Social-emotional learning (SEL) is an integral component of human development and education. Not only does it play a role in how we interact with others, but it also helps individuals develop a greater sense of self-awareness and empathy. With virtual reality approaching the forefront of education, broad access to social-emotional learning in middle school through a virtual reality (VR) classroom is right around the corner.
SEL is the process of learning to:
- Understand and manage emotions
- Set and achieve goals
- Feel and show empathy for others
- Establish and maintain positive relationships
- Make responsible decisions
Because social-emotional learning is so important, it's essential that we discover new ways to incorporate it into school curricula. While there are a variety of ways to teach social-emotional skills in the classroom, VR presents a unique opportunity to place students in realistic social situations where they can practice these skills in a safe and controlled environment.
The Benefits of Social Emotional Learning in Middle School
Adolescence is the most critical time for social-emotional development. Middle school is when students begin to develop more sophisticated social skills and emotional intelligence. They also begin to explore career paths, personal interests, and social identities.
However, it's also a time when they're susceptible to a variety of social and emotional problems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 17.4% of adolescents in the United States suffer from a mental health or developmental disorder.
Middle school social emotional learning helps students develop the skills they need to navigate these challenges and build social-emotional competence. VR provides a unique opportunity to teach these 21st century life skills in a safe and controlled environment.
When children get to middle school, they're often given more responsibility for their own social and emotional development. This includes things like choosing friends, managing emotions, and resolving conflicts. SEL can help students learn how to make responsible decisions and manage their social and emotional lives.
SEL can help middle school students:
- Develop a stronger sense of self-awareness
- Enhance social skills such as communication and teamwork
- Build empathy and compassion for others
- Learn how to manage emotions effectively
- Develop coping mechanisms for stress and anxiety
- Set and achieve personal goals
- Make responsible decisions
By teaching social and emotional skills in middle school, we can help students build the foundation they need to succeed in school and in life. VR provides a unique opportunity to engage students in social-emotional learning activities in a safe and controlled environment.
Middle School Social Emotional Learning: Self-Awareness
Self-awareness is the ability to understand your own emotions and how they impact your thoughts, behavior, and relationships. It's an important social-emotional skill that middle school students need to develop in order to manage their social and emotional lives effectively.
As students engage in social and emotional learning activities, they will begin to develop a stronger sense of self-awareness. This includes understanding their own emotions, values, and beliefs. It also includes recognizing how their words and actions affect others.
Middle School Social Emotional Learning: Emotional Intelligence.
Emotionally-intelligent students perform better academically, exhibit fewer behavioral problems, and are more successful in social situations. They're also better able to cope with stress and manage their emotions.
On the flipside, one study found that first graders who displayed little understanding of emotions frequently reported feelings of loneliness, social anxiety, and depression in middle school.
Middle School Social Emotional Learning: Social Skills
Social skills are the ability to interact with others in a way that is respectful, cooperative, and positive. They're important for success in both academic and social situations.
Some of the social skills that students will develop in middle school include:
SEL activities like role-playing and simulations can help students practice social skills in a safe and controlled environment. This will allow them to build confidence and become more comfortable with social interactions.
Middle School Social Emotional Learning: Positive Habits
SEL activities can help students develop positive social and emotional habits that they can carry with them both in and out of the classroom. When students engage in social-emotional learning activities, they're more likely to transfer these skills to other areas of their lives.
Some of the positive social and emotional habits that students can develop include:
- Listening to others
- Expressing emotions appropriately
- Respecting personal space
- Managing stress and anxiety
- Setting and achieving goals
Through social-emotional education in middle school, students can build the foundation they need to carry themselves into adulthood.
The SEL Framework for Middle School
The social and emotional learning framework is a research-based approach to teaching social and emotional skills. It includes five core competencies:
- Self-awareness: the ability to understand your own emotions and how they impact your thoughts, behavior, and relationships.
- Social awareness: the ability to understand the emotions of others and how they impact social interactions.
- Self-management: the ability to manage your emotions in positive ways.
- Responsible decision-making: the ability to make responsible choices about personal behavior and social interactions.
- Relationship skills: the ability to interact with others in a positive and constructive way.
The social and emotional learning framework provides a comprehensive approach to teaching social and emotional skills. It can be used in both academic and non-academic settings, such as after-school programs, summer camps, and community organizations.
