The entire fifth grade student body stands outside the Augusta School District. Together, they worked to piece together the landmarks, history and story of the city into a Google Expedition for all the world to see.  hugs front: Augusta students walk around the city picking up trash on the road as part of a way to give back to the community during their Hugs for Humanity event on Friday, May 4. (Contributed photo)

Students create Augusta virtual reality tour

By Brian Sheridan

After strapping on a virtual reality headset, the user can be taken all across the globe.

They can explore the peaks of Mt. Everest, they can float around the outside of the International Space Station, see up close the ruins of Machu Picchu or a plethora of other places.

With the use of Google Expedition, Augusta students have been using these tours to augment their experience in the classroom this past year. Right now, Augusta is working to create its very own tour for anyone in the world to see.

Chuck Catt, IMC director, signed the Augusta School District up to be a beta tester for a new virtual reality program Google is testing earlier in the school year. Back in February, he learned Augusta was selected as one of 50 schools in the U.S.

Afterwards, they were sent a 360 camera. Through the month of April, Catt got the fifth-grade students involved and had them using the camera to capture landmarks around the area in both 3-D and in a still-image format. Now they are working to stitch all the pictures together to be able to use them in virtual reality and create a Google Expedition.

Catt said Augusta has many “gems” in the area and the Google Expedition will create a sense of pride for all those who have been a part of Augusta history.

“This is just your identity,” Catt said. “Their sense of pride on what the kids themselves did and imagine sharing that with the world. How about the people whose path crossed Augusta? They went to school here, their grandma is from here, and that’s out there? Now you can go back and a childhood haunt is mentioned there.”

A select group of fifth-grade students went around the area to get pictures of places such as Dell’s Mill, Coon Fork Park and the mysterious Green Eyes Bridge. The project also included having them research Augusta history to provide short descriptions about these places as well as beginning, intermediate and advances questions to ask people who visit the Expedition.

For Catt and Missie Rohrscheib, third grade teacher, this project and experience was all new to them and they said they weren’t exactly sure how they were going to proceed with it. However, Rohrscheib said it was really the students who led the project through the brainstorming of ideas.

“I thought this was going to be difficult,” she said. “I really did. I wasn’t sure how we were going to do it. The kids did the work, helped set up the scenes. I loved when the kids took it over, did the learning.”

As they turned the Expedition into a classroom project and learning experience, Catt said it was the kids who broke it down into different categories, did the research, wrote the questions and created the Expedition, while Catt and Rohrscheib provided the “guardrails.”

Students in Rohrscheib’s class talked about their experience so far with the project and the interesting pieces of Augusta history they didn’t know about, such as how the old Augusta water tower was the second of its kind in Wisconsin when it was built, and the second oldest when it was torn down.

“I think the best part is knowing what you know about Augusta to learning what you know because I never knew Augusta had a movie theater,” fifth-grader Alayna McIntosh said.

And others are ready to share it with the world.

“I think the most amazing thing about this is when people see it, sometimes it actually feels like you’re actually there floating in the air,” fifth-grader Kasey Maland said. “It makes you feel like you’re there.”

Catt said said he is not entirely certain it will be published by Google in the end since it is a beta project. However, based on conversations he has heard via a linked in chat network with other people in the beta, he said he can’t imagine it wouldn’t go live.

Even if Google decides not to move forward with the Expeditions, he said the school will likely continue this process up to this point next year using regular still images. Catt said the Expedition has helped regularly shy students break down personal barriers in ways never seen before.

“If you just only knew what it’s like to work with some of those critters,” he said. “It’s really cool to see them shine in that way and bring their skills in. As a district, we’re in this literacy initiative thing. It’s built right in and the kids are driving that.”

Right now, there is no definitive end date when their Expedition will be complete. Catt said they will try to have the kids showcase it at the end of the year if possible as well as display it to the school board.

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