Museums like Philadelphia’s The Franklin Institute engage students and get them excited about STEM concepts. That’s why The Franklin Institute has been a favorite field trip destination for generations of teachers and students. By incorporating Augmented Reality into some exhibits, the museum is finding new ways to connect with students. Augmented Reality (AR) can be a complex computer simulation or a simple game programmed into a cell phone.
Penn GSE learning sciences professor Dr. Susan Yoon has studied AR at The Franklin Institute and other places. Here’s why she thinks it might have a place in your lesson plan:
The benefits. AR allows students to see things that are not visible, like electrical waves in the atmosphere, or where a building once stood in a historic neighborhood. Unlike a static image in a textbook, an AR program can show how something morphs over time.
AR is interactive. Students have control over the pace of the lesson. They’re the ones who hit the play and pause buttons, and choose to replay scenes. Some AR programs force students to engage. For example, they might have to control variables in an experiment to test a hypothesis.
Why it works. Research shows that interacting with AR alone improves students’ understanding of a concept. If they can see how electricity flows through a circuit, it will make more sense. If you can add a little structure to the experience — creating knowledge-building scaffolds — students’ conceptual and cognitive (reasoning) skills will improve. On a museum field trip, you can do this by putting your students in groups. Use the museum signs and handouts to keep students focused on the concepts you want them to discuss. The trip will have a structure, but students will have a feeling of informal self-discovery.
A springboard for collaboration. Getting students to work in teams can be a challenge. AR can help. At The Franklin Institute, as soon as students started interacting with the technology, they began interacting with each other. They pointed out new bits of information, helped each other answer questions, and teased out why things happened.
Make a game of it. AR isn’t just for museums. Mobile devices are perfect for playing games. Just look at people playing Candy Crush in a waiting room. Educators can use those same devices to walk students through game-based lessons. Developers have used mapping technology to create games that help students understand historic sites and other locations when they visit. In these games, the information appearing on the screen encourages students to engage with the physical world around them.
Returning to the classroom. Back at school, you can use students’ field trip experiences as a launching point. After a trip to a science museum, you could follow up with a digital simulation tool like PhET. Showing students multiple representations of the same concept provides additional sensory inputs. This “synergistic scaffolding” taps into multiple intelligences, and offers another chance to strengthen student understanding while keeping the lesson interactive and engaging.