The shortage of STEM graduates is one of the most commonly reported problems across education. According to the UK Commission for Employment & Skills, 43% of STEM based jobs are difficult to fill and the increasing digital skills gap is a growing cause for concern. How could virtual reality help with teaching science? More often than not, pupils find it difficult to grasp concepts within science and as a result they lose interest in the subject. VR has the ability to bring these concepts to life and present subject matter in a more understandable and exciting way. For example, imagine learning about our Solar System if you were hovering in space or learning about the circulatory system by witnessing the heart pump blood around the body. This article aims to give you a brief insight into how VR can be used to help teach concepts across the science curriculum.
Where to start?
VR comes in various levels of immersion and the route you go down will depend on what budget you have and which age group you are working with. If budget is less of a concern and you are working with secondary school pupils (13+), you may want to invest in a HTC Vive or Oculus Rift. These are powerful headsets and provide a level of immersion beyond a smartphone and simple VR headset. One thing to note with this route is that you’ll need a fairly powerful computer/laptop to run it.
On the other hand, if you are working with a tighter budget or a younger age group, you may want to go with a smartphone and Google Cardboard equivalent headset. This form of VR provides a lower level of immersion but it’s cheaper, doesn’t require a computer and is suitable for KS2 upwards (depending on the headset you choose). Despite the lower level of immersion, these headsets can be a great way of teaching a topic and can provide pupils with a completely different learning experience. As an introduction to these two forms, we’ve included some example apps/programs that you can use within your science lessons.
Smartphone and Google Cardboard
As mentioned in our geography and history post, Google Expeditions is probably the most popular VR app used within education. It’s free to download and there are over 1000 different topics to choose from. For science, you can cover space, inside the body, the environment and evolution just to name a few. Google Expeditions is a great way of getting started with VR and the way it’s been designed makes the user experience perfect for in the classroom.
Another couple of apps worth mentioning for science are Titans of Space and MEL Chemistry. The former allows you to travel through our Solar System and beyond. Titans of Space is self-guided which allows pupils to work through the experience at their own pace. During the experience, pupils will gain a new perspective on the vast size of our universe, as they are able to see the relative size of each planet in our Solar System. MEL Chemistry provides over 80 different VR lessons, ranging from the structure of atoms to an interactive periodic table. This however is a paid service and the cost will depend on the number of devices that you are using within your class.
HTC Vive or Oculus Rift
An amazing app available on Viveport (the platform for the HTC Vive) is Mars Odyssey. This experience puts you in the position of an astronaut on a mission to the red planet. You can watch the sunrise, explore the space station and even help repair the Mars Rover. The visuals in this app are truly breathtaking and it’s guaranteed to inspire your pupils with their learning about space.
Another app available on Viveport is The Body VR: Journey Inside a Cell. This app provides an incredible amount of detail and breaks down individual molecules, transports you through the body and even allows you to interact with the environment through the HTC Vive controllers. Not only is the level of detail spot on with the visuals but this experience is also accompanied with detailed narration that talks you through each stage of the journey.
VR creates an exciting opportunity not only for teaching science but also for all STEM subjects. The level of detail that can be presented through VR is far greater than any picture or video and the ability to be able to interact with the environment surely creates learning experiences that won’t be forgotten. VR is still relatively new and developers are creating new experiences all the time. Education is arguably one of the main sectors to benefit from VR and as it continues to develop I’m sure it will have a greater foothold in classrooms across the world.