SEL Activities for Middle School Students
There are several ways that educators can incorporate social and emotional learning into the middle school curriculum. Some of these activities include:
- Cooperative games
- Collaborative activities
- Virtual reality lessons
When games are designed to be cooperative, it means that players have to work together in order to win. This is a great way to teach social and emotional skills because it requires students to communicate, compromise, and cooperate with one another.
For example, an SEL educator could put students into teams for a test review game. The object of the game would be to answer as many questions correctly as possible. In order to win, students would have to work together and use their social and emotional skills.
Collaborative activities already happen in most classrooms on a daily basis. However, they can be designed specifically to teach social and emotional skills.
For example, a Lab Science teacher could put students into groups to complete a project. The project could be something like designing an experiment or creating a model. In order to successfully complete the project, students would have to use their social and emotional skills to communicate, cooperate, and delegate tasks to one another.
Virtual Reality Lessons
Virtual reality simulations are a great way to teach social and emotional skills because they provide students with an immersive experience. Through VR, students can transport themselves back in time or to another place.
For example, a social studies teacher could use a virtual reality lesson to transport students back in time to the Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial. By listening to the “I Have a Dream” speech, students would be able to learn about the principles Dr. King emphasized: social justice, equality, empathy.
Middle School Social Emotional Learning at Home
At home, students don't always have the same access to social and emotional learning activities. SEL can be challenging in remote and hybrid environments because:
- Social and emotional skills are best learned through in-person interactions
- Some social and emotional learning activities require in-person interactions
- A few social and emotional learning activities require materials that may not be available at home
That being said, there are still ways that educators can help students with social and emotional learning at home. Here are a few ideas:
- Incorporate social and emotional learning activities into existing lessons, like adding a discussion component to an English lesson or assigning a group project.
- Place children into breakout rooms to collaborate during a remote lesson. This will give them the opportunity to socialize and practice their social skills.
- Use virtual reality for teaching to transport students to another time or place. This is a great way to provide an immersive social and emotional learning experience.
- Provide social and emotional learning resources for parents
SEL activities can be a slight challenge in remote and hybrid environments. However, there are still ways to provide social and emotional learning at home. With a bit of creativity, social and emotional learning can be incorporated into existing lessons or through virtual reality simulations!
VR is Transforming Social Emotional Learning in Middle School
Across the country, VR is taking the classroom by storm. Through tablets, laptops, and phones, learning all subjects has become more accessible to students. And social and emotional learning is no different.
A growing number of middle schools are using VR to teach social and emotional skills, and it's easy to see why.
There are many benefits to using VR in the classroom:
- VR provides an immersive experience that is engaging and fun for students
- Virtual reality can be used to teach social and emotional skills in a safe environment
- VR captivates students' attention in a new and exciting way
We’ll explore these benefits below.
VR provides an immersive experience that is engaging and fun for students.
In the past, social and emotional learning activities were limited to in-person interactions and online lessons. But with educational VR, teachers can transport their students anywhere in the world, giving them access to new people and experiences.
Simulations are a great way to learn about all kinds of subjects, including social and emotional skills. VR simulations are especially beneficial because they provide an immersive experience that is engaging and fun for students.
Virtual reality can be used to teach social and emotional skills in a safe environment.
Some social and emotional skills can be difficult to learn in a traditional classroom setting. For example, it can be hard for students to practice empathy if they haven't experienced different perspectives themselves.
Whether it is a class virtual field trip to the zoo or a metaverse game that places students in other people’s shoes, VR provides a secure environment for students to learn social and emotional skills.
VR captivates students' attention in a new and exciting way.
Virtual reality is unique in that it engages all of the senses, immersing students in a new experience. This type of engagement is beneficial for social and emotional learning because it allows students to really connect with the material.
By teaching lessons in metaverse classrooms, social and emotional learning becomes more interactive and fun. This type of social and emotional learning is beneficial for all students, but it can be especially impactful for:
- Those who struggle in traditional classroom settings
- Those who attend school remotely or on a hybrid basis
Since social and emotional learning is so critical at the middle school level, it's essential that we find new and innovative ways to teach these skills. VR provides a distinctive and compelling opportunity to do just that.
