Diving into the Depths: Middle School Exploration with Prairie STEM

At Prairie STEM, we believe in unlocking the potential of every student through immersive and innovative learning experiences. Our recent venture with a middle school class, focusing on NGSS MS-LS2-4, ELA standards, and ISTE Knowledge Constructor standards, showcased the power of virtual reality in enhancing both scientific understanding and creative expression.

Unveiling the NGSS Science Standards
In collaboration with the middle school curriculum, we centered our exploration around NGSS MS-LS2-4. This standard challenges students to construct arguments supported by empirical evidence, emphasizing the interconnectedness of physical and biological components within an ecosystem. Through our journey into the virtual depths, students would witness firsthand the impact of changes on populations within these ecosystems.

Bridging ELA and Science: Writing with Purpose
Incorporating ELA standards (6.W.2.1), we aimed to weave together the worlds of science and literature. Students were encouraged to write in various literary forms to convey their real or imagined experiences under the sea. The focus was on developing meaning, drawing inferences, and establishing relationships between characters, nature, and the divine.

Integrating ISTE Knowledge Constructor Standards
Embracing the digital age, our approach aligned with ISTE Knowledge Constructor standards (1.3.c). Students weren’t merely consumers of information; they became creators, curating data from digital resources to craft meaningful collections. This approach ensured that their writing was not only imaginative but rooted in scientific understanding.

Opening Dialogue: “What is Virtual Reality?”
The journey began with a whole-class discussion, setting the stage for our exploration. “What is Virtual Reality?” and “How can we use virtual reality to help with our writing process?” sparked curiosity and set the tone for the exciting experience that lay ahead.

The Main Event: Diving Deep into the Ocean
The climax of our exploration unfolded as students donned virtual reality goggles, specifically the Oculus Quest 2, transporting them into the vibrant depths of the ocean through the Ocean Rift app. The directive was simple yet profound: pick the animals you’d like to see and explore their surroundings.

Writing Workshop: Crafting Sensory Narratives
Armed with the sensory richness of their virtual journey, students returned to their writing notebooks. The task was to create a sensory narrative, articulating their experiences using precise words, descriptive details, and figurative language. The goal was to not only capture the scientific aspects observed but also to infuse their narratives with a personal touch, connecting their observations with their individual perspectives.

Fostering Holistic Learning
Our middle school experience wasn’t just about meeting standards; it was about fostering holistic learning. By seamlessly integrating science, language arts, and technology, we provided students with a comprehensive understanding of the interconnectedness of disciplines. The virtual reality experience wasn’t just a tool for exploration; it became a canvas for creative expression and scientific inquiry.

In conclusion, Prairie STEM’s journey into the middle school classroom exemplifies the power of immersive learning experiences. By merging standards from multiple disciplines, we not only deepened scientific understanding but also nurtured creativity and expression. The virtual reality journey became a metaphor for the interconnectedness of knowledge, where students dove deep into the ocean of learning, resurfacing with a richer understanding of both science and the art of expression.

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