Educators engage students with immersive learning tools

By: Ayana Byrd

Verizon Innovative Learning HQ offers free access to next-gen learning for all

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After completing a school year like no other, educators now have a chance to reflect on the steep learning curve they faced — and overcame — when education went remote. As they prepare for the 2021–2022 academic year, teachers will have a remarkable new resource at their disposal: Verizon Innovative Learning HQ, an online education portal that offers lesson plans, credentialed professional development and next-gen learning for all, to help ensure no student is left behind. It’s part of Citizen Verizon, the company’s responsible business plan for economic, environmental and social advancement. The initiative supports Verizon’s digital inclusion goal to help provide digital skills training to 10 million youth by 2030.

The free site provides educators, students and parents with engaging education materials, including innovative learning apps such as UNSUNG, Mapper’s Delight, 5G Covet and Visceral Science, the Career Day app, and credentialed professional development offerings focused on technology integration into the classroom through Teacher Training Pathways. The portal ensures accessibility through educational content that is compatible with a wide variety of devices. In the video above and the text below, early adopters of the Verizon Innovative Learning HQ portal’s resources share how they energized their curricula and their students’ interest in STEM education.

Demetrius Juarez explores icons of the Harlem Renaissance via augmented reality with his history teacher, Christopher Green. (credit: Michael Cirlos)

Using future-forward tech to witness history

Long before Christopher Green became a United States history teacher at Jeremiah Rhodes Middle School in San Antonio, Texas, he was a boy growing up in the city and struggling to see his experience reflected in textbooks. So when he became a teacher, he knew what needed to change. And thanks to UNSUNG, he has the ability to make it happen.

Created by Movers and Shakers NYC, augmented reality app UNSUNG offers an interactive experience where students move through 3D puzzles and meet and learn about iconic Black women from the Harlem Renaissance. Correct answers unlock different rooms that students can “enter” and explore even more about the person’s life.

Green used UNSUNG in all six of his history classes during hybrid learning. “It's important for my Black and Brown students to see themselves in the curriculum. UNSUNG puts them into that experience in a way that makes it more tangible,” he says. “One of the important things about using tech in the classroom is figuring out ways students can be creators and tell stories about themselves and their ancestors.”

Herman Fayad, Verizon Innovative Learning coach at Rhodes, is excited to see how technology like that used in UNSUNG will continue to push his school’s instruction forward. “Last year was productive because we got to learn what technology has to offer,” he says. “Now we can run into the 2021–2022 school year and continue to refine and get better.”

Anita Venter uses the Verizon Innovative Learning HQ STEM activities and a 3D printer to make her students’ design projects come to life. (credit: Ezra Spurrier)

Taking hands-on learning home

Switching to remote learning was a challenge for most educators, but Anita Venter faced an additional obstacle. The seventh- and eighth-grade STEAM teacher at Ralston Intermediate School in Garden Grove, California, typically has her class work on hands-on automation, robotics, design and modeling projects that require supplies that cannot be replaced by a computer screen.

But Venter didn’t panic — she turned to what had worked well pre-pandemic, Verizon Innovative Learning HQ STEM activities created via a partnership between Verizon and nonprofit Project Lead The Way (PLTW), which provide teachers nationwide with free interactive K-12 STEM activities. She knew, and trusted, the quality, and discovered that additional content had been added to support remote learning. “It was a very easy transition. They did a very good job of updating the software with videos and distance learning tips,” she says.

For the 2020–2021 school year, Venter tapped the 3D printing and wearables curricula, sending students supplies for designing bubble wands, name tags and a Valentine’s Day-themed project that involved fashioning wearable hearts out of felt, conductive thread and lights. For the printables, she loaded student designs into the 3D printers in her classroom while her students were remote, and mailed their completed projects home. “Project-based and hands-on learning make education come to life,” Venter says.

A student crafts a song using Arts Beats & Tech. (credit: GRX Immersive Lab)

The sweet sound of success

Many of Rebecca Yaple’s students at Bayside Middle School in Virginia Beach, Virginia, want to be rappers when they grow up. So when Yaple, who is the Verizon Innovative Learning Lab mentor and teaches seventh- and eighth-grade math, needed a way to reward some of her hardest working students, she turned to the Art Beats & Tech app. Created by GRX Immersive Lab, it helps students collaborate via virtual reality to produce music and spoken word. “It’s given them hope, fun and discovery along the way,” says Yaple.

Yaple is excited to reintroduce the technology this school year. The band teacher is even looking to start a music club. “It will be a chance to say, ‘Here’s an hour after school where your only assignment is to build. Just go in there and collaborate,’” Yaple says. And while she uses the app with students with a demonstrated interest in music, she believes it’s a rich learning resource for all, imparting lessons on physics, math and entrepreneurship. “It’s a great tool for someone who knows nothing — that’s where I started!”

Davis Middle School student Jeffrey Aquino launches into space with the Visceral Science app. (credit: Ezra Spurrier)

Out of this world learning

Most educators want their students to take what they learn in class and use it to conquer the world. But Jose Gonzalez, Verizon Innovative Learning coach at Davis Middle School in Compton, California, wants his students to leave this world. “My dream is that there’s going to be a Mars colony, and it’s going to have faces that look like my kids because they’ve been exposed to these STEM opportunities,” he says.

Should life take them to another planet, they will be well prepared thanks to the Visceral Science app that Gonzalez integrated into his hybrid learning lessons. The app, created in partnership with World Science Festival and Columbia University, uses virtual reality to help students explore stars, planets, black holes and entire galaxies.

Gonzalez and his students used the app to consider what life could be like for earthlings living on Mars. “Kids recreated the surface of Mars based on NASA topography maps. Then some built rovers to explore the surface; a few planted tomatoes after comparing Earth and Mars’ soils; two built biodomes,” he lists. “In another class looking at equity and social issues, students talked about what a truly representative government would look like on Mars. They even created currency made out of recycled plastic.”

Gonzalez says Visceral Science is the polar opposite of the way he learned about science, using decades-old textbooks that were missing significant advancements. “Discoveries are added as soon as they happen. So the kids are learning about now, not something from 10 years ago,” he says. “This is experiencing science, not just reading about it, but actually living through it. This is what the future’s going to look like.”

These tools and more are available to all nationwide through the Verizon Innovative Learning HQ portal.

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