augmented reality

How augmented reality enhances the classroom — even without technology

Beyond your local Pokestop, there's a world of opportunity for AR and learning

AR also taps into an especially challenging age to teach, middle school. In elementary school (Grades 1-5), students are concrete learners who pretty much take the world as the teacher presents it to them. Every parent of a child that age has heard plenty of sentences beginning with, “Teacher says…” By middle school years (Grades 6-8), students start to develop abstract thought and processing. They also start to see that the world is inconsistent or not exactly how it might have been presented to them before. Not everyone is a winner, not all kids are nice, and lying is not always absolutely wrong, such as to avoid embarrassing someone.

Presented with having to cope and succeed in a potentially chaotic world, tweens try to take control of their tiny corner of individuality and seek self-empowerment. Psychologists call this the search for seriation and classification, but a lay person would observe it as a preoccupation with putting things in some sort of order, from schoolyard arguments over which is the best sports team to which people or trends are “in” and which are “out.” Kids at this age also become involved with games and otherwise determining social hierarchy, from monster card games to cliquish rumor mongering on the schoolyard. Indeed, many such coping-with-chaos skills continue into adulthood, as we argue on Facebook and other social media about which people are the “good guys” and who are the “bad guys.”

This is AR. We take reality, and we overlay our understanding for comprehension or entertainment value. It’s also what has fueled the ongoing Pokemon Go craze, wherein people walk about the world using their devices to find and capture Pokemon that are hidden throughout our otherwise observable world. There might be a Pidgey on your porch, or that old clock in the center of the square may be a Pokespot to get more Pokeballs.

So if we all do it, whether in hunting Pokemon or in analyzing the stock market or politics, why not tap into it more for education? This can be done with a few simple tweaks by the classroom teacher (while more professional AR educational programs are being developed):

  1. Start where the students are. A teacher should not start with a “Kids know nothing” attitude. Begin with the students’ perception or understanding of the concepts or situation as a base reality. What do they know about the world regarding this topic? If you give them a word, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?
  1. Make education empowering for kids. Now the kids can add a layer on top. What questions, challenges, or problems do the kids see with reality as they perceive it? What are the issues, and what can be done to solve them (a real solution and, perhaps, one crazy, fun one, too)? During this stage it is important for a teacher to not discount fun as a motivator. As stated above, future return on investment is not enough, so where is the engagement hook now for the student? Also, when making a game, it is human nature to have more fun winning than in making “everyone a winner.” If a teacher is worried about wasting class time to make a lesson fun, then consider it an example of long term investment.
  1. Finally, finish with time for the teacher to do an educational overlay. Here is the payoff for the classroom. The kids have enjoyed their time, but now the teacher must use his or her skills to show the students how they are better prepared to meet future challenges (in gaming and the real world) from what they have previously done. Why, historically, were there so many communal clocks in old public squares (that then became Pokestops) and why do we not build them so much anymore? How did you calculate the winning strategy, and under what circumstances might that strategy be useful in the future?

In following these steps, a good teacher can create their own AR learning environment, even perhaps with few or no electronic devices. People should remember that, while everyone oohs and ahs about the latest technology, and while technology can enhance learning, the driving engine of learning has always been, and always will be, the student’s engaged and active mind.

This year may be remembered as the year AR truly came to the forefront. It is interesting that this craze has arisen amidst a summer of intense American racial strife and a divisive election. My elder son (formerly fearing of bugmen), now a college student, tells me of hundreds of people gathering in the park in Houston, hanging together, collecting, and interacting like never before. As he postulated, perhaps the players, seeing the world as so divisive, have overlaid an activity that allows more genial, cooperative existence as an AR tonic.

It’s not a tuning out of reality, as VR might have it, but a way to take bit of control and move more freely about the noise and chaos. Perhaps, both inside and outside the classroom, AR is the talcum powder we all need.


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