Creating memories and wonder in the classroom

It looks like an ordinary classroom. There are chalkboards and posters on the wall; students sit at their desks, ready to learn. But what happens in Michael Leonard’s grade four classroom at St. John’s Catholic Elementary School in the Waterloo Catholic District School Board (WCDSB) is far from ordinary. It’s been transformed into a portal to other worlds. 

Michael Leonard, Teacher
Waterloo Catholic District School Board

In his class, his students are going on an impossible journey: they’re voyaging through the human respiratory system, travelling through lungs and trachea as if they’ve been shrunk down into tiny explorers. They’re learning about the way the human body works — and gaining a deeper understanding of the negative impact smoking has on it — by exploring it themselves in three dimensions. 

Taking advantage of modern resources 

Each student is given a cardboard viewer to access the Google Expeditions app. It’s a virtual reality teaching tool that allows students to explore the world without leaving their classroom. There are more than 600 expeditions available: students can do everything from visiting historical landmarks like the Roman Coliseum or the Taj Mahal, to swimming with sharks, to exploring outer space. 

For them, it’s a powerful new educational experience Leonard explains.

“The students are in awe when they enter a Google Expedition. It takes their learning to a deeper level and provides them with the opportunity to experience and explore places that were unimaginable before this technology became available to educators.”

Michael Leonard, Teacher at Waterloo Catholic District School Board


And it’s happening over the ORION network. The WCDSB has been part of the ORION community since 2015, and their schools access the virtual reality Expeditions through our direct connection to Google’s educational tools and content. The service is included as part of ORION’s network of cloud and software services for Ontario’s researchers, educators and innovators. 

ORION helping make it happen 

This private, curated collection of hosted services provides many benefits for the WCDSB, according to the board’s chief information officer, Chris Demers. “Google is our primary educational cloud environment. High-speed connectivity and availability is imperative. Google Expeditions requires a reliable high-speed connection to provide an effective and immersive virtual learning environment for our students and educators.” ORION provides that connection — and unleashes the potential of virtual reality in the process. 

It’s a benefit that promises to become even more important in the future. “We are in the early stages of virtual reality in education,” Leonard believes. “As the cost of this technology becomes more accessible, I can see educators embracing virtual reality as part of their daily lesson plans.” 

Demers agrees. “I believe we are not that far away from having the equivalent of a Star Trek holodeck in each of our schools. Tools like the Microsoft Hololens, Oculus Rift, Google Tilt Brush and the HTC Vive are paving the way for virtual reality and augmented reality to continue to grow in education and demand more and more bandwidth.” 

As the use of virtual reality expands, and educators find even more innovative new ways of bringing the world into their classrooms, ORION will be there to empower them with the tools they need, providing inspiring new educational experiences for students across Ontario.