Vintage Hills Elementary and Pleasanton Middle School students are set to participate in a Google Expeditions program today where a Google team will provide virtual, immersive field trip simulations.
Hart and Harvest Park middle school students participated Monday.
Select schools nationally and internationally were chosen from a pool of applicants for the program's first year of presentations, which are free to schools.
Google Expeditions uses smartphones and a handheld viewfinder, called Google Cardboard, to show children places, people and cultures that they are learning about in their classrooms, said Scott Padway, instructional technology coach for Pleasanton Unified School District.
"We've been taking students on field trips for a very long time. It's just taking it to another level," he said. "Before you know it, you're standing under the Eiffel Tower; You can go to medieval castles."
While Google Expeditions don't replace physical field trips, they do allow students to go places they wouldn't be able to go otherwise due to time, cost and physics for example, traveling back in time.
The expeditions allow children to wander around areas like deserts, Roman ruins or 1770s Pennsylvania without leaving their school campus. Students put the smartphone in the cut-out viewfinder, put it to their eyes and gaze around while a teacher narrates the adventure. Content boxes appear on the phone while the student looks around.
Google staff bring mobile phones with them to the expedition presentation, and students take a cardboard viewfinder, put the mobile phone inside and hold it up to their eyes. With the light blocked out, all the students can see is the program's app displayed on the phone, which shows panoramas of the places the students are exploring and moves around as students turn their heads.
"If you're taking your class scuba diving, and all of a sudden a sea turtle appeared, you could have the content pop up and explain sea turtles," Padway said.
Cheri Weinhagen, who teaches computer, technology and robotics classes at Hart, plans to lead her sixth-grade class on a tour of Mars, as seen from Mars rover "Spirit."
"I'm always trying to get my students to think 'out of the box' about different ways they can use technology to improve their own experiences and make the world a better place. This project is a perfect example of how that's done in real life," she said.
Weinhagen said she hopes these expeditions will help students visualize the subject at hand in a more interesting medium than a documentary or black-and-white photos.
"The Expedition immerses students in the virtual field trip which generates enthusiasm and engagement," she said. "For my classes, the Expedition is an added bonus because one of my main objectives is to help students understand that engineering and technology is not just for building rockets and bridges, but it can be used in many different applications and settings to improve our quality of life."
Pleasanton teachers were able to choose from expeditions to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C., Mayan civilizations, the depths of the ocean, a Dubai skyscraper and the landscape of Mars, among other trips.