In an instructional technology classroom at Bellows Spring Elementary School Thursday, students hugged planets, rode in Roman chariots, touched dinosaurs and peered into tornadoes — all courtesy of Pioneer, an augmented-reality educational app from Google.
With the app, currently in beta testing, “students can explore the eye of a tornado or step foot in historic landmarks by interacting with digital objects right in front of them,” according to Google. (It’s the same concept as Pokémon Go.)
Students from kindergarten through fifth-grade at the Elkridge school had a chance to try the app during their instructional technology class, a period usually devoted to “digital citizenship, cyber-bullying, protecting personal information, and learning skills like keyboarding and coding,” said David Floyd, the elementary technology teacher.
Thursday’s sessions were a bit of a departure from the standard syllabus, but augmented reality still falls among the core curriculum of using technology to enhance learning, according to Floyd, who applied to Google for the chance to host the lesson.
“This is a great tool, because the students will not only be able to read about a topic, but also to see and interact with it,” he said. “It will help them understand the things they’ve been learning.”
Students filed in for 30-minute sessions and broke into small groups at tables around Floyd’s classroom.
Each group was given several Google smartphones equipped with the Pioneer app and attached to selfie sticks. Floyd, controlling the lesson from a teacher app on his phone, selected a topic — “forces of nature,” to start — and instructed the students to point their phones at a piece of paper with a QR code in the center of each table. After a few moments, a tornado sprang to life on the screens.
“Oh my gosh, it’s a tornado,” said 10-year-old Naiya Bonano. “It looks so realistic!”
“It looks so cool. It’s like a funnel!” exclaimed Kirsten Williams, 9.
After a few minutes, the girls placed the QR code on the floor to get a better view of the top of the funnel cloud. Gazing at the twister through her smartphone, 9-year-old Naomi Ofori giggled.
“You’re standing in our tornado!” she said to a girl at the next table.
Across the room, Floyd switched gears, firing up a hurricane. The students shrieked with excitement.
“Forces of nature is part of our third-grade curriculum,” Floyd said. “They can hear about that and read about it, but looking at and seeing a hurricane or a tornado will help them grasp it even more.”
The next session began with a lesson on the solar system, opening with a large 3D model of the Earth. Fifth-grader Moura Awad perched on the table and spread her arms.
“Am I holding it?” she asked her group members. When they nodded, she shrieked excitedly. “I’m holding it! I’m holding the Earth!”
The students explored the asteroid belt, planets and moons before moving onto a lesson about dinosaurs. First a Tyrannosaurus rex appeared on the table, followed by a velociraptor and a stegosaurus.
Moura liked them all, but was partial to the T-rex, she said.
“It was the first animal we saw,” she said. “And it’s the one where we figured out we could see its insides.”
Nathan Woolner, 10, offered more detail.
“We could see its eyes through its butt,” he said.
Other students found it hard to pick a favorite lesson. After exploring an ancient Roman warship, riding a horse-drawn chariot and watching a volcano erupt, 10-year-old Andrew Kim sighed contentedly.
“Everything was my favorite,” he said. “Everything.”