The world of reality has its limits; the world of imagination is boundless. - Jean Jacques Rousseau
We say "a picture is worth a thousand words" and then ask our students to imagine things they cannot see.
In chemistry, we show two-dimensional representations of atoms, create crude drawings of molecules on classroom boards, and use abstract notations to show where the electrons are. We constantly look for videos - some better than others - to show things and processes so small terms such as "nanotechnology" were invented to classify them. As technology miniaturization becomes more extensive the understanding of it becomes more paramount. But how can we make learning of such concepts more real, more vivid, and more effective?
Envision seeing the invisible. Imagine a student being able to enter a world of the atom and explore it thoroughly all the while being the hero of her own journey. Virtual reality (VR) headsets coupled with 3-D chemistry simulations and expeditions allow every student to not just see but experience the atom or the behavior of the gas inside of a helium balloon.
Later, we can place students in the middle of the action as ionic, covalent, and other bonds that make up everything are being formed. Later still, we give them the opportunity to make their own atoms or molecules from scratch. The possibilities are endless as VR knocks down the two-dimensional barriers of traditional technology and provides a fully immersive learning experience.
This can be done in any subject. How about taking your social studies students on a walk along the Great Wall of China? Or, helping physics or engineering students investigate how Burj Khalifa - the tallest building in the world - was built and why its design is appropriate for the hot desert it stands in. English teachers can incorporate virtual reality experiences while teaching students text analysis or writing. Check out a poetry analysis lesson and this persuasive writing one.
Students can even tour universities they might be interested in and skip the travel, lodging, and meal costs associated with traditional college tours. While a virtual college tour might not replace the full experience that includes talking to academic advisors and asking questions it gives a prospective student a realistic feel for what the campus is like and whether it is a good fit. Check out this UCLA virtual tour, but imagine being inside and looking around instead of just scrolling with your mouse or finger because this is what a good pair of VR goggles allows.
There are many more free and paid lessons and educational VR experiences available. As abstract as VR technology might seem, it can be used to improve student understanding of abstract concepts, difficult to reach locations, and things invisible to the naked eye by enhancing instruction with visual, interactive experiences that are more memorable and ultimately less abstract.
Above are just a few of the reasons why I decided to venture into virtual reality with my chemistry and engineering students and while I’ve been doing a lot of research in the last two months it is a new and largely unexplored education frontier for me. However, I am certain that full immersion and experimentation is one of the best ways to learn anything, VR included.
Thus, I started a Donor’s Choose campaign to help me fund 6 VR headsets I can use in my chemistry and engineering classes and I am asking for your support.
There are two ways you can help.
One, you can donate an amount of your choosing here knowing that your entire contribution will be used toward providing better, more progressive education to high school students.
Two, you can share this project on your social media.
But whether you are able to help or not I promise you that I will share everything my students and I learn from this project here. I hope our experiences, failures, and successes will inspire and inform you to use virtual reality or look for new ways of helping your students learn.
Thanks for reading and remember that if you endeavor to change their experiences your students and your children will come away more prepared to change the world.