Diving, Head First, into Virtual Reality

July 10, 2016

I often get strange looks when I'm at a tech conference. You know the situation - the one where you're sitting in a room full of thousands (none of whom you know) and the lovely teacher next to you decides to break the ice. Without fail, "Which school are you from?" is followed by the ever-important question "and what do you teach?". It's at this point that I get 'the look'. I mean, let's be honest, PE teachers just watch kids play sport, right?!


As a PE teacher, however, I feel it's more important than ever to be modelling the latest in technology and pedagogical practices. After all, we're a hands-on subject out in the field - if we relied on passive chalk-and-talk in the classroom, we'd be a walking contradiction! And PE teachers thrive on organised chaos, which really lends itself to interactive technologies and self-directed learning in the classroom environment.


I'm a huge advocate for organised chaos. I want students having fun within the confines of the classroom walls. I want students learning out loud. I want students debating different ideas and ways of doing. I want students leaving my classroom every lesson with smiles on their faces, enthusiastically re-living their lesson in their lunch breaks. I want my class to be the one they talk about at the dinner table - because every time they re-live the lesson, they're consolidating their learning. So yes, I'm all about the latest and greatest IF it will have a positive learning impact on my students!


In the past, I've used design thinking 'slam' sessions, Problem Based Learning, Live-Streaming interactive technology and online cartoon creation to name just a few gossip-invoking classes. Just recently, however, I stepped it up a notch. I wanted a 'wow' factor that could overcome end-of-term fatigue and still make its way to the dinner table that night. Google Cardboard was the answer.




After stumbling across some Google Cardboard information a few months ago, I decided to see what all the fuss was about. For just $12 (with free shipping), I was stepping into the world of Virtual Reality before I'd had a chance to re-think it. And I was hooked. In a big way. I literally giggled with excitement as I entered the first Google Cardboard Demo scene - I mean, I was chasing birds, patting dogs and jumping from cliffs just by tilting my head - how cool i s that?!


If I was giggling with excitement, imagine what my classes would think! That was the clincher. I hopped back online and ordered 12 more Google Cardboards and began searching for VR apps relevant to the physiology unit I was doing with my Grade 9 HPE class. And I found some! Apps that would allow us to ride an intra-cellular rollercoaster, apps that would allow us to shrink and enter the blood stream via a microscopic spacecraft, and apps that required us to eliminate viruses whilst preserving blood cells - and my students LOVED IT!



Whilst, at this stage, the VR apps have a long way to go in terms of their educational potential, the 'wow' factor they invoked created a great platform for deeper learning activities upon exiting the virtual world. All in all, my students had jaws wide-open, teachers passing by had envious eyes and parents received a barrage of excitement at the dinner table that night. Mission complete!

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