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Virtual field trips can help engage students in critical STEM education

8 virtual field trips for STEM education

How to elevate climate literacy for future scientists

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Climate change is an increasingly important subject in school curriculums. Today’s students will almost certainly inherit a climate-affected world and will need to understand the mechanisms of global warming if they are to grow into climate-conscious, civic-minded members of society.

However, many students are dissuaded from pursuing environmental science due to mundane textbooks and complex diagrams. This is a serious issue, as students will need an in-depth understanding of greenhouse gases and ecological damage in the future.

Educators can engage students and build excitement around environmental science using the latest virtual reality (VR) technology. This tech can even take students on virtual field trips, meaning they can virtually visit climate-affected areas from the safety and comfort of the classroom.

Building empathy

Educators can build interest in combating climate change and help kids understand the stakes by utilizing virtual reality headsets. These headsets can take them to climate-affected regions and bring them face-to-face with the Earth’s most fragile ecosystems. This can be a transformative experience that builds empathy with folks who live overseas and in areas most likely to be affected by climate change.

VR headsets can help students understand the stakes for other animals, too. Laura McGinty, a high school biology teacher in Seattle, learned this firsthand when she incorporated VR tech in her classroom. She found that students were moved by the “rich, real experience” that VR provides and finally understood that climate change was decimating penguin colonies and destroying ecosystems around the globe.

This sentiment is echoed by Mitchell Tartt, who heads the Conservation Science Division at the National Marine Sanctuaries. Tartt explains that few students will ever get the chance to scuba dive and see the devastation that climate change causes to coastlines and coral reefs. However, VR acts as a “phenomenally effective learning tool” that helps students connect with issues and ecosystems that they do not have a chance to encounter first-hand.

Climate change in the classroom

Climate change represents a meaningful threat to ecosystems around the world. However, any teacher who has addressed the issue in class knows that it can be a little dry. This is a real problem, as students need to be engaged in their learning if they are to understand the mechanism of climate change.

Virtual reality can spark interest in climate change and unleash the creativity of students by giving kids access to information in innovative ways. For example, educators who want to help students understand solutions to climate change can take their classroom on a virtual field trip to Boeing’s base in Seattle via the ecoAction Virtual Field Trip.

The ecoAction Virtual Field Trip gives students an opportunity to learn more about water use, resource preservation, and waste management without leaving the classroom. The ecoAction shows students possible career pathways in STEM, too, which may help traditionally underrepresented students imagine themselves in roles related to climate science.

When leveraged correctly, VR-driven climate field trips can help students understand how climate change will affect their day-to-day lives in the future, too. For example, teachers can use VR to simulate extreme weather conditions that affect drivers like snow, heatwaves, and flooding. This can give students practical experience with dangerous driving conditions such as lack of visibility from a blizzard whiteout scenario and may even save a life during a storm or heatwave.

Increasing STEM engagement

Virtual reality experiences can help kids become climate conscious and understand the mechanics behind global warming. This can meaningfully improve STEM engagement, as students who connect with STEM via VR and climate change are more likely to understand why the field is so important.

Virtual field trips can also increase inclusion and boost diversity in STEM. Virtual field trips that support the climate curriculum can help traditionally underserved students overcome common barriers to engagement like poor funding and inequity of opportunity. Teachers who bring VR into the classroom ensure that students are still able to learn from hands-on experiences without having to pay expensive travel fees.

Boosting diversity in STEM can minimize the risk of bias in coding algorithms, too. This is crucial, as many of tomorrow’s problems will be solved with a combination of human ingenuity and artificial intelligence. As such, minimizing the risk of bias should be a priority for STEM leaders who want to combat climate change with high-tech solutions.

Increasing diversity and boosting participation in STEM is particularly important today, as climate-literate communities will likely be more resilient than climate-illiterate areas. Communities that are climate-literate can prepare for the future by making collective efforts to minimize the impact of global warming. Teachers can easily boost climate literacy by using VR to:

Represent data in unique ways that help visual learners better understand the issue

Provide real-time updates to the class as the semester progresses

Bring the sights and sounds of climate-affected animals into the classroom using apps like iNaturalist

These VR-integrated pedagogical techniques give students hands-on experience with climate science and make lessons feel real. This can be particularly beneficial for students who struggle to engage with traditional STEM lessons. Real-time eco-system updates and visual experiences can help students connect with the lesson plan and will build excitement around the field of environmental science.

Looking ahead

Virtual field trips can help students become climate literate and improve engagement in STEM classrooms. This is critical today, as many of the challenges we face require an empathetic, informed approach to critical thinking and climate advocacy. VR experiences can improve inclusion and boost diversity in STEM, too, by ensuring that all students have the opportunity to see climate science in action.