Imagine taking a field trip to Antarctica. Or do you prefer to visit Australia’s Great Barrier Reef? What is it you long to see? Now imagine you could travel to these places without leaving home. Beyond the abilities of video, or color pages of a book, the technology of virtual reality is making immersive and interactive experiences real for our high school students.

With a generous grant from the Lake Forest High School Foundation in 2019, and teacher training last summer, students are now using virtual reality headsets to explore the world – in 3D and with 360-degree viewing.  

To contextualize: Virtual Reality (VR) is the use of computer technology to create a simulated environment. Through the use of a head-mounted display (the screen is in front of your eyes, like goggles) and a large library of interactive, educational content, virtual reality offers learners the opportunity to step into places, roles, and experiences that were previously impossible, or at the very least, inaccessible from inside the walls of the classroom.
Virtual reality is another avenue to offer students additional learning opportunities.  
There are many ways virtual reality can be used in a classroom. Access to a large and growing database of free, educationally-based software is included with the VR hardware. For example, with the Google Expeditions app, teachers can curate a digital field trip for the entire class to locations like Antarctica, the 7 Wonders of the World, NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center, or even the inside of a human cell. With Google Tour Creator and a VR Camera, teachers and students can create their own Google Expeditions.

Joe De Rosa was one of the first teachers to use the VR headsets. He took his World Civ. freshmen students on a guided field trip through the cosmos. “I loved seeing the students smile, hearing the “ooos and ahhs,” and watching the students point here and there with a curious delight. I was amazed. I’m no astronaut, but I just took a room full of wide-eyed freshmen to space,” he said. “Welcome to the future!”

During the first week of school, seventeen different classrooms used the VR headsets - that’s more than 300 students interacting with the technology.
In several classes, students partnered and participated in a team-building activity where one of them was defusing a bomb (virtually, of course), and the other student navigated a manual and verbally dictated directions to their headset-clad, explosive-defusing partner. “The engagement level was off the charts,” Juliano said.

One telling comment came from a somewhat skeptical student (first day of class, new technology, somewhat unconventional activity) - after removing the headset and refocusing her eyes back to the realm of reality, she smiled and said to her friends, “Okay, that was actually fun.” A biology teacher joked that the activity went so well and that the students were so into it, she was worried she had set the bar too high for the entire school year. “It’s all downhill from here!” she said in jest. 

LFHS students in history and language courses will be using the VR headsets to immerse themselves in the cultures they’re studying. The vast library of educational software makes possible a trip to the Colosseum in Rome or the underwater habitats in the Galapagos Islands. 

Aside from the use of Google’s library, students can also create their own environments to study. Science students can create an environmental map of Lake Forest using Google Earth and a 360-degree camera. Animation students can interact with the 3D designs they created with their animation software, Maya. CAD Engineering students can create interactive 3D CAD drawings and use the “explode” feature to dissect individual components. The possibilities are endless.

Or, as Dr. Seuss puts it, ‘Oh, the places we will go!’
Previous Ed Tech Grants Still Having an Impact:
Sound Studio Provides Professional Production Opportunities
Other recent Educational Technology grants have also bolstered educational technology at Lake Forest High School. Among them is the Sound Studio, which allows students to create podcasts and produce class projects as well as personal sound work. The Sound Studio has become popular among student reporters for the Forest Scout who use the professional equipment to create high-level broadcasts for the school news site, just as they would in radio/audio journalism.
WeVideo Used Across the Curriculum
Since the online video-editing platform, WeVideo, became available through a Foundation grant, more than 1,200 students have utilized the technology to express their creativity. The grant provides 500 simultaneous licenses for students at LFHS and more than 95% are in constant use. Students create screencasts for business and foreign language classes, product history videos in MGI, family history projects in World Civ, environmental impact videos in Environmental Science, and more. 
TEDxLFHS has gained considerable momentum over the past five years and is one of the more established TEDxYouth events in the area. During that period more than 100 students have participated on stage while their talks have been viewed more than 100k times on YouTube. TEDxLFHS has become a meaningful tradition at LFHS. “Our favorite aspect of the event is that students get to take the stage and talk about what they're passionate about. It's not something assigned to them in class; they are doing this by choice. It's pretty powerful stuff,” says Jimmy Juliano, instructional technology teacher. 
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