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Teaching science with augmented reality

Using virtual reality in the classroom

We learn through lectures and reading. We especially learn through illustrations, photographs, diagrams, and animations. But a limitation is that so many of these images are flat, two-dimensional.  Not surprisingly, many folks have trouble visualizing what a system is really like, if they only have two dimensional pictures.

An obvious practical solution is to make a lesson hands-on: Students can take a field trip to see gears and machines in a power plant; see ancient ruins on site; travel to a valley and fly over a vast ecosystem to see different parts of the environment.  But there’s only so much that a school can do in practice: we can’t purchase every manipulative and lab, or travel to see every place that we talk about.

Yet with today’s technology we can actually model machines, cells, valleys and volcanoes, ecosystems, distance cities, and archaeological sites, in three dimensions – and then bring all of this into the classroom. We bring these models in to a virtual space that students can explore.

And that’s what we are already doing in our classrooms! First, let’s learn a few terms: XR, AR, and VR.

XR- Extended Reality

the emerging umbrella term for all immersive computer virtual experience technologies. These technologies AR, VR, and MR.

Augmented Reality (AR)

When virtual information and objects are overlaid on the real world. This experience enhances the real world with digital details such as images, text, and animation. This means users are not isolated from the real world and can still interact and see what’s going on in front of them.

CRISPR enzyme floating in three dimensions.

Crispr AR Augmented Reality enzyme protein

Photo by RK (c) 2019

Virtual Reality (VR)

Users are fully immersed in a simulated digital environment. Individuals must put on a VR headset or head-mounted display to get a 360 -degree view of an artificial world. This fools their brain into believing they are walking on the moon, swimming under the ocean or stepped into whatever new world the VR developers created.

Virtual Reality

A team of researchers at ESA’s mission control centre in Darmstadt, Germany, are investigating new concepts for controlling rovers on a planet and satellites in orbit. Image from the ESA, esa.int/ESA_Multimedia/Images/2017/07/Reality_check

Mixed reality (MR), aka Hybrid Reality

Digital and real-world objects co-exist and can interact with one another in real-time. This experience requires an MR headset… Microsoft’s HoloLens is a great example that, e.g., allows you to place digital objects into the room you are standing in and give you the ability to spin it around or interact with the digital object in any way possible.

Microsoft Hololens XR MR AR

Image from Microsoft

Excerpts of these definitions from Bernard Marr, What Is Extended Reality Technology? A Simple Explanation For Anyone, Forbes, 8/12/2019

Augmented reality in Ecology & Environmental Science

When students actively participate in augmented reality learning, the class is effectively a lab, as opposed to being a lecture.  Here we are studying ecosystems with an app from the World Wildlife Foundation, WWF Rivers.

WWF Rivers AR Augmented Reality app Kaiser Ecology

Photo by RK (c) 2019

This student has their head in the clouds 😉

Kaiser AR Augmented Realitt Ecology WWF Rivers

Photo by RK (c) 2019

Here we are using the Google Expeditions app, on a Pixel 3A smartphone. The plug-in is “Earth Geology” by Vida systems. For more details see Google Expeditions – Education in VR.

AR in Earth Science

As we walk around the room, we see the Earth and all of it’s layers in a realistic 3D view. Here we stood above the arctic circle, and took screenshots as we moved down latitude, until we were above the antarctic.

Augmented Reality AR Earth Science Inner Core Mantle

Photo by RK (c) 2019

Augmented Reality AR Earth Science Inner Core Mantle 2

Photo by RK (c) 2019


AR in Physics & Engineering

A simple machine is a mechanical device that changes the direction or magnitude of a force. They are the simplest mechanisms that use mechanical advantage to multiply force.

Here we are examining gears, including bicycle gears.

Bicycle Gears AR Augmented Reality

Photo by RDK (c) 2019

Related Special Education topics

If you can’t visually imagine things, how can you learn?

If someone can’t visually imagine things, how can you learn? We know some people can’t conjure up mental images. But we’re only beginning to understand the impact this “aphantasia” might have on their education.

A discussion of an inability to form mental images , congenital aphantasia. This is believed to affect 2% of the population.

by Mo Costandi,  Jun 2016, The Guardian, UK

Learning Standards

What kind of learning standards will students address when using augmented reality science lessons?

NGSS Cross-Cutting Concepts

6. Structure and Function – The way an object is shaped or structured determines many of its properties and functions: Complex and microscopic structures and systems can be visualized, modeled, and used to describe how their function depends on the shapes, composition, and relationships among its parts; therefore, complex natural and designed structures/systems can be analyzed to determine how they function

Massachusetts Digital Literacy and Computer Science (DLCS) Curriculum Framework

Modeling and Simulation [6-8.CT.e] – 3. Select and use computer simulations, individually and collaboratively, to gather, view, analyze, and report results for content-related problems (e.g., migration, trade, cellular function).

Digital Tools [9-12.DTC.a] – 2. Select digital tools or resources based on their efficiency and effectiveness to use for a project or assignment and justify the selection.

