opportunities for all students in the district in innovative ways and helping build partnerships within the community.
"With that grant, I was able to get about 15 sets of cardboard glasses and about 10 smart phones," Thomas said. "That's about one set for every three kids."
Supplemented by smartphones donated by teachers, parents and other Fox Ridge community members, as well as by the phones that some students already bring to class, these resources have connected the students with a unique opportunity. In lieu of simply looking at pictures or renderings of ancient structures, cities and landmarks in a book, the social studies students can wander through in-depth, three-dimensional digital renderings of antiquity.
Giving the students this tactile, immediate experience at the beginning of a history unit allows for a deeper understanding of the lessons, Thomas said. For example, as the class begins exploring that factors that led to the rise of ancient Greece as the Western world's first democracy, the students will have the chance to think about how factors like geography and climate can affect the development of a civilization.
"I want to get them activating this learning for future lessons, when we talk about how the Greeks became a civilization and what is was made up of," Thomas said.
Ancient Greece is just one class subject that will be supplemented by the technology. Thomas said he plans to use the Google Cardboard app as the class continues its tour through history. The students have already had the opportunity to explore ancient Egypt through this technology, and Thomas plans to draw on the tools as they progress through civilizations ranging from the ancient Romans to the ancient Mayans.
The impact was immediate for students like Flay, who immediately began drawing comparisons between the sites of ancient Greece to modern landscapes and architecture.
"Looking through this app, you can go 360 degrees, which means that you can have the whole experience, not just seeing a picture," Flay said. "This makes me interested in history. Now that we have these (tools), it's a whole different opportunity."