VR Lesson Plans with a Social Emotional Learning Twist
With Kai XR, social and emotional learning can be taken to the next level. Kai XR is a social and emotional learning platform that uses VR to teach social and emotional skills in a fun and engaging way.
Kai XR provides:
- A safe environment for students to learn social and emotional skills
- An immersive experience that engages all of the senses
- Lessons that are fun and interactive
We believe that everyone deserves access to social and emotional learning resources. Here are some SEL lesson plans that Kai XR can supplement at the middle school level:
Self-Awareness: Fashioning the Future VR Lesson
In Fashioning the Future, students step inside the world of four British fashion icons. They will listen to Naomi Campbell and other top fashion magnates talk about why they dedicate their time to this industry.
Educators can tailor this experience to social and emotional learning about self-awareness. Through this virtual field trip, students will have the opportunity to:
- Hear from different people in the fashion industry about what it takes to be successful
- See how different aspects of the fashion industry work together
- Gain a better understanding of the importance of self-awareness in achieving goals
During the lesson, explain to students that the fashion industry is a great example of how different people with different backgrounds can come together to create something special. Use this opportunity to ask them about what they like to do and discuss what it’s like to build a career.
Social Awareness: Dreaming in Za'atari Virtual Field Trip
In the "Dreaming in Za'atari" VR field trip, students meet three Syrian teens: Najat, Tabarak, and Mahmoud.
This social and emotional learning lesson plan is designed to help students understand what it's like to be a refugee. Through this virtual field trip, students will have the opportunity to:
- Hear personal stories from Syrian refugees
- Learn about the struggles and challenges of living in a refugee camp
- Gain a more comprehensive global perspective
During the lesson, explain to students that the Za'atari refugee camp is home to lots of people just like the three teens. Talk them through the factors that cause refugee crises and open a discussion about what leaving your home behind would feel like.
Self-Management: Aerospace Engineering VR Field Trip
In the "Aerospace Engineering" VR field trip, students meet aerospace engineer Tiera Fletcher. Through this virtual field trip, students will have the opportunity to:
- Hear about Tiera's career journey and current position with Boeing
- Learn about the different aspects of aerospace engineering and leading a team
- Gain a better understanding of the importance of time management and setting goals
During the lesson, explain to students that aerospace engineering is a complex and challenging field. Ask them to think about how Tiera manages her time and sets goals in order to be successful. Discuss the importance of self-management in achieving goals.
Responsible Decision-Making: Great Barrier Reef VR Experience
In Kai XR's "Great Barrier Reef" VR trip, students explore one of the most biodiverse systems on the planet. Through an SEL lens, this lesson can teach students about the importance of responsible decision-making.
In the VR field trip, kids can:
- Hear about the effects of climate change on the Great Barrier Reef
- Learn about the different creatures that call the reef home
- Understand the importance of a forward-thinking mentality
During the lesson, explain to students that the Great Barrier Reef is a fragile ecosystem. Ask them to think about the decisions they made during the virtual trip and how those choices could impact the reef. Then, discuss the importance of responsible decision-making and thinking ahead in preserving our natural resources.
Relationship Skills: Rescuing Rhinos VR Trip
In the "Rescuing Rhinos" VR field trip, students get to see one of the most endangered species together and up-close. They will also learn about conservation efforts and see firsthand what it takes to protect these animals.
Through this virtual field trip, your classroom will:
- Learn about the different ways people can help rhinos
- Hear about the challenges of working with other people to achieve a common goal
- Gain a better understanding of the importance of teamwork and communication
During the lesson, explain to students that rhinos are in danger of becoming extinct. After the VR lesson, have classmates form groups to further discuss the topic. What strategies would they use to rescue rhinos? How can they work together to achieve a common goal? Finally, review group answers as a class and reflect on how students collaborated.
Middle School Social Emotional Learning with Kai XR
Social-emotional learning in middle school is critical, and with VR it can be a blast too.
By incorporating VR into social and emotional learning activities, students can gain a better understanding of themselves and the world around them. Through immersive experiences, they can explore different cultures, ecosystems, and careers.
VR provides a unique opportunity for students to develop social awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, and relationship skills. With virtual field trips, the world is your classroom!
Kai XR offers social-emotional learning modules that are designed to help students in grades six through eight develop important life skills.
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Featured Photo by Mary Taylor