Grants Bring Virtual Reality, Other Innovations to Groton Classrooms

Students in an English class are wearing virtual reality headsets to immerse themselves in a writer’s world. Later this year, a different class will use code to analyze how their poetry compares to Emily Dickinson’s.

Four teachers received Innovation Grants from Groton’s Information Technology Department for study over the summer, and the results of their projects are already in use. The grants came through Groton’s Dillon Fund, which supports faculty professional development. 
English teacher John Capen is working with students to create virtual reality experiences based on their study of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen. In his Fourth Form English class and his Poetry Reading and Writing elective, he plans to teach a unit called “PoetrAI” that he created with support from the Innovation Grant. The “AI” in “PoetrAI” stands for Artificial Intelligence. Students, he explained, “will be playing with code to have the computer generate poetry that we will subject to the Turing test,” designed by Alan Turing in 1950 to gauge whether a machine can show intelligence. His classes will compare machine-made poetry created in Emily Dickinson–style to Dickinson’s actual poems.
“John wanted to give kids exposure to coding in a non-STEM, non-traditional environment,” said Peter Albert, Groton’s academic technology specialist, who worked with recipients of the Innovation Grants. “He also was interested in how computational thinking would help students explore language and how language comes together in poetry.”
The other summer Innovation Grants spanned departments, from biology to history to math. Science teacher Paula Marks’ project had two components: working on recordings to help “flip” her AP Biology class, allowing thorough preparation on basic topics outside class and more inquiry-based lessons during it. This included creating videos, putting them in context, scripting, and organizing. The other portion of her work involved the use of virtual reality in her Anatomy class, which is helping students better visualize and understand the human body.
To enhance the research process for students, history teacher Eric Spierer used an Innovation Grant to create online resources that answer straightforward questions, such as how to locate library resources efficiently and how to properly cite sources—letting students find answers themselves so classtime can be spent on more scholarly pursuits. Mr. Spierer’s work has caught on among his colleagues and is already in use throughout the History Department. During his summer work, he also used a program called EDpuzzle to make educational videos interactive, ensuring that students have the necessary tools to include an abundance of evidence and rich analysis in their papers.
Finally, math teacher Jon Creamer's Innovation Grant helped him create modules that allow teachers to integrate computer science into their curricula. An Algebra 1 teacher, for example, might use a module during the study of integers to teach students how to use code to solve algebraic equations.
“Integrating technology and changing the way you teach requires a lot of bandwidth and time,” said Chief Technology Officer Elizabeth Preston. “We wanted to reward and provide support to faculty moving into that space. I hope it inspires other faculty to consider opportunities for their own classes.”