Generation Beyond is an initiative designed to get students interested in STEM learning and deep space exploration. Today’s students are tomorrow’s STEM professionals who will be helping in getting humans to Mars — and you could be one of them!

If all things space excite you, here’s a chance to participate in a hands-on challenge! Generation Beyond is running a student video challenge contest where individual middle school students or groups of students can submit a design of the living quarters for the Orion Spacecraft — NASA’s new human spacecraft designed to take humans farther in space than they’ve ever gone before!

29315746035_3187f77780_zHere’s how to enter:

Submission: Register for the 2016 Video Challenge. Then create and present in a one- to two-minute video a Mars Mission habitation design — what internal environment, tools and equipment would humans need to stay healthy and safe in space? Explain your design and accompany your video with a visual presentation.

Criteria: Students will be judged on scientific knowledge, creativity, effective communication and presentation skills.

Prizes: First place prize for individual contestants or teams is $10,000 + and travel to a unique space experience! Second place gets awarded $5,000 and third place — $2,500.

Deadline for submission: December 15th, 2016

Get more details about the video challenge — and take the opportunity to showcase your science skills and creativity!

Resilient is the word I think best describes the people of Louisiana. You have to be here. Just over a decade ago the gulf coast region was slammed by Hurricane Katrina, a category 5 hurricane with max wind speeds of 174 miles per hour, causing over 100 billion dollars in damage, and contributing to the deaths of nearly 2-thousand people. Then in 2010, gulf coast residents endured the worst oil spill in U.S. history and clean-up efforts took years to get the area back to normal again. Now, the residents are dealing with the country’s worst natural disaster in over 3 years since Sandy made landfall in the Northeastern part of the U.S.

Historic floods ravaged areas around Baton Rouge, La. killing 13 people and damaging at least 40-thousand homes. Flooding began August 12th and continued for multiple days causing tens of thousands of people to evacuate their homes. I recently traveled to the devastated area. The clean-up effort is still underway and the people here can still use a lot of help.

As I traveled through communities like Denham Springs, Livingston and Albany, I saw the roads lined with piles of people’s possessions. Water rushed into many of these homes destroying everything. While many people are lucky to still be alive in some cases…it’s heart breaking to see their memories and hard work sitting on their front lawns ready to be scooped up and hauled away by FEMA.

Their homes are unlivable; just a shell. Many are living with friends, in shelters, and at hotels. Some of these people didn’t have flood insurance because flooding just isn’t typical in this area. No one here really expected it to ever happen. I’ve heard people refer to it as the 500 year flood. It’s going to take a while to restore a sense of normalcy here. From what I read and the people I talked with, able body people are needed here to help with the clean-up so I decided to make my way south to do my best to help some of the people in need in Louisiana.

I spent time with a couple living north of Albany, LA, Joanne and Roy Hobbs. The couple in their 60s was jarred awake at 2am on August 12th by a wall of water washing through their home. They were forced out through a rushing river of water to their neighbors across the street who owned a home with a second story. They stayed there until the National Guard came to rescue them hours later.
Once the water receded they came back to their home to find everything they owned damaged by the flood waters. Even the walls had to be torn down.

I spent two days working with the Hobbs to transport their damaged belongings to the curb to be picked up and disposed of. In the blazing Louisiana heat and humidity we hustled to move furniture, damp dry wall, carpet, electronics and pretty much everything this family had worked so hard to build and experience. What’s even more heart-breaking is Roy lost his home and possessions during Hurricane Katrina. He moved away from typical flood zones because he didn’t want to have to deal with disasters like that again. Unfortunately, he is now too familiar and rebuilding once again. I guess it is tough to predict a flood like this.

It was a good feeling knowing I helped this family and was able to get all of their stuff moved out of their front yard. They said it was the first time in a couple weeks their home actually looked like a home again from the outside and not a junk yard.

After spending time with the Hobbs family, I moved to one of the areas most severely damaged by the flood, Denham Springs, LA. Driving through the area it was tough to find a home not impacted by the flooding. Here I met with an organization “Operation Blessing” a disaster relief service helping to prepare meals for people in the community who are struggling after losing everything in the floods. I helped cook and clean for about 5 hours and there was a constant flow of people coming through looking for a meal to get them through the rebuilding process and simply to the next day. It was rewarding working with a variety of volunteers from around the country from Texas to Michigan traveling to Louisiana to help. It goes to show how many good people are out there.

It was tough seeing the destruction and people’s lives turned upside down but I am thankful I had the opportunity to help some really great people in Louisiana. The clean-up and rebuilding will take months and years to complete but the people here as always will bounce back with love, positive spirits and hard work.

Virtual reality has moved into the classroom, with a host of online resources to allow students to watch 360-degree videos. Young people can search YouTube for these navigable videos and even use a Google Cardboard for a true virtual reality experience.

So how can students create their own virtual reality experiences? Recently I had the opportunity to visit Unarthodox, a special space in New York City that hosts classes designed to promote creativity and self-expression. One of their newest classes focuses on virtual reality and gives participants a chance to create their own videos. I had the chance to ask the folks at Unarthodox a few questions about how to create virtual reality videos.

What type of camera is used to capture the the 360 degree video?

For our introductory class, we use an entry-level camera. Specifically, the Ricoh Theta S, which shoots 360 degree video at 1080p.

Have you found that YouTube is the best way to share these videos? Are there other options you have explored?

YouTube is definitely a very accessible way to watch 360 videos; however, recent changes to iOS mean that iPhone users are locked out of 360 videos and have to download a separate app. We’re also exploring sharing and viewing through Facebook, but it’s still very early to call any one option the “best.” Everyone wants to be the “Netflix of VR,” but as we’ve seen with the revolution of Hulu, Vimeo, Netflix, Amazon, etc., people will ultimately go wherever the best content is.

How can you envision this technology being used to teach students literacy skills?

With any new platform and technological evolution, there’s a growth in excitement, which translates to motivation. Children are naturally intrinsically motivated, and if you increase the amount of options they have to express themselves and lower the barriers to do so, they’re more likely to accumulate whatever skills they need to create their vision, including literacy skills.

Virtual reality is an exciting tool that can connect to your curriculum. If you’ve tried using VR in your classroom, share your experiences below!

Monica Burns is an Author, Speaker, EdTech & Curriculum Consultant and Apple Distinguished Educator. Visit her site for more ideas on how to become a tech-savvy teacher.