Top 5 Must-Have VR Experiences

I have spent the past year using the htc Vive to help teachers give students experiences that they cannot possibly have otherwise.  Through this year, I have compiled a list of five of our must-have VR experiences in SteamVR.  (Note: I have not added pricing information as it can change, but check for sales!)  These are in no particular order as they all served their purpose extremely well!

Google Earth VR

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The Roman Coliseum in Google Earth VR

It started out shaky; I’ve got to admit that I hated it at first.  I was not a fan at all.  It made me nauseated and it wasn’t very user-friendly.  With the addition of the search feature and the newly rendered locations, I am in love with Google Earth VR, and so are my students.  We’ve used this in several classes.  We explored the Roman Coliseum, enjoyed a tour of London, and stood at the summit of Mount Everest.  We found and labeled various biomes, went to Pearl Harbor to discuss why this was so important to our military during World War 2, and of course as everyone does, found our school!

theBlu

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This was my very first VR experience and will likely always make my top 5 list.  It would have to be a mighty contender to knock this one out of the top five.  I used this with every science class to discuss different content in each grade level.  With one grade level, we discussed bioluminescence using the experience called Luminous Abyss.  In another, we used the experience Reef Migration to discuss water pollution and migration of animals.  Finally, using Whale Encounter we discussed the magnitude of the oceans and ocean water.  This is also my go-to for the first encounter for others in VR.  It is a quick experience that shows exactly how immersive today’s high-end virtual reality has become.

The Lab

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This experience is brought by Valve, and has so many easter eggs included that it automatically makes my first list of top five.  I spent an entire afternoon just discovering easter eggs!  I have also used several of the experiences within The Lab to explore content from the classroom.  There is a human body scanner, which is fairly impressive to see the heart, brain, and lungs.  The solar system within The Lab is perfect to share inner and outer planets, planetary motion (both revolution and rotation), the asteroid belt, and to discuss size of planets.  Bonus – you can pick up the planets and throw them around like bouncy balls.  There is an adorable robotic puppy in The Lab that my students have loved playing with; he will even fetch!  Finally, and easily my favorite experience in The Lab is the Slingshot!  Imagine… you’re in a cardboard factory with boxes on top of boxes.  Placed between some boxes are loads of TNT explosives (yes, I know – so cool!).  You are given “cores” to calibrate, which just means that you are launching these spherical objects into the factory and the more damage you do, the higher your score.  Your score is given in dollars of damage! It’s great!  Two tremendous parts of this experience – tracer cores and core personalities!  Yep – there are boxes (they look like blue box fans to me) placed in the factory.  Hit one of those, and you can aim your tracer core shot – great for hitting the TNT in the distance!  In ELA, this game is perfect for point-of-view and characterization!  Each core has it’s own personality and talks to you.  They are hilarious, so turn up your volume!

Tilt Brush

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Another goodie from Google is Tilt Brush.  This experience is perfect for students to draw settings of stories, create 3d sculptures, generate nonlinear and linear graphs, and thanks to Jimmy Fallon – Tiltbrush Pictionary is a thing and can easily be done using vocabulary words in class!  This takes a few minutes of practice to learn the controls, but it is well-worth the time and money.

Water Bears VR

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Do you remember the app called “Where’s My Water?”  You had to dig through dirt to clear the route for water to reach a bathtub for an alligator… please say you remember that.  It was one of my favorites until I got stuck on a level.  Anyhow, this puzzle game is very similar.  You are given pipes and a water source, and these absolutely adorable animated gummy bear looking creatures in a bubble.  The goal is to use the pipes to move the water from the water source to the water bears to free the bears and move on to the next level.  It is super cute!  The levels get progressively harder and there is critical thinking and problem solving that must be used.  My personal favorite thing about the experience is catching the water bears when they are released and listening to their laughter at being released.

Bonus: Vivecraft

vivecraft

Let’s face it.  I can’t just do 5 must-haves.  I’m sorry!  Go get Vivecraft and let your students build and mine on Minecraft IN virtual reality!  They get to experience it through the eyes of Steve/Alex!  How cool is that?  Want to make it even cooler???  The coolest thing my students did this year with Virtual Reality was to create their own splash pads to scale, designing in class, building in Minecraft, then experiencing in Virtual Reality using Vivecraft!  It was pretty epic and the students (and teachers) loved the experience!

Comment with your must-haves from SteamVR!

 

 

Using MinecraftEdu to Create NC Map

Fourth grade students in North Carolina study North Carolina’s geography and history.  One of my favorite parts of my job as media coordinator is collaboration with classroom teachers to bring lessons to life.  Fourth graders in my school have been learning about the three regions of North Carolina, the coastal plain, the Piedmont, and the mountain region.  Students spent several days in class researching industry, geography, and major landmarks in each region.  In the past, students have created a map on cardboard paper using various materials.  They have even created Live Museums where each pair of students showcased their learning by sharing with other grade levels waiting in the lunch line.  Fourth grade teachers at my school wanted to take it to a new level this year and allow students to create a map of the regions of North Carolina using MinecraftEdu.

