While most middle school students connect virtual reality (VR) to the field of gaming, students in SBISD are expanding their perspective beyond the joystick and using the process of VR development to explore career options and build marketable, real-world skills.
On a recent campus visit, Memorial Middle School eighth-graders in teacher Gail Dunn’s class were excited to share what they’ve been working on – coding and building content for instructional use and delivery via VR. Ask students about the work and it's obvious that VR is transforming their interest in math and basic coding into a passion – and a potential career pathway.
Last year, Dunn used the concept of Genius Hour to inform her seventh-grade learning schedule. Genius Hour is an idea developed by Google where employees spend 20 percent of their time working on projects they are passionate about.
Thanks to support from SBISD partner CITGO, Dunn was able to provide the tools and freedom her students needed to explore their genius and find their passion for learning. The results inspired her to expand the Genius Hour concept into this school year's VR project as part of her Fundamentals of Computer Science class. Many of her Genius Hour students from last school year are now eighth-grade VR coders.
Students spend approximately two hours a week honing new coding skills and developing interactive VR content for campus instructors.
Custom VR content is accessible via a mobile app, a portfolio of work that will only grow based on this semester’s class activity. Working directly with campus educators to ensure the VR content aligns to instructional goals is an integral part of the learning experience for students. “They love Thursdays. Thursdays are VR days,” said Dunn.
“They’ve worked together as a team, and I’ve asked them to jump in and do this. That’s an experience a student is likely to get in the real world.” From consultation with subject-area teachers to storyboarding and hands-on development, student design teams can explore traditional subjects like math and science while experiencing what it’s like to work for a ‘client’ and deliver a comprehensive final product.
Robust problem-solving and out-of-the-box thinking, the capacity to problem solve in 3-D, and the ability to exercise digital citizenship and information literacy, are all-important benefits of the work.
“It was a new experience,” said eighth-grader Weston Tyler. “There is so much more to be interested in and learn with VR as a tool. It’s given me so much more to think about.” Students also benefit from exercising the so-called soft skills – the capacity for collaboration and effective communication. Soft skills are becoming more and more critical as technology continues to reshape jobs of the future.
Submitted by Melissa Wiland, SBISD Communications