Google Expeditions brings virtual reality field trips to area schools

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Google Expeditions Pioneers Program, the company’s educational venture that lets teachers take students on digital trips via virtual reality, is coming to some Massachusetts schools through the month of March.

The first schools chosen to receive a free virtual reality kit from Google are Revere High School, John F. Kennedy Elementary School in Jamaica Plain, Algonquin Regional High School in Northborough, and the Bartlett Community Partnership School in Lowell.

Using what’s inside — Google Cardboard and Android phones for students and a tablet for teachers loaded with software to guide the virtual reality trips — students can see faraway places without leaving their desks. Teachers receive training on how to use the equipment, which is lent to schools and returned after one day.

An inexpensive way to turn a regular smartphone into a virtual reality viewer, Google Cardboard is just that: pre-cut cardboard with lenses and a slot to insert a smartphone. When strapped to a user’s head and used with accompanying software, Cardboard creates the illusion of being dropped into a scene.

The virtual reality gear gives students a 360-degree view of places like Madagascar and the North Pole, the Great Barrier Reef, and the moon.

Teachers can choose from more than 100 locations and up to 50 students at a time can plug into each trip.

In addition to tours of Buckingham Palace and the White House, there’s also a setting that lets students try out various professions, from scientist and social worker, to pilot.  

The program also features virtual college tours of Berklee College of Music and Brandeis University. Spokesperson Patrick Lenihan said Google may add more college tours as a way for students to visit campuses far from home.

Google launched the program in September and it says more than 500,000 students from the US, Canada, and Sweden have participated. It will expand to schools in Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, and the U.K., according to a September blog post by Google.

A Google spokesperson said the pilot program allows the company to test future applications of virtual reality in the classroom.

Google says applications are still being taken for Boston-area schools and it will accommodate as many schools as possible before the program switches cities at the end of March.

Teachers and schools interested in applying can do so here

Globe correspondent Amanda Burke can be reached at amanda.burke@globe.com.
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