Tag Archives: virtual reality

Trending EdTech at #ISTE18

One of my personal highlights ending the school year is attending ISTE – The International Society of Technology in Education Annual Conference. This is my third ISTE conference and with the tens of thousands of people attending, you are sure to meet edufamous authors, edtech companies, friends, and teachers who are excited by technology and teaching, just like yourself! This year ISTE has taken over Chicago and the learning is nonstop from workshops to playgrounds, to parties, and demonstrations. I most likely burn the battery on my phone and laptop within the first two hours of getting to convention center before I take out my Rocketbook and start jotting down notes in an old school way.

My first two days attending ISTE I have noticed some common themes running through the conference among presenters and edtech companies worth noting as we reflect on the future of schools and educating young minds.


  1. Let’s Play: Gamification and Game Based Learning are Thriving. Don’t confuse the two. Games for learning or game based learning is using games to meet learning objectives. These are the companies that are putting out games for skill knowledge and mastery like science based Legends of Learning or a new company Go Go Brain, a new startup, who offers free games online that build metacognition and executive functioning skills. For Game Based Learning think Quizlet Live, Quizalive, Plickers, and Kahoot. Whereas, Gamification is using elements of games to engage students.  As my friend and amazing teacher, Tisha Richmond @tishrich, presented a workshop “Game On: Adventures in the Gamified Classroom” on Sunday, “gamification is a framework to layer over curriculum.” With gamification there is a story, theme, and game mechanics. In her own culinary arts classes she has gamified her culinary arts class with three different semester long thematic games: The Amazing Race, Master Chef, and the Amazing Food Truck Race. Gamification is immersive. To read more about Gamification and my own adventures in Gamifying my 8th grade ELA classroom you can check out my previous posts on gamification.
  2. VR and AR are more than just a Trend – I am talking augmented reality and virtual reality, Merge Cubes, Google Expeditions, and more. After meeting and speaking with 2018 ISTE Virtual Pioneer of the Year, @mrshoward118,  I am imaging so many more awesome scavenger hunts and learning experiences that I can create for my students using AR and VR to promote literacy. Here is a great beginner’s guide to using Merge Cubes in the classroom. There are so many ways that you can use this technology across content areas and grade levels. In my new book Personalized Reading I talk about Virtual Reality for building background knowledge but it is also a vehicle for storytelling and teaching content like with Story Spheres. Story Spheres allow users be the authors and creators of interactive experiences using 360 images and sound.
  3. Creativity needs to be taught, it’s not innate. It was about six years ago that Sir Ken Robinson stated in a TED Talk, “schools kill creativity” and since then there has been the Makerspace Movement and Genius Hour. These are two vehicles for promoting creativity in the classroom but in actuality, creativity should seamlessly be embedded within content area classrooms and across grade levels. The ISTE standards even require students to be Creative Communicators. Our students are in school preparing for jobs that have not been invented yet and for world problems that need solutions. We need students to be creative thinkers and problem solvers to help repair our world and the growing problems — social, emotional, economical, and scientific, including health and environmental. Teachers can foster creativity in the classroom by including play, problem based, and project based learning that are meaningful and authentic. I had a meeting with the CEO of EdgeMakers, Chris Besse and their new curriculum that promotes innovative thinking, creativity, and entrepreneurship. I was excited to see some of the lessons and pieces of their middle and high school curriculum because its objective was to cultivate creativity, growth mindset, collaboration, and problem solving among teachers and students.

4. Meaningful Makerspace. Makerspace and DIY is huge right now as we continue to fuel student creativity, curiosity, and failing forward thinking. The concept is to be a spark students and help them to ignite a passion for making, creating, tinkering, and problem solving. But maker space and STEM Labs must be not for the sake of creating a kitchy 3D printed key chain but more thoughtful in the use and purpose. For example, The Hand Challenge  was born of a desire to help anyone with access to a 3D Printer be able to be a part of work that can change the life of a child. Or having students who are working on Genius Hour projects that help the community in some way. Makerspace and STEM should not just be for the sake of a trend, but incorporated in authentic ways that are community based utilizing 21st Century Skills: collaboration, digital literacy, global connections, problem solving, and more. Thoughtful objectives and planning need to go into creating Makerspace and STEM labs with proper training and support for teachers to be facilities and support design thinking.


