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Virtual reality allows high-schoolers to experience history in a new way

Taking an eye-opening tour of the Anne Frank house 

Using Meta Quest 3 virtual reality, ninth-grade students in Faith Shotts-Flikkema’s world history class describe what they see as they tour the house Anne Frank hid in during World War II

Forest Hills — “I’m holding Anne Frank’s diary,” said ninth-grader Kane Lundy, his eyes covered by a mask and holding a controller. “I’m listening to Anne Frank talk.” 

Kane discovered that Holocaust victim Anne Frank’s form of entertainment was mostly books. He discovered this by using a more modern form of entertainment: virtual reality.

In Faith Shotts-Flikkema’s World History class at Forest Hills Northern High School, Kane and his classmates utilized Meta Quest 3 virtual reality headsets to explore the Amsterdam home where Frank and her family hid during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands during World War II.

“Many of these students will never have the opportunity to visit Anne Frank’s house,” Shotts-Flikkema said. “I wanted to give them that exposure to explore the house, while also integrating technology in the classroom because as they go out into the world, they will be using technology on a regular basis.”

A New Way for Students to Experience History

Shotts-Flikkema said it is important for students to have an understanding of history and recognize that everyone has a responsibility to get involved in making positive change. 

“I teach them about the importance of being an upstander rather than a bystander,” she said. “In addition to teaching them about the facts, geography, statistics and key events of the Holocaust, I teach them about individuals who actively worked for good.”

In researching resources to enable students to experience historic events such as the Holocaust, Shotts-Flikkema watched a class use virtual reality headsets online. That sparked the idea of using them in her classroom.

She borrowed the virtual reality materials form the Kent ISD STEM program, which has two Meta Quest 3 headsets its its resource library. Kent ISD STEM consultant Du Bui said most districts do not have VR headsets because of the cost. The Meta Quest 3 headset, which comes with two controllers, retails for about $500. 

“We try to provide a number of different opportunities for teachers so they can decide if something like virtual reality properly fits what they are doing in their classroom,” Bui said.

Bui said the Northern High history lesson was an opportunity to do a test run in a classroom setting before making the technology available to all districts this fall.

‘I wanted to give them that exposure to explore the (Anne Frank) house while also integrating technology in the classroom because as they go out into the world, they will be using technology on a regular basis.’

— history teacher Faith Shotts-Flikkema

The two VR headsets currently feature historical experiences, such as the Anne Frank house and the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz. Bui said he hopes to add a VR career exploration program that would give students the opportunity to explore welding or engineering.

Discovering Just How Small is Small

The students took to the headsets right away, helping each other get set up and offering advice on how to use the controls to move through the house. Shotts-Flikkema said she was not surprised, since most have played video games and are used to the controls.

“The house is really small,” said Joey Howey as he turned in a circle to explore the space. Joey said he pictured a small modern house when he read “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

“The space was more like the size of a shed,” said Victor Konard.

Natalia Acevedo-Espino spent her time exploring the attic area where Anne Frank and her family lived. 

“There were a lot of folders and books and pictures on the wall,” Natalia said. “I could see the stairs and if you pointed to the floor, you could go to different places within the attic.

“It was really interesting as it showed how hard it was for Anne and her family.”

Joey said he found the experience eye-opening.

“If they had to cough or sneeze, they had to do so in a pillow. I don’t know if I could do it, if I could live that way.”

Shotts-Flikkema said the headsets accomplished several goals: engaging students in the curriculum in a different way; broadening their thinking about how technology could be used; sensing how it felt to be confined in a cramped area because of discrimination; and increasing their interest in Anne Frank’s story. She plans to continue utilizing VR headsets in her classroom and is hoping to write a grant to purchase some.

Read more from Forest Hills: 
Northern High School physic students host elementary STEM program
Project-based based program serves lesson in sustainability

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Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma is a reporter covering Kent ISD, Godwin Heights, Kelloggsville, Forest Hills and Comstock Park. The salutatorian for the Hartland Public Schools class of 1985, she changed her colors from blue and maize to green and white by attending Michigan State University, where she majored in journalism. Joanne moved to the Grand Rapids area in 1989, where she started her journalism career at the Advance Newspapers. She later became the editor for On-the-Town magazine, a local arts and entertainment publication. Her eldest daughter is a nurse, working in Holland, and her youngest attends Oakland University. Both are graduates from Byron Center High School. She is a volunteer for the Van Singel Fine Arts Advisory Board and the Kent District Library. In her free time, Joanne enjoys spending time with her family, checking out local theater and keeping up with all the exchange students they have hosted through the years. Read Joanne's full bio

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