It’s been quite a year. You and your students deserve some fun! The Activities and Investigations focus of this issue of Science and Children presents a great opportunity to look at ways amazing (and free) augmented reality technologies can complement tried-and-true inquiry learning to create fun and engaging science experiences for students. In this Tech Talk, we’ll take a look at two apps that are a great fit for inquiry learning and bring a real “wow” factor to the classroom.
Technology has the potential to extend students’ reach into the world around them, increase their access to concepts and resources, and help to make learning fun and memorable. Augmented reality (AR) is just such a technology. AR works by overlaying 3D digital image files onto the real-world background visible through your mobile device’s camera app. Once the AR image has been “placed” in your space, use the device to view the digital image at all angles. Zoom in/out for a better look. Go ahead, get up out of your seat!
The student-centered inquiry method is a terrific instructional strategy to use with AR experiences. In inquiry learning, students are tasked with collecting relevant data from lesson resources/experiences and making sense of it to formulate answers to an inquiry question. The scale of the inquiry can vary, ranging from large system conceptual questions to small-scale single observation-based questions. Inquiry questions can guide learning in a single lesson, a whole unit, and beyond. Teachers and students can play different roles in inquiry learning. Though students are charged with answering the inquiry question with data collected through their learning experiences, the driving question and investigation methods can come from different sources. In more structured or guided inquiry, they come from the teacher, while in more open-inquiry experiences, they come from students. With no resources needed beyond an internet-connected computer/tablet, highly engaging technologies such as augmented reality apps offer low stress opportunities to give students more power over what and how they investigate the world around them. So if you’ve been thinking about empowering your students to take more control over their science learning, AR apps are a great place to start.
The two apps described below feature AR technology with remarkably good graphics for no-cost, non-gamified educational resources. Get ready for delighted laughter and exclamations as your students work in these apps. They will be up, talking, sharing, and moving around the room holding the tablet in front of them as a lens to examine each AR image from all angles.
Group students in pairs or small groups for discussion, exploration, and peer troubleshooting while interacting with the technology. However, try to keep devices 1:1, even if limitations on resources mean you keep this experience as a small-group station. If you go the station route, just be sure you have dynamite resources at the other stations to balance the AR. Note that AR technologies tend to be battery intensive, so you’ll need to plan for this if students are cycling through a station with the same devices.
When it comes to AR, place matters. While you can certainly use AR apps inside your classroom, you might want to give students more space by using the auditorium, gym, or cafeteria (during off-hours). These apps do best with some clear floor space. Be sure to try these apps out in places you could use with students with school devices in advance. Ample light is required for the AR technology to function so keep the overheads on. Another option to consider is taking students with their devices outside to the playground/hardtop for learning with AR if your school’s wireless signal reaches; just be aware bright sunlight can make it challenging to see details on a tablet screen.
In 2021 the Google Expeditions app was shuttered and its modified content became available through the Google Arts and Culture (GAC) app. This was disappointing because the exciting Expeditions were disbanded, making them difficult to find. Today many former virtual reality (VR) Expeditions are now available in GAC as static 360° images, navigable via panning with mouse or touchscreen. While the migration to GAC has rendered the VR resources less than inspiring, the small but growing body of AR resources is doing well. The library includes AR science images of modern and ancient animals and space travel. It’s worth taking a look to see how this fun, free, and widely accessible technology can support your instruction.
AR images can have an incredible wow factor. GAC has some well-chosen resources that maximize the wow. There is nothing like having children study a five-foot tall 3D virtual rhinoceros beetle in the middle of their story time rug through AR technology on tablets. However, if your students do not have access to mobile devices, they can still enjoy the GAC’s AR resources on the website, where AR resources have been adapted for non-mobile devices (e.g., laptops). Non-mobile devices have access to the “Object” view, a feature that allows users to interact with the digital AR images. Object view offers many of the features available in the full AR experience. Mobile devices (e.g., tablets) have the option of Object or AR view. Both views offer access to 3D content with incredible zoom capabilities. The GAC search tool is solid, which helps because the library of resources is large and not organized for ease of K–12 use. Don’t be daunted. GAC resources are broad enough that your efforts will be rewarded with content relevant to your learners in multiple academic domains.
The detailed and interactive 3D imagery of GAC’s AR resources allow users to closely examine external features of organisms at their own pace and in their own ways. This time, access, and ability to interact with the imagery aligns with the learning needs of our young students. When accessing the GAC app or site, be specific in your instructions for students to ensure they navigate to the correct resource. If they are the using the website, consider providing them with direct links to the site to support their ability to access the resource in your LMS. To access 3D images of animals in the AR themes in the GAC app/site, type “AR” into the search bar. Choose the AR Theme to get to “Reality Check” where users can scroll to find animals, space, history, and other GAC AR resources. If working on laptops/desktops/chrome books, children will be limited to “Object” view, which allows for highly detailed inspection of features. With mobile devices, students can use the Object or full AR view, the latter of which creates a truly exciting and dynamic learning experience. Here are ideas for engaging learners in NGSS science and engineering practices. Find links to apps, resources, and NGSS@NSTA Performance Expectations for engineering practices under Online Resources.