5. Party Like a Rock Star Teacher – Teachers and EdTech companies really know how to party and hopefully you continue to party when you go back into the classroom (make learning fun, playful, and social when teaching). Evenings are filled with lots of PARTIES and events that allow teachers to connect and unwind and this year #ISTE18 was no different. Everyone is hosting a party and the hottest ticket is Edtech Karaoke if you are able to get a VIP pass at the House of Blues but there are also smaller social events going on like Alice Keelers’ #eduCoffee at 6AM for early risers at the hipster coffee house The Spoke & Bird or Edmodo’s party at the Field Museum after hours. Every tech company has something going on so just ask – or if you rather have a bite to eat of a Chicago hometown eat, get a bunch of people together and enjoy. ISTE is about connecting, learning, and celebrating teachers of course. As @theTechRabbi mentioned in his keynote, We have to cultivate passion and creativity in ourselves if we are going to expect it from our students.

6. UDL – I wrote in my book Personalized Reading, “Learning is blended, personalized and digital.” Universal Design for Learning or UDL is a framework that is at the forefront of education today. UDL is a framework for designing instruction that meets the needs of EVERY learner. UDL is not about technology but it is clear that technology is powerful for the options it provides. When teachers plan and facilitate learning with all learners in mind, offer flexibility in the methods of presentation of content material, student participation and expression increase along with high achievement for all students, including those with disabilities or limited English proficiency. Alongside of UDL, assistive tech can make learning awesome for all. It’s about offering multiple means of engagement and empowerment, multiple means of representation, and multiple means of action and expression.


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To Infinity & Beyond: Immersive Learning with Virtual Reality

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

Franklin’s words resonate with the ISTE Standards for Educators. Particularly since Virtual Reality allows teachers to design “authentic learner-driven activities and environments that recognize and accommodate learner variability” (ISTE Standards for Educators 5). Virtual reality and augmented reality offer students an interactive, three dimensional learning experience that “maximize student learning” so “students can gain mastery of content area knowledge.”

Google describes Expeditions as a technology tool to, “enable teachers to bring students on virtual trips to places like museums, underwater, and outer space. Expeditions are collections of linked virtual reality (VR) content and supporting materials that can be used alongside existing curriculum. These trips are collections of virtual reality panoramas — 360° panoramas and 3D images — annotated with details, points of interest, and questions” (Google, 2016).  Within Google Expeditions the teacher is the guide and facilitator, and the students are the explorers. For historical artifacts, scientific unit of study covering marine life, space, and even geography. There are over 500 Google Expeditions that students can participate in to have a visual and experiential learning opportunity. Learning can happen beyond the walls of the classroom with AR and VR.

Google is not the only one to offer virtual, experiential learning. Additional VR experiences are available through Discovery Education and are categorized by themes, free on the website. Discovery Education also offers Educational Events, virtual tours and webinars to help teachers get started with Virtual Field Trips.

The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History is one of many museums to offer virtual tours of their permanent exhibits. By downloading the The New York Times VR App, students can “stand alongside Iraqi forces during a battle with ISIS or walk on Mars.”  With virtual field trips there are no walls dividing learning spaces, VR allows students experience outer space, under water, and travel the world without leaving their seat.


The educational platform Nearpod has over 350 ready to teach VR lessons and 3D objects that don’t require VR Headsets. I observed a high school teacher use Nearpod’s Virtual Field trips with a classroom of 10th graders in AP Global Studies class where they virtually toured Angor Wat in Cambodia from their desks in Rye, New York using cell phones and crome books. Schools can pay for a subscription to access the virtual field trips and along with the VR aspect of Nearpod, school licenses give more options to teachers creating interactive lessons on this digital platform. Nearpod works with Google Classroom and works on any digital device. The self paced lessons or teacher led lessons allow students to work at their own speed and can offer scaffolded materials to support diverse student learners.

Timelooper is history based VR platform that allows students to have a first person account of history. The website states, “Empower your students to experience history, inspiring them to ask questions, fueling a desire to learn more. Through comprehensive primary source-based lesson plans and the immersive VR experience your students will journey through moments that bent history, all without leaving the classroom.”

With.in creates story based virtual reality like Clouds Over Sidra, a VR experience with twelve year old Syrain Refugee, Sidra taking you on a tour of the refugee camp she is living at with her family in Jordan.


Utilizing expeditions, promoting student talk and conversation, offering writing opportunities post expedition can help students build academic language proficiency and their knowledge of the content material. Expeditions and Virtual field trips are scaffolding opportunities to help make sense of larger concepts and ideas that might be difficult to read in a textbook or content specific texts.

What is engaging about virtual reality versus watching a video or slideshow, students are immersed in a learning experience. Museums have excellent resources to support teaching and learning but for a school unable to get there, VR is the next best thing. Virtual Reality and Augmented reality take global collaboration to the next level, connecting, engaging, exploring, and examining remote destinations from multiple viewpoints to broaden understanding and learning.

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