What’s the value of VR in a science lesson?

Continuing our mini ‘Future Technologies in the Classroom’ education series, we spoke to Saskia O’Sullivan, Chemistry Teacher and Deputy Head (Academic) at The King’s School, Gloucester. In this piece, we discussed where VR can be used in the classroom to teach science and the value of VR, from an educator’s point of view.

“VR provides a powerful immersive experience that allows students to engage with subject content in a different way than is currently possible in our lessons, even with a variety of 3D, 2D and ICT tools.  I am keen to see it used in Science, but also in Design Technology (one of my students is hoping to become an architect and recently experienced using VR in one of the London museums and was very positive about the experience and its potential in his future career), and I recently read an article about its use in History, so I am open to ideas across the curriculum.

The VR experience on the Science Educators Residency hosted by Nano Simbox in 2016, involved interacting with molecules and this was particularly powerful, moving beyond a passive experience. I suspect there is potential here to use it for assessment/feedback.  It was mind expanding for me, and I am very familiar with molecular models.  For a novice learner, I would anticipate an accelerated understanding of the models, although I’d like to see it in operation in a class setting to judge its impact.

Credit: Scienceabc.com
Credit: Scienceabc.com

Going forward, for KS4, I would be keen to look at carbon allotropes (fullerenes, diamond, graphene, graphite) as a starting point, but see the potential for teaching structure and bonding, too, as well as scale (from metres to nano and picometres), along with surface area to volume ratios. At KS5, I think there is an opportunity for students to use VR to deepen their understanding of VSEPR theory and shapes of molecules and then to consider organic mechanisms.  Additionally, I would imagine it would be very useful when teaching isomerism, and, potentially, analytical techniques.  Again, the interactive aspects offer the opportunity to ascertain student progress in understanding, as well as highlight any misconceptions.



Credit: Nano Simbox

In terms of reservations, apart from the issue with whether students understand the use of models in Science, which is true whatever technique is used, I guess it’s hard to avoid the cost aspect, but, as with SIAS, I’m sure there are funding streams that might provide a way of ensuring all schools can access the technology, and, of course, the headsets are becoming cheaper all the time.  As with all new technologies, there is are safeguarding aspects to consider, particularly if it involves pupils using their own phones.

I’m looking forward to talking further with the team on what we might develop together.  For me, the most powerful tool showed to me was the VR kit, so this is the area I am most interested in and would be very happy to support its development.  I suspect I might be able to contribute in terms of the aspects of the curriculum that might readily lend themselves to VR, as listed above, but also in terms of pedagogy and how VR could be incorporated into lesson and teaching sequences.”


Watch this space – we will be working with Saskia at the Kings School in the new school year to make her VR dreams come true.  If you’d like to work with us, just like King’s School Gloucester, then please fill in the contact form below. Don’t forget to join us on twitter @nanosimbox! 

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