Project-Based Learning at Fort Vancouver

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About Us

My name is John Zingale, and I teach middle school Social Studies at Vancouver iTech Preparatory, in Vancouver, Washington, in the United States. iTech Prep is a 6-12 public magnet school that is focused on project-based learning with a S.T.E.M. focus.

At iTech, I teach 7th & 8th grade blended classes where I rotate between Washington State History and United States History. This year I am teaching Washington State History where I am continuing on a collaborative project with the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. I have been teaching for five years, am a Google for Education Certified Educator & Innovator #WDC17, part of the VPS Social Studies Curriculum team, and the 2017 recipient of the Washington State Governor’s Awards to Excellence in Teaching History.

The Project

This project started back in December 2013, when I visited the fort with a colleague to think about some possible projects. During the visit we walked around with the sun shining and the wind howling. We wanted to get out of the wind and back into the past. Unfortunately, many of the buildings were locked and inaccessible.

Enter the Fort Vancouver. I knew that I wanted to do a local history project in which our students would explore our local community. Fort Vancouver was the perfect fit. I started to think about the students making the tour so that we could share our history with the community and the world. I began speaking with Tessa and Greg at the historic site about the idea and they got excited about the possibility of partnering with our iTech students. We held off on trying to crunch it into last school year, which ended up being a great thing.

As I planned the project over the summer of 2015, Ricoh came out with a newer version of their Theta camera and the Holobuilder web app came out. These two advances would enable the students to create a far better product than we would have had otherwise; a product that allows for virtual reality using a viewer like Google Cardboard or View-Master. I created a sample street view tour, showed Tessa and Bob at the fort, and the wheels were in motion. My colleague, David Midkiff, and I planned the project around teaching the students to think like archaeologists, along with enhancing their research, writing, speaking, and technology skills.

Moving Forward

After the success that we had creating the interactive virtual tour back in 2016, Tessa, Bob, and I just knew that we had to continue the partnership the next time that I taught Washington State History. We took some time off, and I presented about the project at conferences across the country such at the National Council for the Social Studies and the Northwest Council for Computer Education. Teachers from across the country were amazed that this was done by middle school students. When the three of us sat down to brainstorm new ideas for this project, I brought along our Computer Science / Robotics teacher Cyndy Hagin. I just knew that adding her expertise into the mix would help move us all forward.

I had the idea to try some type of augmented reality experience for the fort – kind of like Pokemon Go. I wasn’t sure how to do that, but that is part of the creative process that I love as a project-based teacher. I get to explore and learn new things all the time. Cyndy and I dug in and learned some different things. We explored with Metaverse and HP Reveal (formerly Aurasma). After some time passed and we had discussions about what the fort wanted/needed, we decided to go in a couple of directions.

We obviously wanted to tackle the issue of making the fort more interactive for people, and leveraging technology to do that. We all wanted to give our clients their voice in the process. Tessa and Bob knew that they wanted to tackle a problem that all museums face, “How do we showcase more artifacts to the public when we don’t have the space?” This is where Cyndy and I could split off our classes to focus on these two different issues. I would tackle the History and Archaeology for Virtual Museum, and she would tackle the interactive experiences through developing mobile apps.

In order create the 3D scans of the artifacts, I began playing around with a 3D scanner, but found it difficult to use and I couldn’t get a usable scan. I wasn’t sure that it would work for many of the artifacts that we would be getting to research and digitize. That is when I learned about photogrammetry. Photogrammetry utilizes pictures, LOTS AND LOTS of pictures, to calculate out the geometry of the the object using the overlapping details in the photos. I started off using PhotoScan by Agisoft, and while I like that it is used by professionals, I wasn’t sure that we would be successful with it. Luckily, after some more digging, I came across the app Qlone. This app makes the photogrammetry process much easier as it utilizes Apple’s AR Kit to cast an augmented reality dome around the object. The app had some issues and crashes, but it allowed ALL of my students to be able to successfully scan, and digitally curate an artifact from the fort.

We also wanted our virtual museum to be accessible to all, and that’s where Sketchfab came in. Sketchfab is a fantastic place where we could host our 3D artifact scans, along with text and audio analysis from the students. We were then able to embed all of that into what you see here. Then using metadata that the students generated, we used an AwesomeTable to make the museum searchable by artifact material, archaeological theme, and key words. Some students even figured out how to make our .gif files run within the database to make it much more visually appealing and interactive.

