May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Next Generation Science Standards, STEAM, and the Use of Virtual Reality (VR)

Posted: Thursday, August 18th, 2016

by Anne Mangahas. Ed.D.

STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) with its interdisciplinary approach, is much like the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) in building a cohesive understanding of the process of science. Studies show that the Arts use right brain thinking to foster creativity, a quality essential to innovation and problem solving. This new paradigm within STEAM offers students the best opportunities in developing the skills necessary to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Virtual Reality Technology has been shown to enhance student comprehension of complex topics and is beneficial for children with variances in cognitive ability. The interaction involved in virtual reality engages learners by creating a holistic medium that incorporates kinesthetic, cognitive, and affective domains. This experience-heavy quality of VR environments is crucial to the learning process as it provides vibrant contexts.

Virtual Reality and Cognitive Perception

Students were introduced to human perception through a virtual reality exercise showing the relationship between the brain’s natural ability of discerning reality contrasted with virtual reality’s capacity of manipulating perception. The project took place in a 10th grade high school Biology class over the course of a week.

Immersive Experiences through VR. Through a tactile-kinesthetic activity, a VR headset was provided so students could experience firsthand the effects of virtual reality in wielding a simulated environment. The immersive simulation was of a virtual reality roller coaster ride. Students were asked to document their experiences using journaling during their immersion. The leading questions of the task included: (a) How did the simulation feel in comparison to a real life roller coaster? (b) What differences, if any, were present between the immersive experience and real life?

Student responses ranged from reports of vertigo, to noting the cartoon-like graphics, as diminishing the reality of the virtual world. Students overall felt that the virtual environment did a “pretty good” job at simulating a “real” three-dimensional experience.

CCSAdBProject Based Learning and Rendering Virtual Reality Immersive Experiences

Students were then given the opportunity to create their own immersive experiences with the use of 360° video stitching apps that worked in conjunction with their mobile devices to be viewed through a virtual reality headset. A rubric was provided detailing the specifications of the project which were aligned with 21st century learning standards. Student work was graded for novelty, demonstration of the understanding of human perception, artistic composition, reflection of the technological use of VR with relation to human wellness, and quality student critiques serving to encourage collaboration and feedback. Students were also asked to write reflection papers which included an explanation of their understanding of how human perception was affected by virtual reality.


VR Project Image Capture Courtesy of Z. Gremillion (Student Project)

VR Project Image Capture Courtesy of Z. Gremillion (Student Project)

The students were obviously very excited in preparing their projects. Many of the self-identified “gamers” began to understand the connections between the world of their video games and its relevance to an educational context. Students displayed real ingenuity building their own camera rigs showing a high level of engineering prowess. Some of the camera builds were attached to students’ pets, inanimate objects, or even themselves, using their own creatively inspired designs. There’s nothing that brings more joy to a teacher than seeing students having fun whilst learning science. Students recorded first-person perspectives as animals, or through the eyes of a younger sibling as they slid down a precarious slide, to a walk through one’s neighborhood, or whilst relaxing near a pond on the observation deck.

VR Project Image Capture Courtesy of L. Dwight (Student Project)

VR Project Image Capture Courtesy of L. Dwight (Student Project)

Ultimately, the goal of STEAM is to provide an opportunity for the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics to coincide and interact in such a way as to generate a more holistic understanding of the way the world works. This exercise in understanding cognition in conjunction with the technological and creative use of smart devices and apps, provided an effective way to approach a complex topic like neuroscience and the issues that modern technologies raise with regard to the molding of human perception. As a whole, it caused students to think outside the box and to employ novel techniques that served to foster greater student enthusiasm in the methods of scientific inquiry.

Connecting to the Next Generation Science Standards

HS-LS1 From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes

Performance expectation

The chart below makes one set of connections between the instruction outlined in this article and the NGSS. Other valid connections are likely; however, space restrictions prevent from listing all possibilities. The materials, lessons, and activities outlined in the article are just one step toward reaching the performance expectations listed below.

HS-LS1-2. Develop and use a model to illustrate the hierarchical organization of interacting systems that provide specific functions within multicellular organisms. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on functions at the organism system level such as nutrient uptake, water delivery, and organism movement in response to neural stimuli. An example of an interacting system could be an artery depending on the proper function of elastic tissue and smooth muscle to regulate and deliver the proper amount of blood within the circulatory system.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include interactions and functions at the molecular or chemical reaction level.]

Click on the image to view a larger version.

Click on the image to view a larger version.

Virtual Reality, Immersive Experiences and Cognitive Perception Project Rubric

Click on image to view a larger version.

Click on image to view a larger version.


Dewey, J. (1916) Democracy and Education. New York: Macmillon.

Freina, L., & Ott, M. (2015). A literature review on immersive virtual reality in education: State of the art and perspectives, The 11th International Scientific Conference eLearning and Software for Education Bucharest, April 23-24, 2015.

Harrow, A.A (1972) Taxonomy of the Psychomotor Domain. New York: David McKay.

Papert, S. (1980). Mindstorms. New York: Basic Books.

