Students at St. Germaine Catholic School in Oak Lawn recently had a chance to visit the International Space Station.

They also peered inside an atom during a lesson on viruses. And they did both without leaving their seats thanks to virtual reality technology.

“It puts meaning behind it,” said Genevie Jakstavich, who guided the 6th and 7th graders in the virtual lessons from Google Expedition. “It’s not just looking at things through goggles, you can go to Pearl Harbor and you’re actually on a ship.”

Jakstavich, who teaches 5th through 8th grade science, said the program was better than merely watching a movie on the space station because she could stop students, as they gazed through the goggles, and ask them to look at specific things.

The school initially had 10 sets of goggles, so students had to share, but a grant from the Lila and Violet Zaranti Foundation in Rosemont will help pay for at least 20 more sets. Students who wore glasses sometimes found the goggles uncomfortable so had the option of using an I-PAD with augmented reality, which displays the same scenes but not in 3-D.

The program encourages students to analyze what they’re seeing, but also engages students, according to Jakstavich.

“They’re interested in any kind of new technology and especially technology that’s different than their chrome book,” said Jakstavich. “They’re like, ‘Oh, my gosh!”

It’s not just a passive lesson either, because students tend to become active participants, even standing up and look all over as they watch.

Jakstavich and other teachers at the school — Cathy Kurey, Margaret Kinsella, Serigio Medina and Lori Finn — took an online class to prepare.

Rorey Donnelly, a sixth grader at the school, said he enjoyed the class and was looking forward to more.

“We were able to move around and actually feel the things … everything in the space shuttle, the medical kits, where the bathroom was,” Donnelly said, explaining the process gave students the sense that they were feeling things, even though they were not.

“It seemed really real, like we were actually there,” said Donnelly.

Kevin Reedy, principal of the school, said virtual reality offered a “good learning experience”

He told about a social studies teacher who recently used the technology to do a walk-through of an Egyptian pyramid.

“It gives kids experiences they’re probably never going to have,” Reedy said.

Janice Neumann is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.