FLORENCE, S.C. – At McLaurin Elementary School, students can travel to the Great Wall of China while sitting in the school’s media center, no admission tickets or travel expenses necessary.

These field trips are possible through virtual reality. Students wear headsets with handheld devices inside. Using a tablet, teachers broadcast images to the devices.

“It gets them involved and interested in a way that I couldn’t,” said Robin Bevill, a fourth-grade Montessori teacher at McLaurin.

Headsets recently arrived, and teachers are now introducing students to the more than 500 professionally created field trips accessible through Google Expeditions.

Stephanie Thomas, the media specialist at McLaurin, learned about virtual reality field trips at a conference.

“I just thought what a great idea it would be to be able to take our kids to all of these places and involve them in the curriculum,” Thomas said. “Instead of showing videos and pictures of things and reading a book, we could kind of let them step into the place and really pull them into what they’re learning.”

Thomas applied for a School Foundation grant titled “Field Trips without Wheels” and received funding to purchase 60 headsets.

She said she was thrilled when funding came through. Thomas said the virtual reality field trips will be particularly effective for students at McLaurin.

“We are a Title One school, and there isn’t always funding to go to all of these places, and we would definitely love to go to Antarctica or the space station or anything like that,” Thomas said.

Students at McLaurin are reading “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” for their schoolwide reading. Instead of booking trips to Antarctica, teachers are taking students to the media center to introduce them to the continent Mr. Popper’s penguins are from.

“They feel like they’re actually there,” Thomas said. “I think it just makes everything so much more interesting for them, and they all can’t wait for their turn to use them.”

For each field trip, talking points and questions are loaded on the teacher’s tablet. During an excursion, teachers expound on information discussed in class or preview future topics.

“This is a great starting point for whatever unit you want to do,” Bevill said.

Thomas said she would like to create virtual reality field trips of her own with students’ help. Footage of local sites would be recorded, and students would help with narration.

Thomas said creating field trips will help students practice using technology.

While field trips would not be shared on Google Expeditions, Thomas said, she would like to share them with other schools in the district.

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