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Virtual reality (VR) brings STEM alive for middle school age children and their teachers

ICAT Day 2020


STEM+ Lab by Commonwealth Learning Systems, LLC


Lee Ann O’Dell, Commonwealth Learning Systems, LLC
Reza Tasooji, College of Engineering, Computer Science
Denis Gracanin, College of Engineering, Computer Science
Jim Murphy, Commonwealth Learning Systems, LLC
Holly Gillcash, Stem+ by Commonwealth Learning Systems
Sam Williams, College of Engineering, Computer Science 


The team from the STEM+ Lab by CLS will demonstrate how virtual reality can be leveraged to create highly engaging STEM curriculum for middle and high school students. The demonstration will show in real time what the student sees in the VR headset, the choices they have as they move through a simulated experiment, and the outcomes of those choices. A second track of curriculum for teacher professional development will be demonstrated using the same topical areas demonstrated for children.


CLS partnered with research scientists from the department of computer science engineering at Virginia Tech, and in-service STEM educators from Salem Public Schools to develop multi-dimensional STEM simulations designed for both student and teacher learning. The curriculum was designed to address the newly adopted Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) middle school science standards, which were informed by the Next Generation Science Standards The innovative aspect to the project is that it has two tracks, one for the teacher to learn how best to teach the content, and a second for the children to learn the content. The CLS team will do a series of live demonstrations over the course of the day involving middle and high school age students and teachers which will be displayed on a large monitor and narrated by the CLS team.

The design process for this project started with identifying the partners so that the content was contextualized appropriately to the needs of the student and the teacher. Research scientists from computer science engineering partnered with STEM educated middle school teachers and their work was facilitated by CLS experts in teacher professional learning.

Then, topics from the VDOE middle school science curriculum were chosen and a multi-disciplinary, physical science unit was developed to reinforce the three dimensions of the new standards: practices, cross-cutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas.

The VR headsets were then programmed with the content and field tested with teachers and students at the STEM+ Lab at the Roanoke Higher Education Center.

The disciplines that came together in the creation of this project included the physical sciences, engineering, computer science, and social sciences (learning science and educational research sciences). Learn more.


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ICAT Day 2020
ICAT Day 2020