Halloween happened to fall on one of our regularly scheduled Mobile Learning Unit visits this year. What a great opportunity to introduce the Microsoft HoloLens to students and staff! Microsoft describes their HoloLens as "the first self-contained, holographic computer, enabling you to engage with your digital content and interact with holograms in the world around you." Using various apps, users can experience an augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR). To learn more about the HoloLens, check out their website here. We are fortunate to have access to TWO of these awesome devices through our partnership with Microsoft.
Mixed reality is a form of augmented reality that is somewhere between VR and AR. This is where I would place our experiences with the HoloLens thus far. Mixed reality augments the real world with virtual objects that aim to look as if they are really placed within that world. Mixed reality brings people, places, and objects from the physical and digital worlds together. This blended environment becomes a "canvas" for each user to create and enjoy a wide range of experiences.
In keeping with the Halloween theme, we used an app called Action Grams to place themed holographic objects throughout the Mobile Learning Unit. Everything from pumpkins, to laughing ghosts, a chattering skull, and various blinking eyes lined the counter tops and carpet. Welcome to the Haunted Bus! There are some awesome zombies to use as well, but we kept it pretty tame as to not scare the little ones. When students entered the bus, we talked about virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality. Students couldn't see anything else in the bus until they put the headset on, and we worked on using our fingers to manipulate the holograms in real time!
One of the best "Ah-Ha" moments happened when a second grader started to ask how the holograms were made. "Ms. Chambers, how do I make one of these?" he inquired. I asked him what he wanted to make, and after much thought he settled on a red dragon that would breathe fire. I guided him through locating the main menu in the app (It was hovering right behind the driver's seat on the bus) and let him click around a bit to see what he could discover. The closest he could find to his vision was a blue dragon. "Well, then try to make it red!" I challenged him. And this 7-year-old did just that. Within 10 minutes, he had figured out how to turn the dragon red and make it breathe fire. He was so proud of his creation.
I was proud of his work as well! Our goal as educators when it comes to integrating technology is for our students to move past experiences and merely consuming content. We want our students to understand the power of creating their own content- whether that is writing blog posts about events happening in the community, to solving complex problems with someone in another part of the world, or even just making a red dragon that will breathe fire when you tell it to. When students are empowered to create, amazing things can happen. This second grader now already knows that he can make something that doesn't exist in real life...I wonder what he will create next? We need this out-of-the-box thinking to happen more often in our students' education so they are prepared to meet the challenges of the future. It makes me super #OPSProud to be a part of it!
Rebecca Chambers serves as an Instructional Technology Coach for the Omaha Public Schools by supporting the district’s Turnaround buildings in their instructional technology initiatives, including the first Mobile Learning Unit which serves the North Omaha community.