Using 3D and VR Technology to Enhance Social Studies and Historical Inquiry

Area(s) of Focus: technology, curriculum
Division(s): Intermediate, Junior
Level(s): Grade 6, Grade 7, Grade 8

This project explored the use of augmented and virtual reality in grades 6-8 including the use of 3D images and 360° photographs, HP Reveal and CoSpaces Edu to create virtual spaces, and the creation of an augmented reality sandbox.

Augmented and virtual reality offer students opportunities for in-depth exploration and analysis of historical and geographic artefacts, spaces and simulations. This project explored the efficacy of these technologies in enhancing student inquiry in social studies, history and geography. The team focused on three different applications of these technologies: (1) using 3D image scanning technology and 360° photographs to create source bundles representing different aspects of the Grade 7 and 8 history curriculum; (2) using augmented and virtual reality (including HP Reveal and CoSpaces Edu) to enable students to create, explore and share virtual spaces; and (3) constructing an augmented reality sandbox and related resources to simulate historical scenes and geographic scenarios.

Team Members

  • James Steeves

    Peel District School Board

  • Andrew Samatos

    Peel District School Board

  • Matthew Fletcher

    Peel District School Board

  • John Foote

    Peel District School Board

  • Karen Fitzpatrick

    Peel District School Board

  • Jason Braga

    Peel District School Board

Professional Learning Goals

  • Determined the efficacy of various AR and VR technologies in enhancing student inquiry in social studies, history and geography
  • Developed proficiency of the participants in the use of AR and VR technologies
  • Developed relationships between the school community and local museums and historical societies
  • Began to develop a website of supporting resources for teachers using AR and VR technology

Activities and Resources

Our team met in early January to discuss specific technologies that we would like to explore and to determine our project goals. It was decided to focus on three different projects: (1) create collections of virtual source bundles representing different areas of the Grade 7 and 8 history curriculum; (2) explore the use of augmented and virtual reality (specifically HP Reveal and CoSpaces Edu) as ways of allowing students to share information and create virtual spaces; and (3) design, construct and program an augmented reality sandbox, and prepare resources to share with teachers.

Source Bundles

Source bundles are collections of 3D images and virtual spaces that tell a specific story related to, in this case, parts of the grade 7 and 8 history curriculum. The team already had experience with an iSense 3D scanner and purchased a Rico Theta 360° camera for this project to create 360° images of historically significant spaces. 3D image scans were processed and shared through a free website called Sketchfab, while the 360° images were shared using the Rico Theta website, Facebook and YouTube. The collections were then posted on a free WordPress website created for this project: Images were created with the help of various local libraries and museums including the Toronto Public Library and the Old Britannia School House. Other photographs were taken of public spaces in Streetsville, and it is hoped to reach out to other local museums in the near future.

HP Reveal and CoSpaces Edu

HP Reveal is a free app that links images and videos to other images so that they appear as auras over the targeted images. This app was used on two occasions with Grade 7 students as a way for them to display their work: first, as a way to present their videos about different causes of the Seven Years’ War onto images of battles; second, as a way to present their research about the war of 1812 through the image of their commemorative coins and bank notes. CoSpaces Edu is another app that allows students to create virtual 3D environments that can then be experienced in VR using the Google Cardboard app and a pair of 3D goggles (which the school had already purchased). The curriculum application in this case was to Grade 6 science as students created a virtual museum of flight. Time was given after these units were taught for the specific team members to discuss future applications of each app.

Augmented Reality Sandbox

An augmented reality sandbox is another application of augmented reality that superimposes geographic information (such as elevation lines and water simulations) onto sand while responding to changes in the sand surface in real time through a Kinect 360° camera. The free software and plans were obtained from the University of California at Davis ( A box was constructed to contain the sand, proper play sand was purchased, and a Kinect Camera and Short-Throw Projector were purchased to project the geographic information onto the sand. The graphics computer was obtained through the school. Time was given after the creation of the sandbox to create resources that connect the learning to the curriculum.

