Bridging the Gap: Exploring Augmented Reality in the Science Classroom

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Educators are constantly seeking innovative methods to engage and inspire students. However, with the myriad demands on the time of educators, that desire to push boundaries and experiment with new tools and techniques can sometimes be squashed under the weight of the diverse needs of the student body, shifting priorities from campus leadership, and a mountain of grading.

Augmented reality (AR)  is an easy way to rekindle that love of experimentation with your lessons and classroom strategies. Augmented reality  is a technology that blends digital information with real-world environments, allowing users to interact with virtual objects and view the physical environment simultaneously. If you have ever used Google Maps Street view to explore a neighborhood before traveling or placed a virtual couch into your living space to see what it would look like with your other furniture, you have experienced augmented reality. It is also likely that your students are familiar with Pokémon Go!, a popular game that blends real and virtual spaces. 

Augmented reality has the power to transform the way we teach and the way students learn, especially in subjects like science. Consider how your instruction could benefit from the use of augmented reality. Teaching abstract concepts like transcription and translation can move from a paper activity where students physically (and slowly) cut out DNA strands, mRNA bases, and amino acids to create a polypeptide chain to an animated process that your class can watch in real time, speeding up, slowing down, pausing, and rotating as needed. Because AR inserts the virtual object into your physical space, everyone is looking at the same thing and it is easy to point to a structure and talk about it, while being able to view the object in three dimensions. 

I recently used the Step into Biology app with my students to teach transcription and translation, and the experience went better than I could have imagined. My students understood the technology intuitively, having used AR style technology before, and had minimal trouble setting up the field trip once we moved the desks and created enough space to explore. In the past, I used a paper activity to teach this concept, which took up to three 45-minute class periods for the students to cut out the materials they needed, put them together to demonstrate the processes of transcription and translation, and discuss and answer questions. However, after about 15 minutes, my students already understood the process at about the same depth that they did after the paper-based assignment but with much less effort and time.

So, how do you bring this technology into your classroom?

1. Embrace curiosity:

The first step in integrating any new technology into your classroom is to embrace curiosity and the unknown. It’s okay not to have all the answers or to feel uncertain about trying something new. Approach AR with an open mind, viewing it as an opportunity to add to your teaching toolkit and ignite curiosity in your students.

2. Explore AR applications:

Check out Step into Biology for yourself, trying it free for seven days! Take the time to explore the application, familiarizing yourself with the functionalities and potential uses in your classroom.

3. Collaborate with colleagues:

Connect with your technology specialist or with colleagues who enjoy exploring new technology for support and guidance. Collaboration is key to bridging the gap between what we know and what we don’t know. Share resources, exchange ideas, and embark on the AR journey together. By pooling your collective knowledge and expertise, you will be able to navigate the complexities of AR with confidence.

4. Experiment with AR lessons:

Once you have familiarized yourself with augmented reality, it’s time to experiment with AR lessons in the classroom! We have developed lesson plans for you to use with our field trip experiences, taking the guesswork out of how this technology can be integrated into scope and sequence. Written by teachers for teachers, these lessons are aligned with NGSS and follow the 5E Model. These lessons require minimal materials and offer alternative options when you may not have access to tools like microscopes, saving you hours of planning and providing you with peace of mind.

5. Embrace the learning process:

Recognize that experimentation and iteration are inherent parts of your journey as a stellar teacher. Don’t be afraid to try new things, learn from mistakes, and adapt your approach based on student feedback. Remember, the goal is not perfection but progress—a journey of discovery for both you and your students. Modeling this process for your students emphasizes that the point of education really is the journey of learning and that it is okay to make mistakes as we go.

By embracing new technologies in the classroom, we can create immersive and interactive learning experiences that will have your students telling their families about what they learned in science class even before they are asked “What did you do at school today?”

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