Sparking a Passion for STEM: Oculus Partners with Education Nonprofit Ignited
September 11, 2018
Since time out of mind, teachers have worked hard to find new and increasingly interesting ways to motivate students both inside the classroom and beyond. While the promise of a successful career and a better understanding of the world are both worthwhile, they don’t necessarily help students connect the dots between abstract concepts and real-world applications.
A nonprofit focused on STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and math), Ignited connects teachers with science and tech professionals, giving them specialized, hands-on experience to better prepare and inspire their students. This summer, we partnered with Ignited to bring a group of educators to Facebook’s Menlo Park campus, where they worked on VR-related projects for the classroom—from physics experiments and writing code for robots to documenting best practices. And today, we’re excited to share their story.
“Ten years ago, the world was a different place,” says Ignited CEO Shari Liss. “Our education system must keep up with the dizzying pace of change, and it must prepare our students to tackle big challenges and opportunities like climate change, cybersecurity, world hunger, healthcare, space travel, and others.”
These are challenges that VR and other emerging technologies are uniquely positioned to solve. As the newest member of Ignited’s Summer Fellowship Program, Oculus hosted four teachers over the summer, each with a different background in education. High school teachers Ryan Stagg, Betsy Huynh, and Bryan Reed teach physics, science, and theater, respectively, while grade school teacher Kevin Olson is focused on technology enrichment classes. They all came prepared to learn the specialized business and technical skills necessary to work in VR and navigate its challenges—so they can share that knowledge with students in their classrooms.
“The idea of using VR to help students explore any world—any environment—opens infinite possibilities for learning that typical classrooms haven’t afforded our students,” explains Liss. “The use of VR will allow them to do the work, to use their own hands and experience what they’re learning versus just reading about it. This is a game-changer.”
Most students want to do something meaningful—and preferably interesting—upon graduation, though few of them know exactly what that dream job might be. That’s why the embedded fellows tackled different projects at Oculus. Each was designed to spark the curiosity of different students, from would-be roboticists to future educators, while helping create a clear path forward to real-world applications and tangible opportunities.
Huyhn and Reed collaborated as education consultants on the Oculus Education team. Their primary goal was to learn the logistics involved in using VR in the classroom and then evaluate a suite of creative apps for instructional use. They approached the latter challenge by creating a teacher-approved auditing system to evaluate VR apps for student applications. Developers can then use this system to optimize new apps, or modify existing ones, for any number of academic subjects. Reed will teach professional development workshops back at his school and give fellow educators a venue to try VR for themselves, while Huynh created a professional development course to help teachers use 360°immersive video in their classes.
Elsewhere on campus, Olson created a Python programming library (a time-saving collection of pre-written functions) for engineers to code movements for a robot named Rosita, currently used to test Oculus hardware. He wrote code to extract useful data from Rosita’s battery of tests and developed a project for his middle school students to program miniaturized robots of their own using a similar process. Stagg, meanwhile, worked with the failure analysis and reliability teams, creating code to extract and graph the impact portion of accelerometer data from “drop tests,” where VR headsets are dropped from various heights. Back at school, Stagg will teach a course where students design their own drop tests and analyze the accelerometer data in the same way he did, letting them experience a real-world engineering application of physics theory first-hand.
At the end of the externship program in late August, Olson, Huynh, Stagg, and Reed each created a plan to map their work at Oculus back to real-world lessons tuned for the classroom. Thanks to their own hands-on experiences, they can help fellow educators and students of all backgrounds better understand the full value of quality STEM education.
“Students are inspired by their teacher’s stories, new industry-relevant lessons, and fresh teaching practices,” notes Liss. “Our programs help teachers see themselves as scientists, engineers, and researchers who can lead their students in investigations that spur students’ interest in STEM fields. By connecting business leaders and scientists with teachers, we transform the classroom experience.”
Stay tuned to the blog this week, where we’ll share more about our partnership with Ignited and the innovative projects that came out of it.