Surry County Schools teachers can now take their kids on a field trip to anywhere.
A trip to the edges of the solar system, an adventure under the sea and a visit to ancient Rome are all possible with the help of some equipment the schools recently received through a grant.
Meadowview Magnet Middle School is now host to a virtual reality room, and teachers from throughout the county district are able to incorporate such excursions into their lesson plans. The system was made available for use in January.
Lucas Gillispie, director of academic and digital learning for the schools, is charged with overseeing the new system, which he said has been a long time in the making.
“Virtual reality has been something we’ve been looking at for a long time,” said Gillispie. “Technology has now caught up with the vision.”
Gillispie said the school got an H.T.C. Vive virtual-reality system paid in full through a grant from foundry10.com. The $800 system includes goggles and two hand controls. The school system had to only provide the computer that drives the device. Software was also paid for by Foundry.
On Tuesday, Gillispie was busy showing media coordinators from throughout the district how the system works and what it has to offer.
“It can give students experiences which are otherwise impossible or impractical to provide,” explained Gillispie.
He noted one program can take children on a scuba diving trip which brings them face to face with a blue whale. Through a Google Earth Virtual Reality program students can be placed anywhere in the world. They can tour the beaches of Normandy or wander through the streets of London.
Students can shrink to explore the inside of a cell, and they can also paint in a three-dimensional world and build structures in a game of Minecraft, said Gillispie.
The program can be applicable to all subject areas, given the wide range of programs and experiences available.
In exchange for providing the equipment, the schools offer data to Foundry. Students take surveys before and after their experiences.
The media coordinators from throughout the district, who are charged with an additional duty of being their school’s expert on digital learning, took the opportunity to explore a number of worlds on Tuesday.
Gillispie said the room at Meadowview is a bit of a pilot program. Students at the middle school use the program, but teachers from throughout the district may bring their students to the facility.
Some classroom teachers are incorporating a visit to the virtual reality room into their visit to the science center, which is housed at the school, explained Gillispie. Eventually, the room might go mobile, as there is a capability to move the hardware with relative ease. Time will tell how the room is used in instruction.
Dr. Jill Reinhardt, assistant superintendent charged with overseeing curriculum for the county district, indicated their is much learning value associated with the virtual reality system.
“The virtual reality experiences afford students opportunities they cannot have in traditional brick and mortar classrooms,” said Reinhardt.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.