On the morning of Dec. 11, Spanish 2 students at New Albany High School left their classroom for South America.

They toured an ancient Incan citadel, Machu Picchu, in Peru but the trip didn't require a plane ride or time off school.

They instantly were able to traverse the grounds via virtual reality with a smartphone and Google Cardboard viewing devices, and they recorded what they'd seen and done -- in Spanish, of course.

Incorporating virtual reality into education is a way to capture students' attention and connect them to the material they're learning in a more authentic way, said Spanish teacher Meghan Guthrie.

"It's a way for students to just really become engaged," Guthrie said.

Virtual-reality projects for now have been used only at the high school, primarily in world-languages classes, said district spokesman Patrick Gallaway. Still, teachers at other buildings could look into the trend to determine if it complements their classroom instruction, he said.

"As a district, we are always encouraging our staff to make learning fun, innovative and engaging for our students," Gallaway said.

Guthrie's Spanish 2 class project was enabled by outside funding, she said.

The Google Cardboard devices -- small boxes with special viewfinders that line up with a smartphone screen so virtual-reality content can be streamed via a compatible application -- cost about $10 each, Guthrie said.

She said she was able to order 60 of them by using funds from a $1,000 grant awarded by the high school PTO. The viewing devices can be reused. Guthrie said she wants to incorporate them into her Spanish 3 and 4 classes to help the students learn directions and map-viewing skills in Spanish.

Jack Thunberg, a 15-year-old freshman in the Spanish 2 class, said this was the first time he used Google Cardboard as he scanned ancient structures and other scenery at Machu Picchu.

"It's pretty cool," he said.

Spanish 2 student Riley McNabb said using the Google Cardboard made her feel like she was actually visiting Machu Picchu.

The 15-year-old freshman said she was able to see mountains and how purposeful the Incan stonework was.

"You really got to see the architecture up close," she said.

ssole@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSarah