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WCE, CAS Faculty Receive NSF Grant for VR Curriculum to Engage Students in STEM

Friday, May 10, 2019

UNCW has received a grant though the National Science Foundation for a two-year project designed to engage elementary age students in STEM. Funds totaling $394,606 provided through NSF’s Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program will support a collaborative effort to use virtual reality technology to design a curriculum based on the life cycle of the loggerhead sea turtle.

"The goal of the project is to engage students in grades 3-5 to increase their interest in science and math, and the magic is in the focus on sea turtles, an endangered species that nests widely on North Carolina beaches," said WCE assistant professor James Stocker.

“The sea turtle is a wonderful and powerful model for building the VASC learning platform because they travel thousands of miles during migrations, experience a wide range of physical and chemical ocean conditions, and interact with numerous marine plant and animal species,” Stocker said. “Investigating the life cycle of a sea turtle in a virtual environment will expose young learners to numerous STEM applications as well as the careers of those that investigate and protect sea turtle populations.”

As part of the experience, students will take a virtual field trip to the beach, and assume the role of a park ranger, wildlife officer and researcher as they participate in inquiry-based learning.

Stocker and computer science assistant professor Toni Pence are principal investigators on the grant. WCE associate professors Amy Moody and Amy Taylor and computer science assistant professors Elham Ebrahimi and Brittany Morago are co-PIs. Undergraduate students will have the opportunity to participate in the research, and the group is collaborating with several external partners including Fort Fisher State Park and the Bald Head Island Conservancy on program design and development.

UNCW announced the news in a homepage story on May 7: UNCW Researchers Will Use Virtual Reality Technology to Encourage Students to Consider STEM Careers.