Highland News Leader

Optimists grant Highland schools $8,750 for virtual reality gear

As part of their President Project this year, the Highland Optimist Club presented the Highland School District with a check for $8,750  The money will be used to buy Google Expedition virtual reality gear. From left to right is Optimist member Bill Wagner, the school's Chief Educational Technology Officer Matt Fredericksen, Optimist President Robert Dunn, Superintendent Mike Sutton, the district's Technology Specialist Alicia Farris and Optimist member Kevin Hemann.
As part of their President Project this year, the Highland Optimist Club presented the Highland School District with a check for $8,750 The money will be used to buy Google Expedition virtual reality gear. From left to right is Optimist member Bill Wagner, the school's Chief Educational Technology Officer Matt Fredericksen, Optimist President Robert Dunn, Superintendent Mike Sutton, the district's Technology Specialist Alicia Farris and Optimist member Kevin Hemann. mbraa@bnd.com

How many students get to say they have swum at the bottom of the ocean or traveled to distant places, like Machu Picchu? Probably, not many. And being able to participate in the American Revolution or take a tour inside of a human body, that's sci-fi stuff, right?

Well, not in this day and age. Soon, Highland students will be able to do all those things, thanks to a gift from a local club.

On. Feb 20, the Highland Optimist Club president Robert Dunn presented the Highland School District with an $8,750 grant for the organization's "President Project" this year.

"We went a little over, but it was a cause worth pursuing," Dunn said.

Each year, the club donates money toward a specific cause. This year, Dunn said he wanted to focus on education. After contacting the district, he was put in touch with the district's chief educational technology officer, Matt Fredericksen, who said the money could be used to buy and support a Google Expeditions virtual reality kit.

"It's a re-enforcement, not a replacement for lessons," said Alicia Farris, the district's technology specialist who saw the devices first used at a conference two years ago.

Through this immersible technology, students across all grade levels will be able to explore about 745 different lessons and field trips. These experiences range from taking tours of the human heart to visiting historical locations and events during different time periods. Students can also step inside literary classics, visit landmarks, museums, and cities.

"It's really an opportunity for our kids to see something they may not have the chance to see," Fredericksen said,

Fredericksen also said that high school students will be able to utilize the technology to take tours of prospective universities if they cannot make the trip to visit in person. The expeditions also explore "a day in the life of" scenarios, so students can explore different professions.

The kit includes 30 Mattel Deluxe Master Viewers, which are the virtual reality goggles and one 10-inch Zenpad. This tablet allows teachers to guide students on the field trips. Fredericksen said teachers can lead and address points of interest by using arrows and teacher prompts. It will also include 30 Magellan devices, which will help students do their own self-led lessons.

The cost also covers one wireless router, four charging stations and three rolling cases. Federicksen said the cases allow the devices to be moved between schools, so teachers at each school will have the ability to incorporate the technology into their lessons.

"We are just happy to make it happen," said the Optimist's Secretary Kevin Hemann.

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