GUILFORD, Maine — Instead of watching their teacher write on the whiteboard while taking notes, elementary students in Guilford can watch their lessons through the only 360-degree virtual reality room at a Maine public school.
The idea is that the room’s four walls are screens resembling an IMAX theater. Students sit on special chairs – ie Director Anita Wright Compared to boat cushions with back-on the floor they can be moved around as kids turn around to watch pictures unfold along the walls. Although the room is usually rounded, the school district modified a space it already had.
This technology was provided by a company called Igloo that brings to life experiences such as going inside a human body or meeting a dinosaur face to face. Wright said she found her during the early days of the pandemic when she was looking at how to help re-engage students after they returned to the school building after distance learning.
There are other virtual reality classrooms across the country, but they are not 360-degree systems. The Learning Room at Piscataquis Community Elementary School is the third immersive Igloo space to be found in a US public school, along with one in Texas and one in Ohio completed just two weeks before Guilford School.
“This was a great way to spend the COVID relief money because it fully meets the social emotional needs because virtual reality has become a leading treatment for anxiety and depression and because of student engagement, retention is very important in terms of learning,” Wright said.
The majority of the project was funded by an emergency relief grant for elementary and secondary schools of approximately $120,000, which consists of COVID-19 relief funds. Funds are earmarked to address the social, emotional, and educational issues of students emerging from the pandemic.
Wright said teachers are already using it in their curriculum, and the SAD 4 School Board tested it out at a meeting earlier this month.
While looking at virtual reality, I spoke with Thomas College of Early Childhood Education, Professor Pamela Thompson About her research on the use of virtual reality to teach science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Besides STEM activities, a hacker portal (the name of the program) can help students with long-term information retention and self-confidence, and can be therapeutic, Wright said.
Thomas College’s Thompson contracted with the district to allow its students to work with elementary school staff to learn about customized math lessons and other instruction in virtual reality.
Wright said the Guilford School also wants to partner with companies to show students sights and sounds they wouldn’t otherwise see. Instead of just hearing facts about the dams, she said, they can get inside the turbines when business partners use a 360 GoPro camera to show the inner workings.
“Kids can see how this learning is implemented in the workplace and they can sort of have those early connections with companies and learn about these job opportunities,” Wright said.
Students also have access to twenty virtual reality headsets and eight GoPro 360 cameras to complement the experience.
The school has received one of only two Avantis World Scholarships in the United States, according to the principal, who did not specify the amount. The school’s three-year grant program will provide 700 lessons that can be used with 360 GoPros, and the content will be created specifically for PCES.
The school agreed to participate in a study being conducted by Harvard University and National Geographic because the University of Cambridge, Massachusetts, is conducting research on extended reality. He will lead the research team Eileen McGivney – PhD candidate in human development, teaching and learning, trainer and researcher – includes Erica WallsDeveloped by National Geographic Explorer.
Wright said employees met McGivney in August.
The principal said PCES also wants to use the Pirate Portal to establish a relationship with a sister school in Wales. She said the UK institution is located in a rural part of the country so there will be some similarities.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new teaching tool is planned for Friday, November 4th.