Analyzing and Interpreting Data: Use a guided inquiry approach to target 1-LS1-1 with your first graders by engaging them in the analysis and interpretation of GAC AR resources to build their background knowledge of the external structures animals have to help them survive, grow, and meet their needs. Students will likely know basic information about fish having fins, but they may not have had the opportunity to closely examine the intact fins of a range of finfish species. This is also a great time for children with fishing experience to share their expertise. Over the course of multiple lessons/stations, provide students with a series of inquiry questions that help them tune in to specific animal structures, such as “What structures do animals who swim in the sea have?” “How do these structures compare to animals that live on the seafloor?” “How do fish fins compare?” “Are all fish fins the same?” Time spent analyzing the GAC AR resources via inquiry investigation will help prepare children for the engineering component of 1-LS1-1 standard.
Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions: After guided inquiry investigations of animals in the GAC AR app/site, it is a great time to set a design challenge for students that builds upon their investigations. For example, have students use lessons learned from fish fins to design a solution that will help us swim faster than we do with our arms and legs. Help students to use the Object view of the GAC site or the app to support planning in groups; this view will let them make careful observations. Whenever possible, provide time and resources for students to implement their design plans to create, test, and refine their solutions—it helps to build their engineering skills and they will love it!
|Tech Overview: Google Arts and Culture|
The World Wildlife Fund has a library of great educational resources including several high-quality apps. The award-winning WWF Together app and the new WWF Forest app, both iOS only, are stunning and well worth your time. Here, we’ll explore a third app from WWF, the remarkable WWF Free Rivers app. Free Rivers uses AR technology to turn your classroom into an interactive virtual river valley. The dynamic nature of the AR river valley makes it an exciting choice for inquiry learning. Check out the short video linked in Online Resources to preview the app in action.
The no-cost WWF Free Rivers app is available for Apple and Android mobile devices. Users are presented with an interactive AR river valley ranging from headwaters to mouth and including features from the natural and human-built environment. At first glance, the large-scale river valley view may seem familiar because it is commonly represented as a static image in textbooks. Users get the benefit of this large-scale systems-view plus access to interactive tools such as zoom, navigation throughout the river valley, and control over different features of the natural and human-built systems. If you’ve used a stream table in the past, you’ll likely admire the stream table-like control available to students, along with the additional benefit of features such as clouds and farms plus far less prep and cleanup.
The WWF Free Rivers app lends itself to any sort of inquiry with your fifth graders, from structured and prescriptive to entirely open. Though you won’t find the term watershed in the NGSS elementary standards, the concept is a natural fit for both this app and for fifth-grade Earth and space science standards 5-ESS2-1, 5-ESS2-2, and 5-ESS3-1. Take an inquiry approach with your fifth graders, building instruction around a driving question and let them dive into the river to find answers. Start smart by giving students five minutes or so for free exploration with the app. If time allows, come back together as a group to review features they discovered, identify any they missed, and answer questions. If you use this app experience for data collection, be sure to provide the data sheets to students while they are working with the app. Here are ideas for engaging learners in NGSS science and engineering practices. Find links to apps, resources, and NGSS@NSTA Performance Expectations for engineering practices under Online Resources.
Asking Questions and Defining Problems: Students are amazing at asking questions and AR helps you build their inquisitiveness into lessons. Take advantage of the low-risk virtual environment and put students in the driver’s seat by tasking small groups with exploring app features, identifying several questions they could investigate with the app, and sharing questions back in whole group. A cloud-based spreadsheet program like Google Sheets makes this quick and easy to project on the board. Have students practice parsing testable and non-testable questions. Consider also having students classify the group’s questions in ways that help them tune into the model, such as: (1) natural environment, (2) human-built environment, or (3) interactions between the natural and human-built environment. Support your English learners and students with disabilities by permitting students to investigate the question of their choosing, not only the ones developed by their own small group. Throughout the app work, be sure students are grouped for learning support and peer tech trouble shooting. This leaves you freer to have those important conversations with students as they work to formulate inquiry questions and investigation methods. Consider having students document their proposed methods with something quick and easy like a Flipgrid before dedicating writing time to documenting their finalized methods, later on.
Developing and Using Models: This river valley system is a great platform to use in support of multiple aspects of this practice. First, this is a terrific model for students to practice identifying limitations with the model. Consider engaging them in this process after they investigated their research questions because they will be very familiar with the ins and outs of the river valley model. Second, the in-app graphics adhere to the laws of natural systems, which enables students to engage in describing and predicting phenomena as well as testing cause-and-effect relationships. This app provides students the unique opportunity to explore the interactions between natural and human-built systems.
|Tech Overview: WWF Free Rivers|
Google Arts & Culture
World Wildlife Fund Free Rivers App.
WWF Free Rivers App Facebook Demo Video (no login required): https://www.facebook.com/worldwildlifefund/videos/wwf-free-rivers/10155692054209794/
Performance expectations for science and engineering practices from NGSS@NSTA
Asking Questions and Defining Problems
Developing and Using Models
Analyzing and Interpreting Data
Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
Heather Pacheco-Guffrey (HPACHECOGUFFREY@bridgew.edu) is an associate professor and researcher of science / engineering methods and technology applications in STEM for elementary and early childhood teachers at Bridgewater State University in Bridgewater, Massachusetts.
Computer Science Instructional Materials STEM Teaching Strategies Technology Elementary
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