Adler Planetarium Creates 3D Virtual World Enabling Middle Schoolers Across the Globe to “Walk” the Solar System
Earlier this year, Chicago’s historic Adler Planetarium launched its interactive, 3D, virtual world for middle school-aged students across the globe to experience a universe no video chat could ever replicate. Now, the Adler’s Virtual Field Trips experience is back for the new school year and ready to transport students to our historic building on Chicago’s lake shore where they can digitally “walk among the planets” to truly grasp the size, scale and dimensions of our celestial neighbors. Through the use of individual avatars, students have the opportunity to ask questions, have engaging conversations with each other, and tour the universe like never before with the help of their own personal Adler educator.
Leveraging Adler staff expertise in visualization software and web development, the Adler built its immersive digital experience within the Mozilla Hubs virtual reality (VR) environment. Mozilla Hubs is an education-focused, open-source software. Because the public-facing experience is browser-based, no downloads or software installs are needed. Hubs gives students more agency and control over their learning than a traditional virtual format. It also lets all participants connect with each other in more authentic ways. For example, students talk to each other in a way that is realistic: a voice is louder the closer you are to an avatar and quieter the further away you get. Students engage and interact with the educator to form hypotheses based on their observations, rather than listening to an educator lecture, and they explore based on their interests.
“The focus for these experiences is to meaningfully engage young people in the process of science and the stories of human collaborative effort and discovery, while putting them in the driver’s seat of their own learning and engagement,” says Sarah Smail, Manager of Experience Development and Virtual Field Trips project leader.
Groups will have the virtual space (and the attention of our educators) all to themselves as they learn and explore together. Adler educators will provide teacher guides for use before and after the experience to help them make the most of this cosmic classroom getaway.
“I liked how we learned about the planets and got to see them in a different way, rather than using a textbook or looking at a power point,” said a recent Virtual Field Trips participant. Another participant said, “It was so amazing that we could visit this museum, especially since we’re in California!”
The Adler’s Virtual Field Trips experience fits into a standard class period and is designed to align with middle school space science curriculum. We have enlisted the help of more than 40 pre-K–12 active and retired teachers and administrators to work with the Adler as Teacher Evaluators to provide monthly guidance and feedback on Virtual Field Trips as well as our future in-person education offerings to ensure we are creating experiences to help supplement their classroom work.
Walk through the Adler’s Virtual Field Trips experience (B-roll) here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1p0b2lJ0wanfD-CvqZeRJ1o7h3901UDIK/view?usp=sharing
For more information about the Adler’s Virtual Field Trips program for middle schoolers, pricing, and to register your class for a session, visit: https://www.adlerplanetarium.org/learn/educators/virtual-field-trips/
About the Adler Planetarium
The Adler Planetarium connects people to the universe and each other. Whether it is introducing a guest to the Ring Nebula, a neighborhood school to a community partner, a research team to a network of citizen scientists, or one staff member to another, the Adler’s focus on meaningful connections dates back nearly a century. The museum typically hosts more than half a million visitors each year and reaches millions more through youth STEAM programs, neighborhood skywatching events, people-powered research, and other outreach efforts. Today, the Adler is bringing our unique approach—scientific exploration rooted in community and connection—to guests from around the world who can enjoy the digital Adler from their own homes, libraries, schools or offices. With the Adler’s support, people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities gain the confidence to explore their universe together and return to their communities ready to think critically and creatively about any challenge that comes their way.
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