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4 Practical Steps to Becoming an AR Innovator

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

By Susan Sclafani

My library is not quiet. As much as I can, I get the kids engaged and excited about learning and exploring new things. One of those new things is augmented reality (AR). I recently had an AR company do a demo for my class of 25 6th-graders. They were 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 that many of my fellow educators face with this kind of technology is that it looks fun, but they don’t have a concrete plan to incorporate it into learning on a daily basis or an idea of exactly how (or if) it will impact student learning. Here are four tips that will help.

 

1) Connect the new technology to PBL.

As the school library specialist, I’m also the head of project-based learning at Oregon Middle School. I have an English teacher who frequents my room a lot and AR intrigued her, so we put our heads together. She was just starting The Diary of Anne Frank with her 8th-grade honors classes, so she had her students do some 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.

And then they came to my room and recreated it all using the AR platform from 3DBear. We moved tables around and we had kids climbing up on things, laying down duct tape with yard sticks to get the dimensions perfect, and then adding these augmented reality bunk beds and desks and dressers. It got the students really excited about a book that can be a challenge.

My math teachers were working on different geometric shapes, so we collaborated on a lesson plan where the kids would look at these shapes in three dimensions, and manipulate them to get a better understanding of the different angles and all of the different concepts about the shape that they need to know.

 

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 were finding all sorts of things that 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 really connects students to the environment around them and helps them see things in different ways.

For next year, I'm planning to use our sports field as a background for our 7th-graders to use AR to recreate a battle scene from the American Revolution. There are so many different battles that our students have to know, and getting them outside and interacting with their own 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 augmented reality pieces in their arms so they can be part of the picture.

My students also came up with their own lesson about dinosaurs. They researched different time periods and what dinosaurs would have lived in that time period. Then they used 3DBear to place their dinosaurs in a habitat where they would flourish. They actually submitted this idea to a contest and ended up winning a Makerbot 3D printer.

My 25 6th-graders will be 7th-graders next year, and I've told them, “I'm going to use you guys to try to get the teachers into AR.” 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, too, 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.

Looking forward to our next school year, 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.


Susan Sclafani is the librarian at Oregon Middle School in the Patchogue-Medford (NY) School District. She is a member of 3D Bear’s AR Innovator program.


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