The eighth graders worked on a collaborative, virtual-reality based project about one of the novels they recently read during our human rights unit, including Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm, Unbroken, The Help, and several others. The students were tasked with re-creating a key scene or scenes of their choice, using CoSpaces, that their classmates could ultimately visit and experience via “Google Cardboard” virtual reality goggles. The goal was to teach their audience at least three key things about their books related to setting, characters, plot, conflict, and/or themes.

After students chose their books, they decided whether to work as a group of three, a pair, or individually. Then, they set about planning their scene or scenes and choosing what to incorporate. They sketched their ideas on paper before exploring the CoSpaces software, which is where they designed their scenes and incorporated various characters and events. While working, they asked each other questions, collaborated, communicated, and experimented with ideas. Students went back to their texts and reread passages to insure accuracy.

Years ago students worked on similar projects through poster boards or dioramas. These were also hands-on activities, yet only one person could work on a particular scene at a time, and once something was created, it was difficult to revise it. In contrast, with CoSpaces, two or more students could work on the same scene, manipulating items simultaneously. They could also experiment through trial and error and make multiple revisions before considering anything final. This led to a higher level of collaboration and creativity. Furthermore, as an English teacher, I was pleased with the genuine connections students made with their texts. They were visualizing settings and scenes, incorporating key characters and symbols, and discussing their novels’ important conflicts and themes – and in the process, thinking deeply about their reading.

“The project really made me envision the scenes of the book and gave me a deeper understanding of the text.”

~student reflection

After creating their virtual worlds for almost three class periods, the students used their phones to scan their classmates’ projects’ QR codes in order to view and experience them with the Google Cardboard virtual reality viewers. This is when the scenes came alive…as viewers, we could “walk” into a new world, take a look around, and encounter characters and scenes unfolding. For example, in Lord of the Flies, we watched the boys dancing around the fire, chanting, while the the wild boar roamed the jungle and the man hung from the parachute, all important symbolic scenes from the novel.

Feedback

The student feedback was exceptional! Here are a few of the reflections from the students:

+It was a lot of work but it was worth it…
+It gave us some freedom to explore and be creative but also reflect on our book…
+It was cool to be able to create a world and then be able to see it as if you were in it yourself…
+The project really made me envision the scenes of the book and gave me a deeper understanding…
+You got to really experience the setting and different scenes in the book instead of just imagining them…
+Doing the VR project really helped me imagine the scenes and make my thoughts come to life.

Inspiration

The idea for integrating this Virtual Reality activity came from the Upper School Division Meeting (faculty meeting) three weeks ago. Mrs. Miller, the Educational Technology Teacher, introduced the technology to us and collaborated with many faculty members to create these engaging learning activities. Thanks to Mrs. Miller who did the research and preliminary work to help us enjoy a seamless, innovative learning experience.

Any time we can learn something new and experience it hands-on makes for a positive addition to our curriculum and proves that technology and English class can go hand-in-hand.