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Exploring with ‘augmented reality’

April 18, 2018

Rutherford County Schools

On a normal day, students would likely get in trouble for rolling around on the classroom floor while watching a phone and laughing with their friends.

But for sixth-grade science students at Oakland Middle School, a recent lesson plan was far from their normal routine.

The students were given the chance to experiment with Google Expeditions, a new education program the company is testing in schools. The program uses “augmented reality” to allow students to explore three dimensional environments using a mobile device.

Much like the popular Pokémon GO game from a couple of years ago, students use the cameras on mobile phones to explore projected, 3D models in the environment around them.

For example, they can study a model of a fish — from the top, the front, the back and underneath, simply by moving around the object — which appears to be “floating” in front of them on the device’s screen.

“We’ve been explaining to the kids, a lot of them have been on Snapchat and you can put on the filters to add rabbit ears,” said RCS technology coach Melinda Reed, explaining augmented reality apps. “They didn’t really understand that’s what augmented reality was, but they already knew what it was but didn’t realize it.”

The sixth-grade science students were visibly excited — and more importantly, engaged — as they explored the day’s lessons.

The students were divided into two science classrooms and could be found lying under lab tables, standing on chairs, and pointing out details to their classmates and teachers.

“It’s cool how you can see inside everything and you can see it from any angle,” said student Matt Gilbert, while he looked at an octopus with his friends Jack Faulk and Bradlee Anderton.

“It’s cool. You can experience learning hands-on,” Faulk said.

As part of the lesson, the students explored a coral reef and the solar system, both of which are part of the sixth-grade academic standards and help prepare students for end-of-the-year testing.

The experience allows students to go beyond the textbook, science teacher Jessica Rigsby said. The solar system model, as an example, allowed students to better understand the distance between planets and other objects.

“Right now we’re learning about ecosystems and so you can tell the kids about the parts of an ecosystem, but this allows them to interact with those models,”  Rigsby said. “They’re not just looking at something in a book, they’re getting to see it from all angles and see certain parts of it that we wouldn’t be able to show them. It gives them a 3D understanding of something we’re learning about as a theory.”

In January, Reed learned about the opportunity to test Google’s platform and then signed up for a chance to use it. She had almost forgotten about it when she was contacted during spring break and offered the program.

Some other Rutherford County Schools have tested other Google education products — such as Google Goggles — in the past, but Reed believes this is the first time an RCS school has been able to try the augmented reality program.

“Google is coming out with this, it’s a new technology and it’s in beta,” Reed said. “They are offering schools to come out and have the kids use it so they can get feedback to find out what the kids think is good and what needs to be improved and even find out what teachers want added into it.”

As for future plans using the technology, there may be opportunities later this school year to bring the program back so that seventh- and eighth-graders can try it, Reed said. She also plans to pursue grant funding to purchase a classroom set, she said.

To learn more about Google Expeditions, check out this information:



(1) Matt Gilbert, Jack Faulk and Bradlee Anderton check out an octopus via augmented reality using Google's Expedition program. 

(2) From left, Ajacia Holloway, Adam Kuenn and Dalanna Morton explore a coral reef, from all angles, using Google Expedition. 

(3) Marcus Bullard examines a tropical fish using Goole Expedition. 

(4) Science teacher Karyn Beard, right, interacts with sixth-graders who are excited to use Google Expedition.