Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Voices From the Classroom: VR in the Elementary Classroom

The Office of Instructional Technology has the pleasure of working with extraordinary teachers throughout the Cherry Creek School District. "Voices from the Classroom" is one way we highlight innovative teaching and learning from the teachers themselves, in their own words.

Our guest blogger today is Pete Dirindin, Instructional Technology Coordinator from Black Forest Hills Elementary.

The students in 2nd grade at Black Forest Hills Elementary do an alien project each year. Their final project is to learn about adaptations that would be needed by studying the solar system and its planets. This project is presented verbally and digitally to parents at the end of the unit by creating an alien with adaptations for where it will be living. Hats off to their terrific teachers for creatively integrating science, reading, and writing into this project. We worked together to help build up some of their knowledge around space with many apps and websites as resources, but something new this year that added a whole new excitement while building background knowledge was Google Cardboard and a couple of free apps that explore space.

We began getting our hands on the Google Cardboard Kit by checking it out from the district library. The only ones available were the Google Cardboard without the devices. We checked out 24 Cardboards and picked them up from SARC. Denise Wendl and her talented staff had them ready for me the Friday before we were going to use them. With no devices to use in 24 cardboards, we turned to our staff for help. We set up a Signup Genius asking our staff at Black Forest Hills Elementary for their own phones to help out. Now asking adults for their phones is a tough thing to do, but we were able to muster up 8 phones total.

After looking through lots of free Virtual Reality apps, we decided on possibly introducing three to the 2nd grade students: Liftoff VRVanguard VR, and Google Expeditions. In the Signup Genius, we asked that teachers have these three apps downloaded on their phones. After realizing that Google Expeditions needs to have all devices connected to the wifi, and what this means for personal devices when using them with students in our classrooms. Not to risk phone calls or texts coming to the personal teacher devices, we chose not to use Google Expeditions for this experience.

During the virtual lift off app the students had a BLAST! The app took about 7 minutes or so to get through. We had 8 phones and 106 students in 2nd grade. We ended up going through 2 classes in an hour on one day and then 2 classes the next day during that same hour.

With the eight phones, we were able to pull eight students at a time to experience the Liftoff VR app. This app is a virtual trip to near space alongside a rocket ship. With over 100 students in 2nd grade, we introduced the Liftoff VR app on Monday to the students. During their research time on Tuesday and Wednesday we were able to get through 2 classrooms in an hour.
The experience itself for the students caused a lot of excitement.

The students were introduced to the Cardboard and explained three things:

  • If they felt sick or dizzy during the experience to take the Cardboard off their eyes and focus around the room.
  • Students started by sitting in their chairs. They were were asked not to walk around during the experience, but they could stand up and rotate around if they wanted.
  • Students were explained that to start this particular app they would have to focus on the blue dot and then hit the trigger button on the top right of the Cardboard.

The VR experience helped the students to better get a feel for the space exploration that they were doing in class. Through paper books, ebooks, websites their teachers had chosen for them to do research, the VR experience was a cherry on top and a great way to introduce another perspective of their research. In the small amount of time that they were experiencing the VR apps through Google Cardboard, the impact it had was talked about for days and weeks later as we had students working on their projects.

2nd grade is planning on using the Google Cardboard again after spring break when they are working on a project that is exploring our different ecosystems. Again, this will be used to help deepen the knowledge of the research they are already doing by giving them visuals of the different ecosystems. We are planning on using about 17 android devices this time and will be able to use Google Expeditions! The students and staff at Black Forest Hills can�t wait for this next adventure!

Our deep thanks and appreciation to Mr. Dirindin and all that he does for teachers and students!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

An Oldie, but a Goodie...

Three years in technology and blogging is a REALLY long time, but valid and creative ideas are most definitely timeless.  I wanted to share a post with you from late 2014 which still holds plenty of relevance today because this list really isn't about the technology, it's about quality (and fun) teaching practice.

Check out this list of 21 Things Every 21st Century Teacher Should Do This Year.  I'll meet you back here in a few minutes.

First, I'm not a fan of the term "21st Century."  I'm not even sure what it means anymore.  Don't worry too much about that.  If you're totally stuck on the term please read this post and this post.  "21st Century" is way more than a buzzword, it's most definitely a way of life in teaching and learning.

Second, these are manageable tasks.  I'm not trying to encourage you to do every single one of these things this semester, but choose one or two and see where it takes you and your students.  You never know what may happen (in a very good way.)  Going paperless for a week, participating in a Twitter chat, creating a class hashtag, and some others are very simple to try and/or implement.  Take it slow, be purposeful, and definitely GO FOR IT.

Third, I can't help but think about the potential impact on students here.  When teachers step outside their comfort zones there is some serious positive modeling going on.  You, as the teacher, don't quite know how things are going to go, but you are willing to try something new, and that is going to be appreciated.

So again, this particular post is pretty "old", but the practices and skills contained within it continue to evolve with the times.  Help make 2017 great by trying some new approaches and practices and see where things go from there!

***CCSD's Office of Instructional Technology is ALWAYS more than happy to support you and your colleagues (and, of course, students too) with the purposeful and meaningful implementation of technology into your instruction.  Please feel free to contact our team via email or via our request form.  We'd love to help you with your instructional adventures!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Happy New Year!

Hello and Happy 2017! For most of the world Jan. 1 marks the beginning of a new year, with new goals and resolutions to be achieved during the next 365 days. For most educators, Jan. 1 marks roughly the middle of a year that started in August. Our goals were set before our year started, our commitments to our resolutions have already been tested. This is a time where many of us recommit to those goals, check in with our progress, and continue working to get our students, our staff, and ourselves to the finish line. Because the personal new year and the teacher mid year collide for us, it�s important to remember to take care of our needs as non-teachers at this time. Here are a few great apps and extensions to help you take care of you in this new year!


Momentum is a Chrome extension for a new tab page that opens a different inspirational scene every day with a personal greeting and opportunity to set your goal or intention for the day. There is also a To Do list and a place to add your most frequently used links or search right from the page. It�s very customisable and a great way to take a deep breath before you start frantically scrolling through your email, Google Drive, and the 10,000 other tabs we all seem to have open at any given time.


Noisli is another extension that helps with productivity. It�s a sound machine right in your Chrome toolbar. You can create custom background noise to help keep you focused and improve your workflow. Save your favorites and play them right from the extension, or head over to the website to listen and watch the simple screen change from color to color. There is also a timer feature for those planning periods when you�re strapped for time and need to get the most out of it. This works especially well for the people who have a hard time staying focused when their favorite Pandora or Spotify station is on and they end up using their pens as drumsticks for an epic solo for your teammates. Hypothetically speaking, of course.

Bell of Mindfulness

Yet another Chrome extension (because Google!) to help you breathe and focus. The Bell of Mindfulness extension plays a calming bell sound from your computer at an interval that you choose. It�s purpose is to remind you to breathe and focus on the moment. If you�re finding you need this when you�re not on your computer, the Play Store and App Store have apps for your smartphone. MindBell is a great one, but finding the one that is right for you will help you get the most from this practice.


Changing the theme of your Google browser can make a difference in the feeling you get while working online. The Chrome Web Store has a section dedicated to themes, with virtually any combination you can think of. Try a few, and see if they make a difference in your working experience. At the very least, check out �Cornify!� to add a little sparkle and shine to your screen.

Here�s to hoping that January is off to a great start, both personally and professionally! If you have other apps/websites you use share them with us below!

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