WHITTIER – Holding a tablet computer, La Serna High School physics teacher Todd Boschman directed his Environmental Science students’ attention to a peculiar and massive winged insect located in the left hand corner of their electronic and cardboard contraptions – reminiscent of classic stereoscopic viewfinders of the ‘80s.

Startled, the students echoed a loud chorus of “Whoa!” followed by peals of laughter.

The La Serna students were viewing a cicada in its natural state, as part of a Bornean rain forest ecosystem. Their astonishment came from the way they were viewing the rain forest – peering through a Google Cardboard View-Master, immersed in a panoramic, virtual reality world where it seemed as if they could reach out and touch the flora and fauna surrounding them.

La Serna High was one of only a handful of schools across the country chosen to participate in the virtual journey as part of a special one-day preview of Google Expeditions, a new education app that brings the world to a student’s fingertips and allows teachers to zero in on specific topics of instruction the whole classroom can view simultaneously.

“You could see all around, as if you were actually there,” said senior Sung Kim, whose class spent time observing Big Ben, Kings Cross railway station and other points of interest in London.

The intuitive, teacher-driven app includes software that can be loaded onto any electronic tablet or device in the classroom, while students view 360-degree photo spheres through viewfinders. Teachers can swipe a panel on their tablet to reveal information about what the students are viewing, can point to spots on the screen or hit a prompt button to display a circle of special interest.

“I think it’s a great tool to engage students and immerse them in worlds that they are exploring and studying in class,” Boschman said. “It’s relevant to curriculum, it’s technology-based and it will attract the interest of the students.”

With Google Expeditions, students view their virtual worlds from every conceivable angle – up, down, left, right, even twirling around in a circle – and explore subjects as divergent as Borneo animal adaptation and inter-tribal dancing in Montana to a London literary tour and even a trip to the moon.

Ideally, the pictures on the screen lead to questions, comments and spirited discussions on visually vibrant material ordinarily only covered one-dimensionally in textbooks.

“With programs like these, more students will be motivated to keep learning, studying and exploring,” Kim said. “It’s a great way to get students involved and excited about coming to class.”

Once the program officially launches, school educators hope to integrate the technology in a variety of subjects and classroom lessons.

“The level of classroom interaction was amazing. Many students couldn’t put down the viewfinders,” Principal Ann Fitzgerald said. “Google Expeditions is easy to use and it would be a nice fit for a wide range of curriculum at La Serna and throughout the Whittier Union High School District. We feel honored to be chosen for such an exclusive demonstration.”


EXPEDITIONS1: La Serna High School physics teacher Todd Boschman guides his environmental studies students through the Bornean rain forest during a Google Expeditions virtual reality demonstration on Oct. 6.

EXPEDITIONS2: Enraptured students take a trip to the moon during an exclusive one-day-only Google Expeditions demonstration at La Serna High School on Oct. 5.