I have been running a MinecraftEdu club every Friday afternoon to test out ways to use MinecraftEdu in the classroom.  My MinecraftEdu club has been exploring various lessons in the MinecraftEdu World Library and I have really seen the value in using MinecraftEdu to teach various concepts in the classroom.  When fourth grade teachers approached me about the possibility of using MinecraftEdu in this lesson, I was ecstatic.

The first thing I did to prepare for this lesson was look for a map with the North Carolina border already created in MinecraftEdu.  I could not find a single one.  So, I used the Flat World (Original Style) Map from the World Library as a starting point.  Using a North Carolina map with latitude and longitude lines, I began to block off my image to transfer into MinecraftEdu.  Basically, each latitude and longitude line would be separated by 20 MinecraftEdu blocks.  This allowed me to keep the integrity of North Carolina’s shape while keeping the area of the state manageable for my students to cover in the limited amount of time they would have in MinecraftEdu.

gridlines

Once the latitude and longitude lines were in, I started outlining the state using the paper copy of the map I had blocked off.  I started on the east coast because I knew it would be difficult to do.  I would place a few blocks, then fly to see if it looked right.  Then I would place a few more blocks, and fly to see how they looked.  It was basically trial and error.  I abandoned the idea of creating the islands of the Outer Banks due to constraints in the area I had given myself.  After a few hours of work, I am pretty proud of the final product that will be uploaded into the World Library soon.

ncmap outline

From this point on, it was up to the students!  The teachers and I decided to start with the coastal region and build from east to west.  Each region was given 45 minutes to work collaboratively to create symbols of what they had learned about their region.  Students had various levels of experience in MinecraftEdu; some are in my MinecraftEdu club and some have never played before this project.  Because the coastal region was first, we ran into some quick problems with the ocean (specifically the flooding of what would be South Carolina and Virginia) and had to start completely over at one point.  Another problem we faced: I began by allowing students to remove lines of latitude and longitude if needed and upon seeing the black border of the state disappear, we started over and I told students they could not remove any pink or black blocks and they must contain the ocean in the blocks provided.  After about an hour of working (including having to restart), the seven students assigned the coastal region were finished.  They included a shark, a pirate ship, beach houses, seafood restaurants, sand for beaches, tourists tanning on the beach, and palm trees.  The ocean even had a strong current in it to represent the movement of the waves!

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You can see they were very particular about keeping the Piedmont region out of their coastal plain, so they went as far as to create a visible division between the two regions.  The Piedmont was next and within their 45 minutes, they created Bank of America stadium (Go Panthers!), McDonald’s, and skyscrapers.  They also created a forest of “apple” trees using oak seeds, but the oak trees overtook the skyscraper, so we had to cut down an entire forest.  This led to an spontaneous discussion about deforestation and a debate about cutting down trees vs industry, which was an excellent unexpected learning opportunity!  The seven students who studied the Piedmont also took it upon themselves to make a border so the mountain region would not build in their area.  The students were very territorial about their regions!

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The last region to build was the mountain region.  They discussed where the foothills would be and decided as a group (with my permission) to move the border created by the Piedmont so they could have ample room to build the mountains and have a section for the foothills.  They were adamant about having the foothills represented as that’s where our school is located.  After 45 minutes, the mountain region had created a good-sized mountain range and the Mount Airy Granite Rock Quarry.

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Once all students in the class had the opportunity to add something to the map, the MinecraftEdu club members put on the finishing touches.  They dubbed themselves “experts” and made everything come together nicely!  They also added a lighthouse to the North Carolina coast, the Krispy Kreme headquarters (with a donut on the top, HA), a race track to represent North Carolina’s role in the creation of professional racing, and the Biltmore House in the mountains.  The final touch was a beacon to show where our school is located in the foothills.

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As I watched the students work, I was amazed at the level of knowledge they had about North Carolina’s geography, industry, and landmarks!  These students came with an idea about what they could add to the map to represent North Carolina and they worked together so well to create what I consider to be a masterpiece.  I posted several times on Twitter with updates on this project, which were shared and liked many times (thank you for that).  Each day I would remind the students that their work was being shared globally and many people were waiting to see the finished product.  The students gave everything they had to this project and far surpassed any expectations I had for this project.  Their learning is evident in ways that a standardized test could never showcase.  I am a firm believe in the power of MinecraftEdu in school and I can’t wait to work with my fifth grade teachers to create biomes in MinecraftEdu in the coming weeks!

*A link to a walk-through of the completed NC Region Map will be added soon.