Thursday, April 27, 2017

Stereoscopes with Google Cardboard

I recently tagged along on a field trip with local students to the Buffalo Niagara Heritage Village in Amherst, NY. The students were learning about New York State History, specifically the area around Western New York. This regional history gem is a sprawling campus that includes both indoor and outdoor exhibits, including real churches, schools, and homes where students and museum visitors can step back in time and see what life was like in the 1800s.

During the tour of one of the houses, the docent shared a device called a stereoscope.

Photo Apr 26, 10 45 23 AM-001.jpg

The students were very excited by this device, which was once one of America’s most popular forms of entertainment. Invented by Charles Wheatstone in 1832, with a patent in 1838, then upgraded in later years by Oliver Wendell Holmes, a stereoscope is basically a pair of glasses with uniques lenses and a platform for holding a special picture that takes advantage of human binocular vision so that two images side by side merge to form a single three dimensional image.

The docent let each student (and the adults who tagged along!) look through the stereoscope which depicted images of life in the 1800s. The kids were amazed, as was I, at the 3-D images we saw. It reminded of the ViewMasters we used to have when I was a kid. And then it reminded me of something even more modern: Virtual Reality.

When the students were done, I took pictures of the stereoscopic images with my phone. I wanted to see if they would work in Google Cardboard headset. I cropped the images to the edges of the stereoscopic picture, enlarged the picture to fit my phone’s screen, and horizontally placed it into the Google Cardboard headset. And what do you know, it totally worked!

I made a short movie that shows the stereoscopic images I photographed at the Buffalo Niagara Heritage Village (used with permission) which you can access here:

Note: This is a stereoscopic movie, so plop it right into your own headset to view in 3-D!

So, cool as it is to be able to view stereoscopic images in Google Cardboard, it’s also cool that it opens up some cans of worms of what this discovery means in terms of learning and engagement.

  1. Students could search Google and/or Youtube for stereoscopic images and movies, particularly of historical importance that they can now use as a more dynamic image to analyze for details and draw conclusions from. This level of critical analysis likely already lives in the curriculum, but using the stereoscopic images may provide a new level of engagement that would cement the learning in a student’s brain!
  2. Students could create their own Stereoscopic images as a piece of media that can be viewed in Google Cardboard, or be part of a larger presentation like a movie, that shows not only the stereoscopic images they created, and also what they learned about the content related to the images they constructed. I created the stereoscopic image below using Google’s Picasa tool. I imported the picture of the inside of the one room school house from the Buffalo Niagara Heritage Village tour. I cropped it to a square shape, lightened it up a bit, and changed the color to sepia tone. I saved the picture, then saved a copy. I selected both pictures and clicked the “Create” option in the file menu up top. I chose “Picture Collage” with the two pictures. Picasa loaded the two pictures, and I chose options for a Grid Setup, with No Spacing, and a formatted Aspect Ratio of 16:9 (HDTV). Then clicked on “Create Collage” and noted that the now Stereoscopic image lived in the Picasa Folder in My Pictures. I exported the image, via Dropbox, back to my phone and opened it to view in Google Cardboard. Totally worked. You can save the following image to your phone and try it out:


The caveat was a slightly grainy image, but that added to the historical look of it.

  1. This is a new opportunity for media-making with both images and movies, or as part of a larger presentation that includes voice-overs, live speaking, or virtual field trips. While the idea for this was spawned by my visit to the Buffalo Niagara Heritage Village, this could really be done with any content, any place, in multiple ways. This is an invitation to something new to think about and hopefully spark some creative ideas by you or your students.

I’d like to thank the people at the Buffalo Niagara Heritage Village for permission to use the Stereoscopic Images in their collection as well as their commitment to preserving local history in such an interesting way. If you ever find yourself in Western New York, the Heritage Village is a definite must-see! Perhaps you should bring your own Virtual Reality headsets--there might an opportunity to use them!

Mike Fisher
Ditch The Daily Lesson Plan, available now from ASCD
Upgrade Your Curriculum, available now from ASCD

Digital Learning Strategies, available now from ASCD

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Cell Phone Science

Observe→ Diagram→ Describe→ Question→ Research→ Explain→ Simulate.

As I work with schools that are adopting the Next Generation Science Standards, I’m often working actively to shift the perspective from the building of content knowledge through reading about it versus experiencing it. In order for Science learning to happen, science must be done, actively, so that through observation and discovery, students are able to explain their thinking and build conceptual knowledge. In the new science standards, there are engineering practices - skills - that students must demonstrate in their roles as students who think and work like scientists. When it comes time for students to demonstrate their understanding, these same verbs are part of the performance expectations. In many of those performance expectations, the words I started this blog post with are represented. I tried to come up with a catchy acronym for them but ODD Q. RES isn’t exactly ROY G. BIV.

While reading about science is still important, the real building of knowledge starts with what we notice, what we observe, rather than stoic reading about the same information with little or no interaction or context. In the new Science standards, there’s a lot of observation going on and from that observation, students are expected to diagram, describe, ask questions, define problems, analyze, model, research, explain, plan and carry out investigations, and argue a claim with evidence.

In reading through the new standards and the associated dimensions: Science and Engineering Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Disciplinary Core Ideas, it dawned on me that I had captured quite a bit of observable phenomena on my cell phone. I’m always taking pictures of interesting phenomena around me, both when I travel and in my own backyard. Many of these pictures are well suited to launching a scientific investigation using these new dimensions.

I made a folder on my phone to collect all of the science related images I had captured and I posted some examples on my website here:

I’m very interested in the notion of phenomenon-based teaching and using what’s around you as fodder for launching a research quest. With the proliferation of devices that students have access to, it just makes instructional sense to send them out into the world around them and create collections of their own local phenomena so that they can Observe→ Diagram→ Describe→ Question→ Research→ Explain→ Simulate.

Let’s look at the first picture on the Phenomena Website I shared, of the Luminescent Scorpion. That picture was taken at my colleague and friend Janet Hale’s house in Tucson, Arizona several years ago.

As a lifelong student, this observation launches my quest to discover why a Scorpion glows under a blacklight. There are many questions to ask, diagrams and descriptions to draw and write about what is happening, research to explain what’s going and perhaps creating a simulation or a game to test my claims.

On the phenomena website, I included a series of questions to launch the learning around the pictures I shared and/or the observations and images you or your students collect:

  • What questions could you ask about this image? (Good questions tend to lead to other questions that expand or refine the initial query.)
  • With whom could you share your questions or theories?
  • How could you use Social Media to evaluate and communicate information?
  • How could you explain what is happening in these pictures?
  • How could you model or simulate your descriptions and/or explanations?
  • How could you engage in an argument around a claim you could make about the phenomena in these pictures and the evidence that supports your claim?

Besides discovery level explorations for Science students, answering these questions leads to the added benefit of opportunities for developing content-area literacy: written descriptions of phenomena, written explanations, communication orally and in writing, reading supporting documentation, navigating and translating domain-specific language and vocabulary, etc.

If you’re interested in joining this conversation, specifically about modeling, descriptions, and explanations, please join me in a Curriculum Spark webinar on May 5th at 3:30 PM EST / 12:30 PM PST, courtesy of Rubicon Atlas.

Register for free here:

I’ll be talking more about capturing phenomena on your phone and using it in the classroom to launch discussions, quests, and research!

Mike Fisher
Ditch The Daily Lesson Plan, available now from ASCD
Upgrade Your Curriculum, available now from ASCD