Blaine County kids travel through time to learn

KETCHUM — Lydia Flynn’s fourth- and fifth-grade students are traveling to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty while sitting at their desks —  no travel expenses necessary.

These trips are possible through virtual reality. Students hold headsets that include an old iPhone or Android that displays video. Flynn is walking her students through U.S. immigration and what it was like in the 1900s.

“This is not a video day in class,” Flynn said.

The devices work through the Google Expeditions app. There are 707 locations to explore on the app. Students activate the app on cellphones, which they then watch through a viewer.

Students tend to turn their heads in all directions, as virtual reality enables them to travel through time or thousands of miles away. Teachers can steer the students through their virtual classroom using a tablet. From the tablet, the teacher can point out details on a screen to direct students towards the objects.

Teachers in pre-k through high school have implemented virtual reality to enhance their lesson plans in Blaine County schools. Teachers can guide students to explore otherwise unseen objects within a class period.

“It’s a powerful way to build student interest and get them invested in a topic,” Flynn said.

Paul Zimmerman, a technology innovator for the Blaine County School District, brought virtual reality to students last year. The idea came to him while looking for a new and innovative way to introduce technology to students and teachers. Zimmerman wanted something transparent and user-driven in the classroom.

“Think of it like ‘The Magic School Bus’ without the bus,” Zimmerman said. “Virtual reality is so prominent and has a huge impact on learning, which is extremely engaging.”

Zimmerman takes students inside the human body, plant cells and Mars. He believes virtual reality is a tool that removes the obstacle of walls in the classroom and allows students to be anywhere and experience anything.

Paul Zimmerman

“Kids are absolutely blown over with engagement,” he said. “This isn’t playing video games, I want students to see the education value.”

Zimmerman uses 37 devices created from old phones. He is running a phone drive in the community to collect 180 phones through January to reach his goal of having a virtual reality set at each school. Blaine County schools is also participating in a pilot virtual reality program in 2018 through the Idaho STEM Action Center and Idaho Virtual Reality Council.

“Virtual reality is going to be everywhere when these kids get into the workplace,” he said. “Why not get these kids on the tool now.”


  • DodoCase SmartVR — $40
  • Wireless Router
  • iPhone 5 or newer
  • Android within four years
  • Google Expeditions App
Virtual reality kit

If you are interested in virtual reality in your classroom and have questions, Paul Zimmerman can be reached via email [email protected] or on Twitter: @paulkzimm


Andrew Reed

Get EdNews in your inbox

Weekly round up every Friday