Augmented Reality. We’ve all heard of it by now, but what exactly is? Whenever I’ve been asked this question, be it from students, fellow educators or parents, I always start with “Remember Pokémon Go?”. It was during the time of Pokémon Go that I really started to look into AR and the what, how, when questions that come with it.
It was the spring of 2016, in Spain where I was teaching at the time, that the world went Pokémon crazy! I remember seeing hundreds of people near monuments, in parks, by roundabouts, just staring at their phones… and getting excited. This got me thinking, what is this? So, for a week or so, I admit, I played Pokémon Go.
How did go? It was exciting, enthralling, fun, engaging, addictive and more. Being a teacher, who works closely with technology, these were adjectives I love to hear when talking about learning. So this was when I started to look at ways of bringing AR into the classroom, all with the hope of replicating some of those feelings.
At the time, there were one or two apps out there, but nothing that I could have said: “genuinely improves the students learning experience”. So I continued searching, then about a year ago, I discovered Merge Cubes – via a tweet I may add.
These are hand-sized, soft cubes, that every side can be used to project/trigger an AR experience. I believe that these cubes started out as a toy, but quickly, for whatever reason (thank you Merge!), they started releasing exciting educational apps. There a number of these by now, maybe 6 or 7, but the main two I want to highlight are Mr Body and Galactic Explorer.
Mr Body is an app that concentrates on learning more about the Human Body. Students can use it to gain awareness of the body, where organs are located and delve a little deeper into functions of these organs
Galactic Explorer is all about the Solar System. The app projects the sun and the planets orbiting (including animation) around it. In the same way, as Mr Body does, this introduces students to a topic that they can then explore further. Students can zoom into a specific planet, see what it has orbiting it. It also provides a brief summary of the planet and its workings.
Part of my role here in Hong Kong is to search and source tools, be it app/software based or hardware based, that we can integrate into our classrooms. One of the main criteria I have when searching for the “perfect” tool is Vertical Planning. How can these tools be used at various grade levels within the school? I do not want to invest (time and money) into tools that may only be used once or twice a year, by one class in a grade. Merge Cubes meet this criterion comfortably. Both the apps I mentioned above could be used throughout Elementary School. Grade 1 could use them as an introducing to a topic, to learn where certain parts of body/solar system are located. Grade 5 could use them to learn specific functions of the body/how the solar system actually works. At the same time they can use the “screen-record” tool and create a presentation on the topic (the possibilities here are endless: green-screening, video editing, presentation to groups within their class or even presentations to students in the grades below.)
I also looked at ways of replicating the Merge Cube to be used as visuals around the school (this is something Merge are happy with and something they actually promote.) So, with an all in or nothing attitude, I printed out a 170cm X 170cm poster of the front of the cube. And it worked! This took the AR experience to another level. The Wow factor that AR brings to the classroom went through the roof. All the students were mesmerized for a few minutes as the took it all. It was great to see. What we have done now, is printed out a few of these to put up around the school. We have had issues with students trying to sneak in some “game time” during transitions or between after school clubs, we have found with these types of visuals (we have other AR ones about too,) students have looked to explore these. Again, it’s great to see!
Here is a link to my Merge print-outs.
So where do I see Merge Cube going, and AR in general? I think Merge is definitely in its infancy stage, with them releasing new educational apps monthly. So there is a still a lot left in those cubes yet. And AR, it too is still only now starting to become more common in education. Where a few years ago it was more game oriented, developers have seen a market in education and with this has come more and more great apps, which, as I mentioned before, are “genuinely improving our students learning experiences.” It’s an exciting time to be an educator… let alone an 8-year-old.