How I … brought augmented reality into every classroom

Ever heard of a Merge Cube? We hadn’t either. But take note, because it’s about to take your science classes to a new digital level. Hajarah Hamdani, Senior School Supervisor (Grades 11 and 12) and Chief Innovation & Digital Officer at GEMS Millennium School – Sharjah, gives us the high-tech lowdown on the AR app.

Hajarah Hamdani (centre) and the Innovation Team at GMS.

So, what exactly is a Merge Cube?
“The Merge Cube, on its own, is a black and silver physical cube that has inlaid designs, like a QR code.
When the cube interacts with the Merge Cube app on a mobile device, the app transforms that solid square into a digital canvas. At GMS we’re using an application called Merge Explorer which has a host of topics and quizzes on a variety of subjects, from the solar system to seismology.”

What made you turn to Merge Cube in the first place?
“The problem we were aiming to resolve was the learning experience of our students – especially in sciences. We know that when students are intrigued and curious they learn better, but with students unable to come to the lab or have experiential classes due to the pandemic, our concern was that our remote learners would miss out on the benefits of a fully immersive learning experience.

“The more I learned about Merge Cube, the more convinced I became that it was something that would add real wow factor to online learning for our students in class and at home.”

How does it work?
“The joy of Merge Cube is that it’s super simple. Even our Grade 1 students can set them up. In fact, one of our students, Aziz Abdulfaizov in class 7B, made a video showing how simple it is to use.

“Students at school can use the solid cubes provided by Merge Labs, but for every student to have access to a cube at home, we sent them a PDF of the flat cube which they can print on paper and assemble. The paper cube works exactly the same as the solid cubes we use at school, so every student has the same experience.”

How does it help teachers?
“I’ve found that, from a lesson delivery perspective, Merge Cube is highly interactive. You can easily assign the same modules and quizzes to all your students, in class or at home. The app has subject areas that are suitable for all kinds of learners from Grade 1 to 12. I’ve also noticed that it facilitates self-paced learning – the kids will keep on discovering well beyond class time.

“What has surprised me is just how much AR has livened up science classes. For example, explaining the solar system would usually involve diagrams and models, but now I can show my students a planet through the cube. What’s more is they can not only see that planet but hold it in their hands as they learn and explore.”

How has the AR technology been received by the school and colleagues?
“Getting leadership buy-in was really easy. Principal Theresa Varman was a real driving force for the implementation of Merge Cube across the school. When she saw how it works and how easy it is to adopt, she gave it the green light. This was followed by a series of sessions with the vendors and then we purchased the resources.

“My colleagues at GMS have loved using Merge Cube as much as I do. Anything that is quick to learn and adds value and excitement to the class is well-received. Initially, we had to ensure that the relevant teachers were comfortable using and demonstrating the cube, so the Innovation Team coached all the staff on how to plan their lessons using the cube. Once teachers were comfortable, we were able to reduce that support.”

What do the kids make of it?
“The feedback from the students has been incredibly positive. This is particularly evident in the junior and primary levels. The kids just can’t get enough and want to do as many modules as possible using the cube. They just keep on exploring.”

What’s your advice to other teachers that are considering introducing a similar tool?
“Kids need to be regularly exposed to AR in different forms. Let them experience it and make mistakes. In this ‘next normal’, these tools will define the world and our young people need to be part of it, so why not start now?”

What are your goals for the Merge Cube at GMS?
“I love how the Merge Cube has sparked our kids’ curiosity. I’d like to see their inquisitiveness develop into them creating their own modules on the app. It has been amazing to bring such a simple yet transformative technology to our students, and I couldn’t have done it without the help and support of our principal and the whole Innovation Team at GMS.”

Do you have a teaching tip you’d like to share with your colleagues? Get in touch by sending an email to Benita Adesuyan at Benita.adesuyan@gemseducation.com