VirtualiTeach

Steve Bambury

12 Free VR Apps for the Classroom

December 23, 2018

 

One of the teachers I work with recently asked me to look for some mobile AR/VR content on the theme  of Natural Disasters which her students were studying after the Christmas break. My first port of call was YouTube where I curated an appropriate set of 360 videos about volcanoes, tornadoes and other natural disasters. This has become a go-to move for me as I can navigate the content quickly and produce staff a sheet of QR codes that students can scan to directly access the 360 content whether they are using VR headsets or just their iPads. I try to present these in a poster format too so that it can be added to a classroom display and accessed asynchronously throughout a topic.

Here’s the Natural Disasters one:

So having shared that with her, I began to trawl the Apple App Store looking for some AR/VR content related to the theme. Quiver was my first choice as I knew there was an interactive volcano colouring sheet. I also suggested looking at CoSpaces Edu again to build some VR non-chronological reports. In terms of VR content dedicated to the actual theme though, pickings were slim. Searching “Volcano VR” for example produced an assortment of action games and simple 360 image apps and some crudely developed 3D content. (I did actually find one that looked very good but it was in Korean!)

Most of these apps were also not free. This meant that I would have to pay for them to try them out and also that even if they were good, we’d be looking at a chunk of that year group’s limited budget for a subject-specific app. I tend to advise educators to avoid this. Paying for a cross-curricular creation tool like Book Creator, Comic Life or Explain Everything is fine – these apps are perennial and get used across multiple curriculum areas, but a one-and-done VR volcano app? We’d rather use free resources where possible!

It was then that I stumbled across the PI VR Earth app. The screenshot looked good, but it was listed under the Games category. Nonetheless, I clicked through to take a look since it was free. Further screenshots and a description of the app really got my attention – this was no game, it was a non-chronological report in interactive VR form! I couldn’t believe my luck… until I read the following, familiar phrase: “Look for the QR code located on the first page of your PI VR Planet Earth book in order to access interactive content.”

As more and more students opt for digital media, several educational publishing houses have tried to capitalise on the rising popularity of immersive technology by enriching their non-fiction content with AR and VR content. What this usually means is that you have to own the book to get the code/key to unlock the digital content in the (free) accompanying app. As an educator this can be frustrating because - 

1. the book may not be readily/locally available

2. often the code will only work once so you need multiple books/codes in order for multiple students to access the content at the same time.  

3. books are a lot more expensive than apps!

 

I was ready to give up when I noticed something that you don’t usually see with these types of tie-in apps: “If you don't have the book visit http://pilbooks.com/PIVREarth/ and scan the QR Code located on the webpage!” Clicking the link, I expected there to be some sort of catch – like a payment portal to buy a digital version of the book – but to my surprise, there was no catch. The URL led to a QR code which could be scanned within the app for free access. Awesome! The app was quite impressive for a free resource too, with a 3D environment embellished with various interaction points leading to multimedia, quizzes and audio narration. Definitely a worthy addition to the Natural Disasters project and something that could be used with the students en masse or provided as an enrichment activity or as a part of continuous provision in the classroom.

Impressed with my find, I returned to the App Store to check out the developer (Publications International – hence PI VR) and to my even greater surprise, they had 11 other VR apps linked to different books/topics, all of which could be accessed for free in a similar way! Content ranged from Space to Animals to Explorers to Landmarks and each app was put together in a similar, easy-to-access way as the Earth one. There was even one that explored the inside of the human body!

So I decided to download all 12 QR codes and collate them into one handy resource sheet for you all – which you can download below. I hope you find something useful.

 

To find out more about the PI books themselves, take a look at their website here.

 

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