American Association of School Librarians: Standards Framework for Learners

1. Inquire: Build new knowledge by inquiring, thinking critically, identifying problems, and developing strategies for solving problems

Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles

AP-CSP Curriculum Guides
LO 3.1.3 Explain the insight and knowledge gained from digitally processed data by using appropriate visualizations, notations, and precise language.
EK 3.1.3A Visualization tools and software can communicate information about data.
EK 3.1.3E Interactivity with data is an aspect of communicating.

Labs (Physics)

Physics labs

Welch Labs plotting imaginary

Image from Imaginary Numbers Are Real, Welch Labs


Build projects

Hovercraft build project


Traditional physics labs


Reaction time lab

Finding the coefficient of friction lab

Inertial balance lab

Magnetism labs

Why Is There a Tidal Bulge Opposite the Moon?


Virtual labs


Science Sims @ CCNY

BU Physics ~ Duffy HTML5 sims

HTML 5 Physics Lab Simulations: The Physics Aviary

Open Source Physics sims

The Physics Classroom interactives


Coding labs

Programming Labs for Physics




Osmosis & Diffusion labs

Egg-cellent Ideas for Osmosis and Diffusion

Basic ideas behind diffusion:

Diffusion 2

Basic idea behind osmosis

Osmosis GIF by popolopo

Osmosis GIF by popolopo, at mind42.com/mindmap/4791d8e2-b1df-4ef6-875c-492c7de0502d

Lab from sciencespot.net

Submitted by Sue Remshak, Lake Bluff Middle School, Lake Bluff, IL

Activity I

During this activity students investigate the concepts of osmosis and diffusion using eggs. To prepare for the activity,:

* measure and record the circumference of the raw egg

* measure mass.

* Place the egg in a beaker filled with white vinegar.

* Students to record their observations.

* Store the eggs in a refrigerator for 24 hours.

* View again and record their observations.

* Return the egg to the refrigerator for another 24 hours.

* View again and record their observations

Student worksheet: http://sciencespot.net/Pages/osmdiff.html

Teacher Info:

A chemical reaction occurs between the vinegar and the calcium carbonate in the egg shell. The bubbles of carbon dioxide that form on the egg and rise to the surface are evidence of this reaction. The shell dissolves in the vinegar and leaves a film on the surface of the vinegar.

However, the membrane remains on the egg. The size of the egg increases because of the movement of water in the vinegar through the cell membrane.

Since water moves from an area of high concentration to an area of low concentration, this process is called osmosis. Obviously, none of the materials on the inside of the egg are able to pass through the membrane.

Activity II

Materials: water, blue water (food coloring in water), molasses, and corn syrup.

First, have the students determine the mass of the egg and record it in the table.

They should pour 150 ml of each substance into its own beaker.

Add the eggs and store in a refrigerator for 24 hours.

After 24 hours, remove the eggs from the beakers and record their observations.

Students should record the volume of liquid in the beaker as well as the mass of the egg.

Use a toothpick to pop the egg membrane and record their observations. Be sure to have paper towels handy as some eggs may squirt!)

Teacher Info

The egg in plain water and blue water will become slightly larger because water will pass into egg through the membrane by the process of osmosis. There will be blue food coloring in the egg from the blue water since both water and food coloring can pass through the membrane.

The egg in corn syrup and molasses will decrease in size because water from inside the egg flow through the membrane into the syrup or molasses. It moves from a higher concentration inside the egg to a lower concentration in the corn syrup. Once again, this is called osmosis. The corn syrup and molasses molecules are too large to pass through the membrane. Observant students will not only notice an increase of volume in the beaker, but they will also see a thin layer of water resting on top of the syrup and molasses.


To illustrate the concept of diffusion, add a drop or two of extract (vanilla, bubble gum, lemon, or cinnamon) into a deflated balloon.

Blow up the balloon, tie it off, and place inside a shoe box. To make sure the lid stays on the box, use masking tape to secure it. During class, ask students to life one end of the shoe box lid and smell the contents. Their eyes should remain closed when they do this. Ask each student to reveal what they smelled. Show the class what was inside the box and instruct them to draw a picture and record their observations. Challenge students to write an explanation (using the correct vocabulary) of why the box smells like the scent when it was only put inside the balloon.

Teacher Info

The shoe box smelled of the scent even though it was only placed on the inside of the balloon due to the process of diffusion. Every balloon has microscopic holes in its surface. The vapors were able to pass through the membrane from an area of high concentration to an area of low concentration. However, the liquid scent molecules were too large to pass through the membrane.

Another way to illustrate osmosis and diffusion is using a tea bag and some water. During class, place a tea bag in a beaker of warm water. Allow time for students to record their observations. Challenge them to write an explanation using the correct vocabulary.

Teacher Info

Water flows by osmosis into the tea bag. The students can see this if you remove the tea bag from the beaker and squeeze it to see the water come out. The tea leaves diffuse through the tea bag and into the water; this changes both the color and flavor of the water in the beaker.

