September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

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

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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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CSTA Is Now Accepting Nominations for Board Members

Posted: Friday, November 17th, 2017

Current, incoming, and outgoing CSTA Board of Directors at June 3, 2017 meeting.

Updated 7:25 pm, Nov. 17, 2017

It’s that time of year when CSTA is looking for dedicated and qualified persons to fill the upcoming vacancies on its Board of Directors. This opportunity allows you to help shape the policy and determine the path that the Board will take in the new year. There are time and energy commitments, but that is far outweighed by the personal satisfaction of knowing that you are an integral part of an outstanding professional educational organization, dedicated to the support and guidance of California’s science teachers. You will also have the opportunity to help CSTA review and support legislation that benefits good science teaching and teachers.

Right now is an exciting time to be involved at the state level in the California Science Teachers Association. The CSTA Board of Directors is currently involved in implementing the Next Generations Science Standards and its strategic plan. If you are interested in serving on the CSTA Board of Directors, now is the time to submit your name for consideration. 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.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2017 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated eight exceptional secondary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

“These teachers are dedicated and accomplished individuals whose innovative teaching styles prepare our students for 21st century careers and college and develop them into the designers and inventors of the future,” Torlakson said. “They rank among the finest in their profession and also serve as wonderful mentors and role models.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partners annually with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program—the highest recognition in the nation for a mathematics or science teacher. The Science Finalists will be recognized at the CSTA Awards Luncheon on Saturday, October 14, 2017. 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.

Thriving in a Time of Change

Posted: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

by Jill Grace

By the time this message is posted online, most schools across California will have been in session for at least a month (if not longer, and hat tip to that bunch!). Long enough to get a good sense of who the kids in your classroom are and to get into that groove and momentum of the daily flow of teaching. It’s also very likely that for many of you who weren’t a part of a large grant initiative or in a district that set wheels in motion sooner, this is the first year you will really try to shift instruction to align to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a challenging year – change is hard. Change is even harder when there’s not a playbook to go by.  But as someone who has had the very great privilege of walking alongside teachers going through that change for the past two years and being able to glimpse at what this looks like for different demographics across that state, there are three things I hope you will hold on to. These are things I have come to learn will overshadow the challenge: a growth mindset will get you far, one is a very powerful number, and it’s about the kids. Learn More…

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Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.

If You Are Not Teaching Science Then You Are Not Teaching Common Core

Posted: Thursday, August 31st, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn 

“Science and Social Studies can be taught for the last half hour of the day on Fridays”

– Elementary school principal

Anyone concerned with the teaching of science in elementary school is keenly aware of the problem of time. Kids need to learn to read, and learning to read takes time, nobody disputes that. So Common Core ELA can seem like the enemy of science. This was a big concern to me as I started looking at the curriculum that my district had adopted for Common Core ELA. I’ve been through those years where teachers are learning a new curriculum, and know first-hand how a new curriculum can become the focus of attention- sucking all the air out of the room. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Tools for Creating NGSS Standards Based Lessons

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Elizabeth Cooke

Think back on your own experiences with learning science in school. Were you required to memorize disjointed facts without understanding the concepts?

Science Education Background

In the past, science education focused on rote memorization and learning disjointed ideas. Elementary and secondary students in today’s science classes are fortunate now that science instruction has shifted from students demonstrating what they know to students demonstrating how they are able to apply their knowledge. Science education that reflects the Next Generation Science Standards challenges students to conduct investigations. As students explore phenomena and discrepant events they engage in academic discourse guided by focus questions from their teachers or student generated questions of that arise from analyzing data and creating and revising models that explain natural phenomena. Learn More…

Written by Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke teaches TK-5 science at Markham Elementary in the Oakland Unified School District, is an NGSS Early Implementer, and is CSTA’s Secretary.