Virtual Reality in the Elementary Classroom?

Before beginning my research into Virtual Reality, I considered it to be strictly for gaming or the movies!  I did not feel that it had a place in the classroom, especially the elementary classroom.  After researching scholarly articles, I found that, if utilized properly, can be a valuable tool. 

After researching three programs, Neopets, Roblox, and Toontown, I was swayed back to my original belief that Virtual Reality didn’t really belong in the elementary classroom except for use as entertainment or free time activities.  Then, I remembered the software programs “Oregon Trail” and “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” that were first developed in the 70’s and 80’s and are still available.  I loved learning through these programs as a child and they are still applicable today.  Fortunately, the graphics are far more detailed and interesting.  Both software programs are available through Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and are suitable for students in grades 4 to 8.  They also have programs called “Liberty’s Kids” and “Talking Walls” that are also suitable for grades 4 through 8.  I was even more pleased to find that they have a program that is available for grades PreK to 2 called Trudy’s Time and Place House.  All of these programs are social studies based and encourage students to enter the Virtual World and learn through problem solving and experiencing the time and place.  Finding these programs available did convince me that Virtual Reality does have a valuable educational place in the elementary classroom.

            When integrated effectively, Virtual Reality can afford students opportunities that they could possibly never have during their lifetimes.  Virtual Reality can bring the world into the classroom and transport students back in time.  Through the program “Talking Walls” students can visit places like the Berlin Wall and the Great Wall of China.  Using the programs “Oregon Trail” and “Liberty’s Kids” can take children back in time to truly understand what life was like back in colonial and pioneering times in our country.  Maybe my age is showing through but I always envisioned computer programs such as these as games, even when I used them back in grade school and middle school growing up in the 70’s and 80’s.  I didn’t realize that I was really learning.  Playing the game “Oregon Trail” brought the world of Laura Ingalls Wilder to life for me.  I am certain that it would do the same for children today.  Programs like Roblox can be precursors to engineering and designing careers.  The more that we expose our students to today, the better prepared they will be for tomorrow.

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