Engaging Students in Deeper Learning with Augmented Reality

A look behind the scenes at our technology development process

As technology evolves, it can influence transformative changes in the classroom that empower learners and help us make the most of every instructional moment. In this ongoing series, we'll take you behind the scenes to understand our curriculum update process, as we iterate in the wake of new research, and our technology integration and development process, as we weave research-driven pedagogy with innovative tools.

Today, we're taking a look at the new activities added to our augmented reality app, McGraw Hill AR, which just won the 2023 Top Edtech Product in Future Learning award from District Administration magazine. The app was created in partnership with Verizon for Verizon Innovative Learning, an education initiative that supports digital equity and inclusion in education. The app is free to all schools, no matter what curriculum they’re using. We’ll hear from Patrick Merchant, Senior Content Strategist at McGraw Hill, who developed the math lessons, and Rob Spierenberg, CEO of All Things Media, the company that developed the app.

A Look at McGraw Hill AR

McGraw Hill AR is an augmented reality app that includes free, standards-aligned, publisher-grade lessons that unlock a world of possibility – no prep or guesswork required. Currently, the app features Algebra Readiness and 3D Geometry content for grades 6 and up that can supplement any core curriculum.

Activity 1: Cross Sections

Activity 3: Nets

What is Augmented Reality, and what is its role in PreK – 12 education?

Patrick: Augmented reality is a powerful tool to engage learners that are attached to their phones. Simply put, it's a way to make learning more interesting! AR superimposes digital images, text, or animation onto the real world, usually with a tablet or smartphone's camera. It uses digital overlays to "augment" reality by depicting both the real world and the superimposed objects.

Rob: AR can be as simple as the lines you see in your backup camera in your car. It uses a device to depict the real world but adds that layer that gives you more information or increases the value, like with the backup camera. In our case, augmented reality is about adding interactive experiences to real classrooms. AR allows educators to bring experiences into the classroom at a low cost – and in a way that allows students to immerse themselves in those experiences.

What sets McGraw Hill AR apart from other educational augmented reality apps on the market?

Rob: We didn't create an AR app; we created an educational app that happens to leverage AR. The primary function of this app is to engage students and promote deeper learning in foundational concepts, all aligned with standards and objectives. Our design approach is deeply student and teacher-centered. For example, when designing the activities in the app, we aimed to create concise experiences that take about three to five minutes to complete. Other developers might be tempted to make these experiences linger because they take a great deal of time to create. But we understand that every moment in the classroom is critical to teachers. If students can learn a concept in a matter of minutes – and have fun doing it - that's what we want!

Patrick: The development process for the activities in the app was very deliberate. We didn't just take a concept and "make it AR." We carefully selected concepts where the learning experience would be enhanced by AR. We asked ourselves, "How will AR help students understand this concept and reach the learning objective?" other than, of course, just being cool! As Rob said, time is limited. Teachers can't waste their time with shiny new tools that don't advance mastery toward standards.

Rob: That was a prerequisite for us in the design process: For anything we're doing here, the AR must add a discernible learning benefit to the activity.

You've just released four new activities in the app. Can you describe those activities and explain why they were chosen for development?

Patrick: The first three are geometry concepts for middle and high school students, and perhaps some advanced upper elementary students. All are very conducive to AR. The first is Parallel and Skew Lines, and the advantage to the AR here is that you can't show that lines go on forever in the classroom.

Rob: That's right, you'd need a lot of string! For this activity, students look at a three-dimensional object and learn about the relationship between the lines that make up the outer edges of that object.

Rob: The next activity, Reflections, looks at mirroring on a graph. Essentially, if you have a point on a graph, you select an axis to mirror. That point translates the coordinates across an axis.

Activity 7: Parallel and Skew Lines

Activity 8: Transformations in the Coordinate Plane

Rob: Then we have the Pythagorean Theorem in 3D activity, which allows students to leverage the Pythagorean Theorem to find distances and values within a three-dimensional object just by employing reasoning and common sense to use exterior measurements to find interior measurements.

Patrick: This one is particularly powerful with the AR because students can actually see inside a 3D object to find the line in question, rather than trying to visualize that from a book.

Patrick: The final new activity, Graph Theory, is a brain teaser. Normally when this concept is taught, it involves looking at a paper with dots and lines and tracing with a pencil. Our app brings in gamification and is a good challenge for students, so it’s a great tool just to get students to think deeply about a complex concept while having fun.

Activity 9: Pythagorean Theorem in 3D

Activity 10: Graph Theory

How could educators use McGraw Hill AR to foster student agency?

Rob: When students themselves are the ones blazing the trail, they're going to be far more engaged. AR provides great opportunities for student exploration. In McGraw Hill AR, all the activities follow an Observe, Explore, Evaluate structure. We've designed the apps so that there isn't necessarily a right or wrong answer for anything students do in the app during the Explore phase. Instead, we guide them through navigating and manipulating the models to foster a deeper understanding of the concept at their own pace. Each activity encourages students to make choices and see what happens, with soft prompts that encourage them to "see if you can..." make discoveries and new connections.

Patrick: In our Slope activity, students adjust a skateboarding ramp and observe how a skateboarder goes over, falls short, or crashes on the ramp based on the way the student has set it up. It's a great activity based all on choice and exploration that students really enjoy – and it reflects their voices and experiences, too.

How does McGraw Hill AR empower educators to be creative in their practice?

Patrick: While the app is designed to closely support standards and learning objectives, it's still very flexible. Teachers can work it into a lesson whenever it works for them and spend as much time on it as they'd like. It's another tool in their toolbox that can enable them to reach students who thrive when exposed to non-traditional learning experiences.

Rob: The faster that students master fundamental concepts, the more time and flexibility teachers have to expand on them. The activities in the app are really a set of micro experiences, all of which add up to something greater, but are individually flexible, fun, and engaging. McGraw Hill AR gives teachers more opportunities to address building blocks of key concepts and explore how their students respond to discreet elements of each concept.

What's next for McGraw Hill AR?

Patrick: We hope to add some more math activities as well as some additional disciplines to the app.

Rob: In addition to content additions, we're always looking for ways to increase the reach and collaborative nature of McGraw Hill AR.

Lesson plans for each activity can be found on Verizon Innovative Learning HQ, a next-generation K–12 online learning portal that is completely free to all educators.