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Ninth-grader Kristyan Martinez (left) and his sister Destynee, a junior, flank sophomore Youry Smith during a demonstration session in Room 293 during Power Hour on Monday.

Manchester Among First In Country To Take Google Expeditions

Students from throughout Manchester are taking amazing far-flung field trips this week, with no transportation costs, no permission slips, and no concerns about chaperones or telephone trees or EpiPens.

“This so is cool,” said Destynee Martinez, a junior at MHS, as she clutched cardboard googles to her face during a demonstration session of a brand-new Google virtual reality app during Power Hour on Monday. “I’m deep in the ocean looking at turtles.”

Destynee was exploring a coral reef using Expedition Pioneers Program -- the latest ingenious creation from the folks at Google -- which was officially launched nationally on Monday, just hours after it was demonstrated at MHS.

Expeditions are virtual reality field trips, and are billed as a great way for teachers to make their curriculum come alive by “giving students a deeper understanding of the world beyond the classroom.”

How does it work? Well, students don a pair of cardboard goggles that hold a small iPhone-like device. Their teacher, meanwhile, has a tablet which is synched up to the phones.

As the class takes its journey -- along the Great Wall of China, or through the streets of Verona -- students can turn left or right, look up or down, and completely control what they see.

“It was like we were scuba diving -- somewhere in the Caribbean, “ said Youry Smith, an MHS 10th-grader..

Google has an ever-growing menu of destinations. During Monday’s demonstration they were transported -- at teacher Jess Loucks’ command -- from the Great Coral Reef to a jungle in Africa, and then later to a street outside the Colosseum in Rome. Other destinations that are available? Anywhere from Mars to the American Museum of Natural History. Google is also planning to create virtual reality experiences such as spending “a day in the life” of a veterinarian or computer scientist.”

Google introduced this technology a few months ago and is slowly making it available to schools throughout the country. Manchester jumped to the front of the line thanks to Loucks, whose official title is technology integration specialist. She made some connections when she traveled to Los Angeles during the summer to attend a Google-sponsored event that focused on geotechnical studies.

“I’m ecstatic,” said Loucks, who learned last last week that Google wanted to beta-test the product in Manchester.“We’re very fortunate to have this opportunity and definitely want to purchase kits for ongoing use in the district.”

Jose Teo, the Google employee who brought the Expedition kits to Manchester, said he was in New York last week introducing the product to schools there, but said Manchester is the first district in New England to have used them.

Kerri Kearney, the district’s IT director, said Manchester has already purchased 25 of the cardboard goggles. Kearney said the district will soon be purchasing devices as well, and that Expedition will be in regular use in classrooms by late fall.

Loucks said they will be hugely beneficial as instructional tools.

“They bring immediate engagement -- they hook kids, and curiosity is always good,” Loucks said. In the long term, she added, “This can be so enriching and kids can go places they have never gone before.”

In addition to allowing students to take expeditions during Power Hour on Monday, the kits were also used in a few classrooms at Illing on Monday morning and at the high school after that. On Tuesday, they will be in use at Keeney and Washington elementary schools as well as at other elementary schools during after-school sessions.

“This is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen,” said freshman Braden Wallace, who was among the 50 students who tried them out during Power Hour. He had a suggestion though: “They should add video so it would be like you were in a stadium at a concert.”

Braden said the technology has tremendous appeal for students.

“Let’s say a teacher wanted us to know what is like on the observation deck of the Empire State Building,” he said. “Describing that from a textbook is just not the same.”

Added junior Jakia Westbury: “It brings you places you’ve never been before.”

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