The results you see on our site,, demonstrate an extreme dedication of our Washington State History students to being amateur archaeologists and historians in the digital world. This is why I love using what I call my HiPstory approach to learning. It gives students a Hands-on, individualized, project-based approach to engaging and learning History and Social Studies. We hope you enjoy it and share it with others everywhere so that they can learn about the beginnings of our wonderful city.

Check out the video that our district made about our work.

Equipment, Workflow, and Challenges

Kiera (student): Before we started using the Qlone app we started using this app called PhotoScan which was not working as we wanted it to. That is why only a few kids got to use this app because it wasn’t properly working. Then we started to use Qlone, which helped guide us through the photogrammetry process, by creating the augmented reality dome, so that we could get the scans of our artifacts in 3D. As we started to use this new app, we found it was difficult once in a while, and sometimes it took multiple tries to get the perfect one. Not all of the artifacts could be scanned in a way that generated a quality scan, so we made note of if and the fort brought us some new artifacts to scan. The best way that we found to scan an artifact was to use a lazy susan so that our object could spin slowly and we could stay in place. For the larger objects, like my platter, we used extra large scanning mats and a pedestal that we could walk around. Once we had the scan completed, we exported the .obj and .gif files to Google Drive, and then had them uploaded to SketchFab.

Colton (student): We had to deal with the artifacts not scanning correctly, not picking up on the artifacts at all, and the Qlone app crashing. We could either switch the mat sizes we used, restart the device, or just get a new device to scan the artifact with. Once we got newer, updated iPads it began to scan better because it handled the app better than the older models.

Advice for Newcomers to 3D

Abby (student): I think that the best advice I could give a person wishing to start working with 3D would be to read up on it and then find something easy to start with. Initially, we tried to use our 3D scanner that didn’t work, and then we tried photogrammetry that took a long time and didn’t always work. In the end, when we found Qlone, we had a few hiccups, but we, middle school students, managed to make it work for us.

Museums and 3D

Mr. Z.: I really believe that AR / VR / 3D is the ultimate game changer for history, museums, and archeology. It is difficult for many people to get to the different historic sites, museums, and other places. Being able to not only have my students use/experience this, but to create the product is extremely important to me. They can now say that they have put something of historic value into the world that can help educate others in our community, across our country, and even the world. When I hear from the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site that they are getting visitors to the park that have viewed our VR tour or seen the artifacts before they visit, it makes me proud and brings pride to the students as well. Being able to use these technologies allows students everywhere to no longer be passive in their learning. They can now go to the places that they are studying and be active participants in their educational journey.

Abby: I think that 3D will allow us to showcase artifacts to people that wouldn’t normally be able to see them. Whether that means allowing people to see artifacts that aren’t on display or if a person is unable to make the trip to see them physically. I see 3D being the medium of the future for our history.

Colton: I think that 3D will enable scientist and the overall public to view artifacts, fossils, and other things that are important to our country’s and world’s history. That means allowing people to see artifacts that can’t be put on display or allowing them to create entire exhibits in augmented reality allowing them to view something larger than an artifact.

Kiera: I see 3D changing in museums and cultural organisations by showing important artifacts as 3D models and not the real kind for security reasons. 3D would help our future to show more of the artifacts that nobody usually gets to see on a daily basis at a museum.

Favorite Models on Sketchfab

Abby: I really liked the Tyrannosaurus Rex – AMNH because it was very well done and it has a super detailed description.

Colton: The Italian Biplane Fighter had an incredible amount of detail and great information.

Kiera: I really liked the Portrait of Lady Mary Douglas because it has very good detail and looks like the real thing.

Thanks for Reading!

Please check out our iTechFVvr profile on Sketchfab, as well as our virtual reality work on our website Our students have worked very hard on this, so we’d love to hear what you think, and if there are ways to improve upon our work. You can email me at or John.Zingale@HiPstory.Network, follow me on Twitter @HiPstorywMrJZ and @HiPstoryNetwork, and follow our school @iTechPrep. To learn more about our school Vancouver iTech Preparatory, please visit our website.

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Bringing history and social studies to life!

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