Students at Whiteaker Middle School use Google Cardboard to take a virtual trip. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

Students at Whiteaker Middle School use Google Cardboard to take a virtual trip. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

With the aid of some cardboard, lenses and a cell phone, James Decker’s Whiteaker Middle School social studies class took a trip from the castles of the United Kingdom to the peak of Mt. Everest to the African jungle. All in 25 minutes.

“I expected like a virtual reality thing, but this was totally unexpected. It is more realistic,” said student Adrian Weathers. “Getting to go to the top of the castle was the best part. It reminded me of Captain America: Civil War and the places you see in the movie.”

Last week, Weathers and other students at the school took part in Google Expeditions Pioneer Program, a project offered by Google allowing students to take virtual trips to far-flung places by turning a cellphone into a three-dimentional viewfinder.

Using Google Cardboard, which transorms a cellphone into a device like the old ViewMaster toys, and images supplied by technology similar to Google’s Streeview cars, the goal is to create an immersive experience for students and opporunities for them to see places they might otherwise never travel to.

In Decker’s class, students toured several castles that they are learning about in class. They took in views from turrets, found secret passages and discovered the hidden room where royalty would listen in to the conversations of guests. Each student in the class is teaching others about specific features of castles and the middle ages.

Student Griffen Hubbard said it helped inform his presentation on armor and weapons.

“Seeing the full suit of armor in the queen’s room was pretty cool. It helped to get to see their actual armor and weapons on display,” Hubbard said.

Matt Hurst, an instructional coach at Whiteaker, said teachers at the school were using the expeditions in a variety of ways. Throughout the two days students had access to the technology Wolverines explored castles, U.S. monuments, Madagascar, Rome, holy places in Jerusalem, the Great Barrier Reef and careers as chefs.

“This technology is adaptable to so many content areas from sciences to social studies to math,” Hurst said. “We had language arts classes using it and special education classes using it.”

As with any new gadget there were some stumbling blocks, but Hurst said even those are useful when it comes to teaching.

“Once you put a device in teachers’ hands and students’ hands and it totally changes the way we teach,” Hurst said. “On the other hand, it’s a good thing because it models what it means to be a life-long learner even if something doesn’t go perfectly.”

Regardless of whether it went off without a hitch every time, students at the school were getting a unique experience. Whiteaker is one of the first Oregon schools to take part in Google Expeditions.

“Coming in and having this experience is something that no one else they know will have done,” said Hurst.