Best of the Week 2018-2019: Teaching to the Future
This week, Ms. Sabrina Gushue's Honors French II class traveled around Paris, exploring the city's streets and famous monuments through virtual reality (VR). In collaboration with Engineering Department Chair Mr. Matt Falk '98 and Assistant Director of Innovation and Computer Science teacher Mr. Anthony Mortimer, Ms. Gushue's French class used VR glasses made in-house to transport themselves from their desks across the world. Using open sourced designs from Google Cardboard to create their own version of VR glasses, Mr. Falk and Mr. Mortimer laser-cut parts with MDF (wood fiber boards) and provided lenses, magnets, and other materials for students to assemble the VR glasses on their own. "I really enjoyed learning from Mr. Falk and Mr. Mortimer about the process of creating our own VR glasses and collaborating with them on executing this activity with the students," says Ms. Gushue. "Teaching to the future involves interdisciplinary projects in which the students can connect different disciplines. Being a part of assembling the VR glasses themselves and then being able to use them allowed the students to try something new in a collaborative manner while learning about latest applications and culture at the same time."
Once the glasses were completed, students connected to YouTube's "Paris 360° Experience" on their smartphones which they then fastened to the front end of their VR glasses. Once they put the glasses on, students immediately stepped into an immersive cultural experience, as if they were standing right in the middle of Paris. This experience tied into Ms. Gushue's French unit on Paris, learning and understanding the city's culture, architecture, art and history. "We discussed the value of international travel in regards to becoming a more globally-minded and culturally literate person at the beginning of the unit," says Ms. Gushue. "I wanted the students to be able to immerse themselves into the culture. Two of my students are actually going on the France Exchange next week, but not everyone has a chance to go, so I wanted to bring France to them."
Students also received individual passport booklets which allowed them to document which monuments they visited while on their trip and spoke in French, particularly practicing the past tense, with Ms. Gushue to describe what they saw while wearing the VR glasses. The virtual reality experience took students to see places including the interior of Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Mona Lisa in the Louvre and of course, the Eiffel Tower. After seeing the students' reactions to building their own VR glasses and experiencing another city's culture, Ms. Gushue is planning on implementing more lessons using virtual reality in her French classes. "It's amazing how many opportunities VR glasses offer for the language classroom," says Ms. Gushue. "My French III class is currently learning about the French overseas departments and I want to take them on a virtual reality field trip to the Caribbean Islands of Guadeloupe or Martinique. In other classes, we are learning about holidays and traditions within the French culture and I'd like the students to experience these French festivities in an authentic setting. Adding a kinesthetic component to the learning experience allows the students to enhance their learning and engage in real-life contexts."