Shim, K.C., Park, J.S., Kim H.S., Kim, J.H., Park, Y.C., Ryu, H.I. (2003). Application of virtual reality technology in biology education. Journal of Biological Education, 37(2), pp. 71-74.

Zeltzer, D. (1990) Virtual Environments: Where Are We Going? Proceedings 12th International IDATE (Institut de I’Audiovisuel Telecommunications en Europe) Conference, Montpelier, France.

Anne Mangahas is STEM director at Pacificia Christian High School

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy:

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Participate in Chemistry Education Research Study, Earn $500-800 Dollars!

Posted: Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

WestEd, a non-profit educational research agency, has been funded by the US Department of Education to test a new molecular modeling kit, Happy Atoms. Happy Atoms is an interactive chemistry learning experience that consists of a set of physical atoms that connect magnetically to form molecules, and an app that uses image recognition to identify the molecules that you create with the set. WestEd is conducting a study around the effectiveness of using Happy Atoms in the classroom, and we are looking for high school chemistry teachers in California to participate.

As part of the study, teachers will be randomly assigned to either the treatment group (who uses Happy Atoms) or the control group (who uses Happy Atoms at a later date). Teachers in the treatment group will be asked to use the Happy Atoms set in their classrooms for 5 lessons over the course of the fall 2017 semester. Students will complete pre- and post-assessments and surveys around their chemistry content knowledge and beliefs about learning chemistry. WestEd will provide access to all teacher materials, teacher training, and student materials needed to participate.

Participating teachers will receive a stipend of $500-800. You can read more information about the study here:

Please contact Rosanne Luu at or 650.381.6432 if you are interested in participating in this opportunity, or if you have any questions!

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption Reviewer Application

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

The California Department of Education and State Board of Education are now accepting applications for reviewers for the 2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption. The application deadline is 3:00 pm, July 21, 2017. The application is comprehensive, so don’t wait until the last minute to apply.

On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson forwarded this recruitment letter to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators.

Review panel members will evaluate instructional materials for use in kindergarten through grade eight, inclusive, that are aligned with the California Next Generation Science Content Standards for California Public Schools (CA NGSS). Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Lessons Learned from the NGSS Early Implementer Districts

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

On March 31, 2017, Achieve released two documents examining some lessons learned from the California K-8 Early Implementation Initiative. The initiative began in August 2014 and was developed by the K-12 Alliance at WestEd, with close collaborative input on its design and objectives from the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education, and Achieve.

Eight (8) traditional school districts and two (2) charter management organizations were selected to participate in the initiative, becoming the first districts in California to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Those districts included Galt Joint Union Elementary, Kings Canyon Joint Unified, Lakeside Union, Oakland Unified, Palm Springs Unified, San Diego Unified, Tracy Joint Unified, Vista Unified, Aspire, and High Tech High.

To more closely examine some of the early successes and challenges experienced by the Early Implementer LEAs, Achieve interviewed nine of the ten participating districts and compiled that information into two resources, focusing primarily on professional learning and instructional materials. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Using Online Simulations to Support the NGSS in Middle School Classrooms

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

by Lesley Gates, Loren Nikkel, and Kambria Eastham

Middle school teachers in Kings Canyon Unified School District (KCUSD), a CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative district, have been diligently working on transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) integrated model for middle school. This year, the teachers focused on building their own knowledge of the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs). They have been gathering and sharing ideas at monthly collaborative meetings as to how to make sure their students are not just learning about science but that they are actually doing science in their classrooms. Students should be planning and carrying out investigations to gather data for analysis in order to construct explanations. This is best done through hands-on lab experiments. Experimental work is such an important part of the learning of science and education research shows that students learn better and retain more when they are active through inquiry, investigation, and application. A Framework for K-12 Science Education (2011) notes, “…learning about science and engineering involves integration of the knowledge of scientific explanations (i.e., content knowledge) and the practices needed to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design. Thus the framework seeks to illustrate how knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences in K-12 Science Education” (pg. 11).

Many middle school teachers in KCUSD are facing challenges as they begin implementing these student-driven, inquiry-based NGSS science experiences in their classrooms. First, many of the middle school classrooms at our K-8 school sites are not designed as science labs. Learn More…

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the NGSS Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

Celestial Highlights: May – July 2017

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

May Through July 2017 with Web Resources for the Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graphs of planet rising and setting times by Jeffrey L. Hunt.

In spring and summer 2017, Jupiter is the most prominent “star” in the evening sky, and Venus, even brighter, rules the morning. By mid-June, Saturn rises at a convenient evening hour, allowing both giant planets to be viewed well in early evening until Jupiter sinks low in late September. The Moon is always a crescent in its monthly encounters with Venus, but is full whenever it appears near Jupiter or Saturn in the eastern evening sky opposite the Sun. (In 2017, Full Moon is near Jupiter in April, Saturn in June.) At intervals of 27-28 days thereafter, the Moon appears at a progressively earlier phase at each pairing with the outer planet until its final conjunction, with Moon a thin crescent, low in the west at dusk. You’ll see many beautiful events by just following the Moon’s wanderings at dusk and dawn in the three months leading up to the solar eclipse. Learn More…

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.