VR in the Classroom

FCIT boasts 12 and soon to be 16 Lenovo Daydream VR headsets. I have used them in my teaching to make a learning come more alive. I’m thrilled to report that other teachers have joined me.

Cristina Pérez recently brought her class to the tech suites for two days of Virtual Reality. It took some time to prepare. She spent the equivalent of two full blocks meeting with Dan and me to prepare for the lesson. Cristina also took home a VR headset to prepare her lesson. She will be the first to admit that it took a good amount of work. But Cristina was so excited by the results that she plans to bring her students back in a month to “tour” Machu Picchu.

I asked her about her thoughts on the experience. She shares her reflections below:

The VR component of my “Reconquista” curriculum was the highlight of the unit.  My students had been studying (in very broad strokes) the history of the Iberian Peninsula from the collapse of the Roman Empire (~400CE) to the defeat of the Moors in Granada in 1492.  In the south of Spain, in particular, the complicated history involving Romans, Visigoths, Moors, and Christians can be seen, concretely, in much of the architecture.  The Cathedral / Mosque of Córdoba is perhaps the most dramatic example.  By taking a VR tour of the complex, the kids were able to see how incredible the space is, and how the history of all the people who worshipped there over the centuries is reflected in the architecture and in the materials from which it was built.  The oldest part of the mosque was constructed in the 8th century using columns that the Moors “recycled / reused” from the Roman temples and amphitheaters that had been there earlier.  As the Córdoba Caliphate grew in population and importance, the mosque was expanded three times and became one of the most important and largest mosques in the world.  But in 1236, the Christians recaptured Córdoba and consecrated the mosque so that it could function as a Catholic cathedral.  Not long after, they decided to tear down the middle of the mosque in order to build a gothic cathedral right in the middle of the floor plan.  What the kids were able to explore in the VR tour is a remarkable combination of these architectural styles and materials.

I created a map for them of the interior, and assigned them, in pairs, to “find” five different items in the complex.
On the first of two days in the tech suite, speaking only in Spanish, the students had to take turns wearing the VR headset and navigate the space in order to find the items.
On the second day, I had the pairs return to two places: the Mihrab and the high altar.  Then they had to write a paragraph in Spanish comparing and contrasting colors, the materials, the important features of those spaces.
Here’s what one student had to say about the experience en Español.
Among other things,  Julian says, ..”it allowed me to look at the architecture of the cathedral and it was very interesting. I really liked the art.”
Here’s what he saw. (Except in VR it is 100 times better.)