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Customer Spotlight: The STEMTaught Foundation’s Ocean Project

Customer Spotlight: The STEMTaught Foundation’s Ocean Project

STEMTaught is a small-but-mighty nonprofit that aims to bring hands-on STEM lessons to kids who deserve to know their worth as potential scientists. The organization works with scientists and thousands of classrooms to bring hands-on STEM learning into the classroom. The goal is to create experiences that are accessible, fun, and personable—all while empowering girls and traditionally underrepresented minority students to see themselves as actual scientists in their future lives. STEMTaught provides lessons, activities, and resources that are brought to the most underperforming schools, so those students can learn about math and science occupations in ways they may never have had the opportunity to otherwise.

When STEMTaught came to MightySkins, they wanted us to help them recreate an ocean experience that would bring the ocean virtual reality world of The Hydrous into the classroom setting. We set out to emulate and expand on deep-ocean dives with coral reef images and stickers that helped to transform the team's fleet of virtual reality masks into scuba masks so they could really get into the mind space that they were visiting the sea. We also wanted to make sure that all VR headsets looked the same. So kids with Google Cardboard ones would not feel left out compared to other kids who had more expensive VR setups.

Can you tell us about the STEMTaught Foundation and your role within the organization?

We are the small (but mighty) foundation arm of the small (but even mightier) STEMTaught nonprofit. We bring quality, hands-on STEM lessons created by scientists, as well as supplies, into thousands of elementary school level classrooms (you can check out some photos if you scroll towards the bottom of the foundation homepage). Our curriculums make science accessible, fun, and personal, with a focus on empowering girls and traditionally underrepresented minority students in STEM to see themselves reflected in actual scientists. The lessons, activities, and resources we provide have brought students in "lowest-performing" schools to test higher than even neighboring schools in wealthier areas—not just in STEM topics, but across the board.

Can you tell us about the project that prompted you to work with MightySkins and The Hydrous?

The particular project your company is so graciously helping with is one I'm spearheading, loosely in conjunction with ocean virtual reality nonprofit The Hydrous. The virtual scuba dive and model for taking it into classrooms was entirely designed by them, and STEMTaught is emulating and expanding it with their blessing. Taking students scuba diving on a coral reef in virtual reality complements a very popular 5th-grade unit on coral reefs and the scientific method. Although we'd like to extend the virtual diving opportunity to more of our participating schools in the fall, we are concentrating on a handful of California Central Valley classrooms for our spring pilot (which we should have pictures and videos to send of in a few weeks.) Many (perhaps most) of these kids have never even seen the ocean before.

What were the goals that the STEMTaught Foundation voiced to you in regard to working with MightySkins?

Your stickers will transform the little fleet of virtual reality masks into scuba masks, to really get them in the mind space that they're visiting the sea. And because some students will have different looking headsets, depending on whether or not they have access to a smartphone, making all the headsets look more like scuba masks also serves an important role from an equity perspective since kids may be less inclined to notice differences between the viewers they get to use and their classmates.

What has the reception been to these partnerships and the overall project of bringing the ocean into classrooms?

The kids REALLY loved going diving—this has been a tough year for them, and

several of them said that they really felt like they were there underwater. We took about 100 students "diving" on coral reefs with The Hydrous's Immerse video, on May 7 and May 14. The picture to the right is one of three 6th grade classes in Bakersfield, using the Oculus headsets with full stickers. All the students also got microscopes and samples of coral rubble to examine the structure of real reef-building coral skeletons up close, and vials of lemon juice and pipettes to observe how coral skeletons dissolve with acidic liquids.

What were their initial reactions to seeing the VR headsets with their new skins?

Several students were definitely brave in pushing their boundaries to "dive in" because they told me that they don't know how to swim and felt like they were truly under the water. I think the scuba mask stickers really gave them all the feeling that this was a special experience made just for them to explore the ocean, rather than a sense that they were using gaming equipment or gimmicks.

What did the kids enjoy most from our collaboration?

They especially loved feeling like they were right next to turtles and fish on the virtual reefs they visited.

Do you have any plans for similar projects in 2021 and beyond?

We're hoping to get some volunteers over the summer who are interested in helping lead more virtual dives (for example, community college/undergraduate students interested in education, virtual technologies, or marine science), so that we can take many more classrooms diving once the next school year starts. In the meantime, we're letting the Delano students hang on to the Google cardboards until the end of the school year, and encouraged them to teach their families how to use them to go diving in the ocean as well!

Why did you choose MightySkins?

As for why we picked your company, you made the stickers The Hydrous originally used on their headsets when piloting their virtual dive in classrooms. They've held up well!

What has been your overall experience in working with MightySkins?

We're very grateful to have durable stickers that will let the same headsets get used over and over again by different kids, hopefully for many years—the Oculus headsets were used by several sets of kids back to back, and they held up just fine being wiped down with the disinfectant between uses. Thank you all again so much for helping make this happen!

Thanks to the stickers provided by MightySkins, STEMTaught was able to immerse its students into an ocean of wonderment and exploration. After the students put on their VR headsets, they were immediately inspired to dive into the deep waters, leaving their fears of the unknown behind and swimming into coral skeletons and oceanic life that couldn't have been experienced otherwise. MightySkins' scuba mask stickers gave the students the feeling that they were truly in a special underwater experience that was meant for them to explore the world beyond their classrooms. Thanks to The Hydrous's Immerse video and stickers from MightySkins, students have been able to plummet directly into their underwater learning environments.

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