Source: http://sciencespot.net/Pages/classbio.html

Seaport Academy explores with microscopes

At Seaport Academy, science education isn’t about drills and worksheets. We motivate students with hands-on manipulatives, interactive apps, three dimensional animations, connections to the world around then, and labs. Here we’re learning how to explore the microscopic world with a microscope.

Seaport class microscope

Microscope insect bee leg
We examine animal fur, scales and skin, plant pollen, seeds and leaves, and insect parts.

Here we see a student’s point-of-view when discovering the anatomy of a honeybee leg.






Compound microscope

Used when a specimen is translucent (some light passes thru it)

Usually higher power 10x to 300x

The observer sees all the way thru the specimen being studied.

Has more than two sets of lenses.

Has an eyepiece lens  (or ocular) and two or more sets of objective lenses

They sit on on a nosepiece that can revolve

The specimen is placed on the stage of this microscope.

Parts of the microscope

Label Microscope parts

  1. eyepiece (ocular) – where you look through to see the image

  2. body tube – Holds the eyepiece and connects it down to the objectives

  3. fine adjustment knob – Moves the body of the microscope up/down more slowly; fine control. Gets the specimen exactly focused. We only use this after we first use the coarse adjustment knob.

  4. nosepiece – rotating piece at the bottom of the body tube. Lets us choose between several lenses (objectives.)

  5. high power objective — used for high power magnification (the longer objective lens)

  6. low power objective — used for low power magnification

  7. diaphragm – controls amount of light going through the specimen

  8. light/mirror – source of light, usually found near the base of the microscope.

  9. base – supports the microscope

  10. coarse adjustment knob — Moves body of the microscope up/down more quickly; Gets specimen approximately focused.

  11. arm – Holds main part of the microscope to the base.

  12. stage clips – hold the slide in place.

  13. inclination joint – used to tilt the microscope

Learning Standards

College Board Standards for College Success: Science

LSM-PE.2.1.2 Gather data, based on observations of cell functions made using a microscope or on cell descriptions obtained from print material, that can be used as evidence to support the claim that there are a variety of cell types.

LSM-PE.2.2.1 Describe, based on observations of cells made using a microscope and on information gathered from print and electronic resources, the internal structures (and the functions of these structures) of different cell types (e.g., amoeba, fungi, plant root, plant leaf, animal muscle, animal skin).

2006 Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework

Inquiry, Experimentation, and Design in the Classroom: SIS2. Design and conduct scientific investigations. Properly use instruments, equipment, and materials (e.g., scales, probeware, meter sticks, microscopes, computers) including set-up, calibration (if required), technique, maintenance, and storage.

Hovercraft build project

Hovercraft project

Kelvin Hovercraft Kit

From Kelvin Educational

I. Build and demonstrate a hovercraft, or

II. Write a typed report, with a cover page, 3 double-spaced pages of text, and 1 page of citations/references, on what a hovercraft is, how they work, and how they use Newton’s laws of motion, or

III. Create a computer presentation on what a hovercraft is, how they work, and how they use Newton’s laws of motion. Present it to the class.

You may use software such as Microsoft PowerPoint, OpenOffice Impress, Corel Presentations, or any other software you like. All of these programs are very similar. OpenOffice is a package of programs very much like MS Office, but totally free. http://www.openoffice.org/

The entire project may be found in this document: TO BE ADDED

How to build your own hovercraft

Photos from a hovercraft project

Build a remote control hovercraft!

Can a hovercraft go up the walls?

A simple to build project

Mod your toy helicopter; turn it into a hovercraft

Kelvin Educational Kits

Kelvin Educational online catalog

EGR 100 — Hovercraft Design Project: College freshmen majoring in engineering build and design hovercrafts


Hovercraft calculator – used only for building larger hovercraft that can actually carry passengers.


Learning Standards

2016 Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework

HS-ETS4-5(MA). Explain how a machine converts energy, through mechanical means, to do work. Collect and analyze data to determine the efficiency of simple and complex machines.

HS-PS3-3. Design and evaluate a device that works within given constraints to convert one form of energy into another form of energy.
• Emphasis is on both qualitative and quantitative evaluations of devices.
• Examples of devices could include Rube Goldberg devices, wind turbines, solar cells, solar ovens, and generators.

Appendix VIII Value of Crosscutting Concepts and Nature of Science in Curricula
Cause and Effect: Mechanism and Explanation. Events have causes, sometimes simple, sometimes multifaceted. A major activity of science and engineering is investigating and explaining causal relationships and the mechanisms by which they are mediated. Such mechanisms can then be tested across given contexts and used to predict and explain events in new contexts or design solutions.

College Board Standards for College Success: Science
Standard PS.1 Interactions, Forces and Motion
Changes in the natural and designed world are caused by interactions. Interactions of an object with other objects can be described by forces that can cause a change in motion of one or both interacting objects. Students understand that the term “interaction” is used to describe causality in science: Two objects interact when they act on or influence each other to cause some effect. Students understand that observable objects, changes and events occur in consistent patterns that are comprehensible through careful, systematic investigations.

Next Generation Science Standards: Science – Engineering Design (6-8)
• Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.