Before embarking on a nearly 30-year tradition of traveling to the nation's capital, eighth-graders at Jones Middle School researched its sights and took virtual tours of Washington, D.C.

Eighth-graders from Jones and Hastings middle schools will travel May 14-17 to Washington, D.C.

Teachers and administrators at the two schools have always tried to make the trip as educational as possible and typically have classroom lessons leading up to it to help students learn more about the capital's history and landmarks.

This year, that effort includes digital-learning equipment the two schools received last September through grants from the Upper Arlington Education Foundation, support from Upper Arlington Schools and the parent-teacher organizations at the two middle schools.

According to information provided by the district last fall, the UA+Ed contributed about $42,000, while the district chipped in about $8,000 and the PTOs each contributed about $5,000.

What resulted was the creation of iSpaces where students could do everything from film videos in front of green screens to research topics on iPads.

This past week at Jones, eighth-graders in Jean Reece's language-arts classes were collaborating with school media specialist Michelle Lombardi to research monuments and memorials in D.C. ahead of their trip.

Students, often grouped in pairs, would research a specific site and then lead a presentation while classmates got to take a 360-degree look at it through virtual-reality goggles that also were purchased with the technology grant money.

"Instead of writing a traditional report or making a slide show, students made travel brochures and virtual tours of a monument," Lombardi said. "They guided the rest of the class through their virtual tour using the Google Expeditions app and our ViewMaster headsets."

Lombardi, in her fourth year as medial specialist at Jones, said virtual tours have been used for all of Jones' students this year for a variety of projects.

She said the headsets enhance students' understanding of classroom topics.

"We use virtual tours to increase student engagement," she said. "Students are much more engaged in a learning experience when they can be fully immersed in it, as they are when using virtual reality.

"We also use these tours to give students the power to create their own learning experiences," Lombardi said. "By creating content that they can use to teach their peers, students are empowered to take charge of their own learning and incorporate their unique perspectives into the learning experience.

"I have found that they are more motivated and invested in a project when they are creating content rather than consuming information created by someone else."

During one virtual tour in the Jones Media Center April 29, eighth-graders Grayson Guy and Lilly Stelzer noted that just eight women's names are listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in D.C.

Reece said students would be tasked during their trip with learning more about people whose names are on the wall.

"We're going to research that person, find out where they're from, how they died and you're going to write that person a letter -- a tribute," she said.

Eighth-graders Jack Lowe and Aaron Henry said they are excited for the trip and noted the virtual-reality headsets were helping them prepare for it.

"We're going to be visiting a lot of memorials and monuments there," Lowe said. "So we're using these to give us a lot of background information."

Henry said the equipment is "kind of helping us scope out what it's going to be like in Washington, D.C., give us a little background about what's going to happen and what the memorials are about."

Lombardi said the equipment helps bring topics to life.

"I have the ability to enhance what students are learning in the classroom," she said. "By incorporating research skills and technology tools, I am able to bring content to life as students learn it in the classroom.

"I am also able to give students the power to create their own content through the use of technology, thereby enhancing their classroom experience. I love that I can apply these concepts to any content area, fully integrating the library throughout the school curriculum."