Unexpected Challenges

Source Bundles

Creating good image scans with the iSense Scanner sometimes proved to be difficult. Objects from about 6 x 6 x 6 inches to 2 x 2 x 2 feet worked best, but smaller and larger objects were more difficult. Objects with small, thin surfaces or shiny surfaces were also a challenge. The iSense also has limited editing capabilities. After some trial-and-error, it became easier to determine which objects would scan better than others.

The Rico Theta 360° camera app uses WiFi to communicate with the camera, but the Wifi often does not work, and taking photos manually captures your finger when you take the shot. When the app did work, using another app called Vanish helped to take the photographer out of the image, but it only works with older devices. The 360° images are supported by Facebook and YouTube, but the VR option using Google Cardboard seems to only work with YouTube videos and possibly with plug-ins for the webside (WordPress) which would have been expensive to enable.

Getting permissions and making arrangements with various museums proved to be time-consuming, but rewarding. Also obtaining a series of spaces and artefacts that were authentic to the story being told was difficult given the scarcity of artefacts and their being in various locations on display rather than in their original settings.

HP Reveal and CoSpaces Edu

One of the main challenges with HP Reveal was figuring out that you need to make your auras public and then have other people follow you in order for them to see your auras. One way to overcome this is to have everyone using the same account. When using HP Reveal with videos, it was difficult for students to hear the videos during a gallery walk due to poor audio and their proximity to each other. Using HP Reveal was more effective when using images (as in the Commemorative Coin and Bank Note unit). At the moment, you are unable to delete auras when created using an iPad or smartphone.

During the project, CoSpaces Edu started morphing their originally free app into a paid educational version of the app. While this made it possible to monitor student work in a GAFE-type environment, it did require purchasing a class of 30 accounts for about US$100. The app allowed students to build virtual 3D environments and experience them using Google Cardboard and 3D goggles. It also uses Blockly to code objects so that they can move within each scene. To move throughout the scene, however, one needs to touch the screen using a button on the top of the goggles which seemed to jam very easily, and using the Bluetooth controllers tended to only work part of the time. The coding option also does not appear in the iPad or smartphone versions of the app. Despite these issues, however, students were able to create fairly sophisticated spaces with moving elements, making the challenges and expense worthwhile.

Augmented Reality Sandbox

This project seemed to expand in complexity the further into it that we went, but luckily we were able to expand our team beyond the school to meet the challenge (including IT staff from the school board office, and a team member’s spouse to build the box). Obtaining each of the different parts of the project took much time and organization. The projector, in particular, proved challenging as most projectors available required mounting too close or too far away from the sand surface. While the actual sandbox, Kinect camera and software were inexpensive, obtaining the appropriate projector and graphics computer were costly.

Enhancing Student Learning and Development

Source Bundles

Providing images for student inquiry is a practice that our team has often used throughout the year. Using a 3D scanner and 360° camera allowed teachers to create images that are authentic to the local area and that better suit the specific topics covered in the unit. Students are able to explore artefacts and spaces in a way that is more interactive and engaging, as well as relevant to their local area. Students learn to respect and explore local sources of information; become more familiar with local museums, libraries, and public spaces; and develop their inquiry skills by exploring topics of their own interests, but are guided by the inquiry prompts developed by the teacher. Students are also encouraged to view their community, and not just their school, as potential sources for collaborative inquiry.


HP Reveal and CoSpaces Edu

With HP Reveal, students were encouraged to engage with their topic by creating and recording (1) a monologue from a historical perspective, and (2) a rationale for the historical significance of an event and an explanation of their coin design. Students were then able to share their designs and monologues in the form of a gallery walk, reinforcing the classroom as a collaborative environment. Students were also encouraged to develop their digital literacy skills and problem-solving skills as they learned to apply the technology to new situations.

With CoSpaces Edu, students worked collaboratively in small groups to develop their virtual flight museums. Their digital literacy skills were developed by the exploration of the app and learning how to use Blockly to code objects within their museum to move, produce sound, and so on. Problem-solving was also important as students experienced various challenges with the app. Students are ultimately able to experience their museums virtually using Google Cardboard, making the experience more engaging and more authentic.


