The Sky at Night: Astronomical sights in virtual reality

I have to admit, my absolute favourite 360 panoramas we have available for ClassVR are those related to Space. Obviously, images taken from the Mars Rover and Chang’e Lunar Lander are absolutely spectacular (do take a look at our sample lesson plan: ‘Is There Life on Mars?’). Closer to home, however, I could spend hours immersed in the incredible 360 photos of the night sky.

In one of these images, you can see billions of stars and the Milky Way reflected in a calm lake; in another, the ethereal lights of the Aurora Borealis hanging like a green curtain over Iceland; in yet another, an amazing multiple exposure of the moon moving across the sky during a lunar eclipse. All of these experiences are very beautiful and instantly engaging – but how can they be used in the classroom?

Hannah Davies - Educational Specialist

Hannah Davies
Avantis Educational Specialist (UK)

One of the great things about VR resources is that they can be used as a stimulus across the curriculum and with many different age groups. Here are just a few ideas for Primary-aged students:

Ages 3-7: Northern Lights

  • In addition to exploring the Northern Lights ClassVR experiences, read ‘The Magic Sky’ by Lucy Richards and collect adjectives to describe the aurora. Create a class word bank using these adjectives, then explore writing descriptions of the Northern Lights (or even learn the story and use it as a model for creative writing).
  • Investigate different media and techniques to create artworks of the lights – layered tissue paper, watercolours or chalks would be a good place to start.
  • Find out about the places in the world where the Aurora Borealis (or Australis) can be seen. Locate them on a globe and talk about what the climate is like in these places and why.

Ages 8-11: The Milky Way

  • Begin by sharing a variety of Milky Way ClassVR experiences with students. Why does the sky look very similar in most of these photos? Use this as a jumping-off point to investigate the position of Earth within the Solar System, and the Solar System within our galaxy (and beyond!).
  • Use the vast distances involved to extend students’ understanding of place value; practise ordering large numbers (and even introduce the concept of standard form for those students who need a challenge).
  • Find out about myths and folk stories about the Milky Way; Ancient Egyptian, Armenian, Cherokee, Hungarian and Maori cultures all have fascinating folklore surrounding the bright streak in the sky.
Night Sky New Zealand Virtual Reality
Milky Way Reflection Virtual Reality
Iceland Northern Lights Virtual Reality