Using Google Cardboard as a Time Machine into 150 Year Old Stereographic Photos

By now you have probably heard the buzz about Google Cardboard, but if you haven’t, it is exactly what you would expect – a piece of cardboard – that turns your smartphone into a virtual reality headset. Remember the old stereoscope viewers? Google Cardboard harnesses this 150+ year old technology into an educational tool relevant for today’s classroom.

You can get Google Cardboard for as low as $10-$20 at various online and brick and mortar stores, so it is a cheap and effective way to integrate technology in your classroom. You can even make your own! Or, if you want to incorporate a STEM activity, you can have students make their own in collaborative groups or by themselves! Google provides downloads for the Cardboard schematics so that students can easily create their own here. All you would have to buy is lenses and magnets and find some old cardboard boxes.

After you’ve gotten your Cardboard viewer, have your students download the free Google Cardboard app from the app store so they can use their own phones for this activity.



The Library of Congress has a huge collection of stereographic photos. These can all be turned into 3-D images to be viewed on your student’s Cardboard. This takes a little work, and we have found that StereoPhoto Maker is a good free program for both Windows and Mac.

Luckily, however, we’ve done some of the work for you. Here are 31 stereographs in a google drive folder that you can download for free and have already been optimized and converted into the correct file format.

It’s as simple as that. Just download some of the stereographs or create your own from the Library of Congress and load them up in the Google Cardboard app.


Classroom Activity

You can use this in your classroom in a variety of ways. Along with the STEM and technology integration, you can use this as a fun way to interact with primary sources, rather than just having a picture on a sheet of paper. The Observe, Reflect, Question activity is certainly a good place to start, and you can use any one of our other Classroom Activities as well.

Watch as your students engage with primary sources on a whole new level. You may even notice some smiles and laughing. The virtual reality and new technology aspect naturally lends itself to students’ inherent curiosity. Try it in your classroom – you won’t be disappointed.

One of the best things about Google Cardboard is that it is open source and anyone can create content. Plus, Google and other companies are trying their hardest to get virtual reality into classrooms across the globe. This technology was really designed to take your students to places a school bus can’t – your own personalized Magic School Bus. For-profit and nonprofit companies alike are latching onto this concept of virtual reality in the classroom, so new and exciting content is being created everyday. Soon, we will be able to take a virtual field trip to Mars!

Here are a few other resources for ideas to use Google Cardboard in your classroom:

  • Google Expeditions Pioneer Program – Content should be freely available early 2016.
  • Discovery Education Virtual Reality Field Trips – Under sea adventures, African safaris, Costa Rica’s rainforests, and much, much more.
  • YouTube has a huge list of Google Cardboard 360 degree videos – Here you will find anything from skydiving in a wing suit and flying in a fighter jet to snowboarding and riding in a race car – so make sure you curate your content for your age group before you let your kids loose on this channel.
  • Because this is a new technology, do some searching online and in your app store for other VR and Google Cardboard apps. There are a ton of different apps and most of them are free.


Key Questions

Aside from the typical questions for analyzing primary sources, this is a great opportunity to ask questions that are more in depth than usual.

  • How does the medium affect the way we analyze primary sources?
  • For what purpose was the primary source created? Can you imagine the amount of time and resources one would have to have to create a stereographic photo?
  • Does having a 3-D image add anything to the analysis?



  • Have students create the Cardboard viewers in groups to encourage collaboration.
  • Have student customize their Cardboard viewers by allowing them to draw and color on them. Adding googly eyes is also fun!
  • Want to make this into a larger project? Have students create their own virtual field trips of their communities, playgrounds, classroom, workplace, homes, etc. etc. The possibilities are truly endless.
  • High School, Middle School, Elementary