This time we want to welcome you in a city of Kingston, situated just next to Boston, MA. In local Kingston Intermediate School, we’re gonna meet Shawn Avery – technology teacher who can serve as a great inspiration and a proof that VR in education is nothing to be afraid of. Shawn has managed to get two HTC Vive’s into his classroom and thanks to Lifeliqe, he’s just rocked the hearts of his students. And how did he feel about doing just so? Keep reading in the interview!
Hi Shawn, so let’s start easy: how long have you been teaching?
I will be entering my 13th year as an educator. That time has been split between teaching third grade, fourth grade, sixth grade and now technology. Next school year will be my fourth year as a technology teacher.
What do you like about teaching?
I love meeting with parents and hearing them say, “my child talks about your class all the time.” It’s great to know that in a world where technology sometimes isolates people from the outside world, I’m able to use it in a way that connects and resonates with students. I love knowing that they want to share what we’re doing in class with family and friends.
I had a really difficult time leaving the traditional classroom to step into a different role. I went from seeing, 20 or so students 6 hours a day for 180 days. There were a couple years of students that I even had twice when I made the leap from fourth grade to sixth grade. You get to know the students so well. You get to know the families so well. You see growth on a day-to-day basis. Going from that to seeing over 600 students a week, only seeing each class once a week for 40 minutes was tough. There’s definitely a change in how well you get to know every student that you work with. However, I love now that I get to spend time with so many students that I never would have otherwise.
Talking about the students, can you describe your school a bit?
We are a grade 3-6 school about half an hour outside of Boston (unless you’re dealing with traffic and then it’s definitely nowhere close to a half hour)! We currently have about 600 students with 6 to 7 classes per grade level. I see all of those students on a weekly basis (see answer to question directly above). We have an amazing group of children and an extremely supportive parent and community foundation.
Sounds like a great place to teach. How did you learn about Lifeliqe?
I learned about Lifeliqe the way I learn about most educational tools, through Twitter. Twitter has been an amazing resource for me in terms of making connections and learning. I spoke earlier about how technology can sometimes isolate people but it can also be such an incredible tool for collaboration and professional growth. I recently saw a post on the Lifeliqe blog featuring a teacher librarian named Julie Hembree (see our previous blogpost about Julie). I saw the picture and went “I know her!” Even though we haven’t had much of an opportunity to connect recently due to our busy schedules, we actually connected previously through Twitter and blogging and even met up for lunch once when she was visiting near my school!
You have been using Lifeliqe VR Museum with you students. Can you tell us more about the experience?
This year, I was fortunate enough to get two HTC Vive virtual reality headsets in my classroom. One was funded by a local parent organization and the other through a crowdfunding website for teachers called Donors Choose. I have to say, they absolutely transformed my classroom and some of the possibilities for how to engage students.
I was able to utilize the FREE Lifeliqe virtual reality app that was available on both Steam and Viveport to share some extremely unique experiences with my students. How many children can go home from school and say, “Mom. Dad. Guess what I did today? I got to pet a Stegosaurus!” Or, “Today in class I got to fly around the International Space Station and there was even a race to see who could get through all of the rings around the ISS the fastest!” These are experiences that we only were able to have because of Lifeliqe.
Beyond even those more interactive experiences, I think a couple of my favorite things in Lifeliqe VR Museum were the 3D models of cells and the layers of the Earth. Being able to resize, rotate and even select individual parts of these models to learn about them was just so much better than seeing a flat shape of each in a book. And even though my focus is on technology, it gave much an engaging way to connect technology with the curriculum that students are exploring in the classroom.
How do students like it?
From the time that we got our first HTC Vive, I’m not sure that there was a day, or a class even, that didn’t ask, “are we doing virtual reality today!” Even I loved taking time to “research” for new lessons in class by exploring (and I do actually mean research to prepare for future lessons but it was the most fun research I’ve ever done). The students absolutely love it and are always looking forward to their next opportunity to use the Vive and Lifeliqe.
That must have been so much fun! So base on what you did with your students, what do you think the biggest benefits of using Lifeliqe in learning?
There are so many ways that students can access educational content. Beyond a traditional textbook that has been utilized for so many years, most students can now access videos or interactive websites that provide a new way to explore and acquire understanding. However, there’s nothing that can provide a learning experience quite like the feeling of actually being somewhere and being able to focus all of your attention solely on one thing. Students of today are so easily distracted and how can they not be? With TV, smart phones, the ease of searching the internet, it’s easy for anyone to be distracted. But when you slip on a virtual reality headset like the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift and enter Lifeliqe’s VR app, there are no distractions. You are totally immersed in the virtual world around you and the 3D models you can explore.
Do you have any future project you want to use Lifeliqe VR for?
Unfortunately, due to my time constraints with students, it’s tough to fit in projects. However, I want to continue to use Lifeliqe as a bridge between classroom curriculum and technology. It provides such an unforgettable experience that if I can continue to use it as a way to reinforce concepts that students are learning about, it’ll will be an invaluable tool within our school going forward.
We’re keeping fingers crossed, Shawn!