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Are you an AR innovator?

A librarian and PBL specialist shares her best practices for turning an exciting technology into a powerful teaching tool

My library is not quiet. As much as I can, I strive to have my students engaged and excited about learning and exploring new things. One of those new things is augmented reality (AR).

Recently, an AR company gave interactive lessons for my class of 25 sixth-graders. The company was here for three hours and my students were engaged and excited the entire time. It was amazing to watch, and I thought, “This is a medium that we definitely have to explore.”

The challenge with this technology is that it looks fun, but many of us don’t have a concrete plan to incorporate it into learning or an idea of how (or if) it will impact student learning. Here are four tips that will help.

1. Connect AR to project-based learning
As the school library specialist, I’m also the head of project-based learning at Oregon Middle School in Medford, N.Y. One of our English teachers was also intrigued by AR so we put our heads together. She was starting The Diary of Anne Frank with her 8th-grade honors classes, so we had her students conduct background research into what the rooms in Anne Frank’s attic looked like. They found everything from the dimensions of the rooms, to the pieces of furniture, to how many people had to hide in the attic.

Then they were able to recreate the attic using the AR platform from 3DBear. We moved tables around and the kids climbed up on things, laid down duct tape with yard sticks to get the dimensions perfect, and added AR bunk beds and desks and dressers. The students were really excited about a book that can often be a challenge.

When my math teachers were working on geometric shapes, we collaborated on a lesson plan where students looked at various shapes in three dimensions and manipulated them to get a better understanding of the different angles and concepts.

2. Take learning outside the classroom
For that same shape lesson, I assigned students to find examples of each shape in the library. It got them out of their classrooms and exploring the world around them. They found all sorts of things I didn’t realize I had in there, like the Christmas tree that I still had out in May, which they identified as a cone shape. AR is a unique technology in that it connects students to the environment around them and helps them see things in different ways.

Next year, our 7th-graders will use AR to recreate a battle scene from the American Revolution on our sports field. There are so many different battles that our students have to know, and getting them outside and interacting with their environment will be a lot more fun and meaningful than rote memorization.

3. Let students lead the way
As they learn more about AR, my students have started to incorporate themselves into the assignments. It’s been fun to see the creative ways that they can put their own personality into lessons, whether that’s making a dinosaur sit on one of their friend’s heads or putting the different AR pieces in their arms so they can be part of the picture.

One of their favorite lessons was about dinosaurs. They researched different time periods and which dinosaurs would have lived in that time period. Then they used AR to place their dinosaurs in a habitat where they would flourish. While dinosaurs are not part of their 6th-grade curriculum, they improved their research skills while exploring a topic that was appealing to all.

I’ve told my 6th-graders that I’m going to use them to try to get their teachers into AR next year. As is the case in many schools, some of my teachers can be reluctant to try new technology, but if I then say, “You already have three or four students in your room who know how to use this,” those teachers are much more likely to give it a try, using those students as team leaders.

4. Embrace the social-emotional value of experimenting together
If you want to do your job well, you have to try new things and not be afraid. Using new technology puts you on a more even playing field with your students. They know you’re trying something new, so there’s a spirit of “we’re all going to try this together.” You’re engaging with your students not only in their learning, but also on a social-emotional level.

It’s been amazing to see how the students think we should use AR. 3DBear held a contest where they asked people to tweet new ways to use the app in a classroom setting. Two of my students submitted the idea to recreate a scene from their favorite book, and ended up winning a Makerbot 3D printer for our library.

I’m excited to continue learning about AR and other new technologies that will keep my library a lively and engaging place for all of my students.

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