Alexandra Park School’s (APS) project is entitled “To the moon – 50 years on in VR” and will take Y11 students at our school, and hopefully others in North London, to the moon and back. The project will be delivered in Virtual Reality as part of an after-school extra-curricula workshop activity. Virtual Reality is an exciting new technology that schools up and down the country are beginning to use. Within VR a student can interact with a virtual environment to undertake exciting tasks such as piloting the Apollo 11 command module.
The project is split into three objectives: the first is to use an off-the-shelf application Apollo 11 VR to highlight that Physics education is more than crunching numbers, the second is to continue the development of a bespoke application to teach students about the movement of thrown objects, and the third is to share the evidence and best-practice gained with the teaching community.
Whilst VR has the potential to shake up education by immersing students and using a deep sense of presence to bring STEM alive through rich historical context, it is fundamentally new and untested. This project seeks to evaluate the effectiveness of VR on enriching the KS4 curriculum by being used as a platform to reinforce key ideas around forces and motion using the emotive context of sending a team to the moon. How on earth do you begin such a task?
To the moon
The key to any successful project is to start by planning effectively. This project depends on the effective use of expensive technology, and an early decision is required on which set of products to use. To evaluate the effectiveness a HTC Vive Headset (which requires a dedicated computer) and an Oculus Quest (which is stand-alone device) were showcased at our school’s Y6 open day! A huge number of primary pupils were able to experience one of two things: walking on the moon, or exploring the human body. What a joy it was to see so many young people being enraptured by the excitement of such impossible opportunities! Whilst these students were enjoying walking around the human heart, we as a teaching team were able to offer inspiration on what careers are available in STEM, this is one of the key things we hope to achieve with Y11 in our workshop.
The decision was made to use the Oculus Quest for the project, whilst the fidelity of the graphics is lower, the freedom to move easily within the requirement of a dedicated computer was seen by all in the team to be the most important feature. The student helpers in Y8-11 were all extremely jealous of the primary students being allowed to use VR. “When we will use this sir?”. Soon! Once we have built a workshop which pairs the virtual experience with context questions focusing on the forces of spaceflight.
A helping hand
To begin the development of the workshop resources, our mentor Satpaul has researched lots of useful information on the Apollo programme. Having Satpaul is already proving extremely valuable, not only is he able to guide our project with his many years of effective project management experience, but is able to use his ‘clout’ as an employee of Rolls Royce to seek contacts and relationships with external organisations we as a school would struggle to do.
We have a problem…
All projects have setbacks and dealing with them is part and parcel of the job. An early setback to our project has been the procurement of the devices required to start the project. Our IT specialist at school has been invaluable in offering advice into which products we should use, however, we as a team did not realise that our IT guru would be on holiday during October. We have to wait until their return to ensure the devices we buy are easy to manage within the school’s technology ecosystem. Whilst we are waiting for this validation, we decided to be reflective and adaptive and begin work on creating evaluation tools for the project.
Are we there yet?
In order to measure the impact of the experience on the students’ evaluation tools must be created. As a team we have agreed to use Google Forms to collect information on student reactions and experiences at the end of each session. The focus of these questions will be on how students feel about physics, if VR helped reinforce their knowledge on forces and motion, and if they have any new desire to pursue careers on STEM.
Key team member – Henry Hammond, Director of Specialism at APS, pointed out to the rest of us its not just about the destination, but about the journey. Knowing student opinions on an experience is meaningless without knowing their attitudes before they started! In addition to a post-session evaluation questionnaire, all participants will be asked to complete a shorter version as part of the ‘Astronaut selection process’.
Once we have returned to school after half-term we will kick-off this project in style. Two Oculus Quest headsets will be ordered, worksheets designed, initial pilot students recruited, and dates selected to begin our ambitious target of taking Y11 students to the moon!