AR Sandbox

Due to the complexity of the project and the limited time frame of the project, there was not much time to experiment with the sandbox with large groups of students. We hope that the unique experience will prove to be an engaging and hands-on learning experience for students next year, especially with respect to geographic simulations or historical representations. Students will benefit from the ability to observe patterns as they make changes to the simulated environment, and test predictions made based on prior experience.


  • WordPress Website:
  • OTF Pedagogy B4 Technology Conference (August 2018)
  • OTF Connects Webinar (fall 2018)
  • Peel District School Board workshop (fall 2018)
  • OLA Super Conference (February 2019)

Project Evaluation

A large number of programs involving augmented and virtual reality were covered by the project in a relatively short period of time. The overall goal of the project was to explore the benefits of using these technologies for student inquiry while considering the efficacy, cost and effort involved in using each program. It would be best to consider each part of the project separately.


Source Bundles

The idea of using visual sources for student inquiry is not new to members of our team, but using 3D and 360° images proved to be an exciting development in this approach to teaching. The advent of this technology also creates a new challenge for teachers and librarians to provide image sources for student inquiry that are stimulating and accessible. The fact that creating such images is now possible at a fairly low price and in a fairly user-friendly format is encouraging. The WordPress website is also fairly easy to use and is free, although advanced features such as embedding the 360° images are only available at a fairly high cost. Nevertheless, the team hopes to continue to develop the website to offer inquiry source bundles to other teachers, as well as to encourage other teachers to experiment with cameras and scanners and to produce their own collections of images. Perhaps the biggest benefit from the program, however, is the development of networks within the local community. By the end of the project, we had made contact with a variety of local museums, archives and libraries, as well as explored a variety of local historic sites, which are all available for future inquiries and for the development of future source bundles.


HP Reveal and Cospaces Edu

HP Reveal is a user-friendly and free app that offers students a unique way to explore and present information. Students were able to create their own auras and explore the auras of others. One complication was the poor audio quality of the videos, making it difficult to experience the aura especially when presented in a smaller space. This problem was averted when the auras were still images of the students’ reports. The auras could also be experienced in a larger room, such as the school library or gym, so that there is more room between the target images, or students could use earbuds to hear the videos (as is often seen in museum applications). It was also difficult at first to share auras with others until we discovered that you need to follow a particular account before you are able to experience their auras.


CoSpaces Edu is a much more complex app and, as such, created more challenges for students. Creating the spaces seemed to be fairly problem-free, but the ability to move smoothly through the spaces was made difficult partly because of the quality of the viewers (the touch button tended to jam). Another problem was that the coding applications in Blockly were sometimes glitchy, making it difficult to create the animations that students were attempting to make. The coding option is also not available in the iPad and smartphone versions of the app. The app developers are removing the free version and encouraging teachers to pay for accounts, the cheapest being about US$105 for 30 accounts. Although this is not a high cost, one would expect fewer bugs in a paid program. The team plans to continue to work with the app and to share their challenges with the designers with the hope that the app will be improved.


AR Sandbox

By far the most time-consuming and costly of the three projects, the sandbox is expected to create the biggest impact on the school community. We are excited about creating resources and routines for using the box so that students can begin to experience it in the fall. The project would not have been possible without the help of many different people with various skills, including programming, carpentry and resource writing.


Perhaps the biggest challenge with the AR Sandbox is calibrating the software with the camera and finding a projector that will work with the program. Our team needed to order a special projector with the correct throw distance. The team also had access to a skilful carpenter who created the box at cost and in a timely manner. The projector and graphics computer were also quite expensive, although the rest of the project was fairly low in cost.


What was most encouraging about this project was the way that it brought together a diverse group of people with a common cause. Fitzpatrick and Braga rose to the occasion and spent much time and effort into procuring the software and the graphics computer and completing the programming. The team quickly grew to include Foote as well who worked with his spouse to construct the sandbox. The team plans to experiment with the sandbox and share their findings and related resources to other schools both within and outside of the Peel District School Board, including secondary schools and local colleges.

Resources Used

WordPress website created by team

UC Davis main website for AR Sandbox

Sketchfab main site for 3D scans

The Old  Britannia School House

Sikh Heritage Museum of Canada

Peel Art Gallery Museum and Archives

Resources Created

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