Skip to main content

Building an NGSS-aligned Middle School Summer Camp for an Observational Investigation with a Virtual Field Environment


A learning experience designed for the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) should integrate the Science & Engineering Practices and Crosscutting Concepts (CCCs) with science content. Such three-dimensional learning engages students in the epistemic components of the scientific process. Whether the Practices and CCCs are used in epistemically meaningful ways to build more expert-like understanding and behaviors is context dependent. The NGSS defines learning progressions for the Practices and CCCs, but they do not provide the detail needed to build activities within the grade bands. It is also up to curriculum developers to decide how to incorporate the Practices and CCCs using technology in domain-specific inquiry contexts. We document the development and evaluation of the week-long middle school summer Camp NANO, where campers participated in an observational investigation of a stream habitat from the macro-to-nano scale using the scanning electron microscope (SEM) as well as produced an interactive Virtual Field Environment (VFE) communication of the stream environment. This pilot is an example of a domain-specific authentic scientific inquiry experience built around three-dimensional learning as guided by the novice-to-expert literature to meet the NGSS middle school learning targets of the selected Practices and CCCs. We found that it was possible to build an activity plan that authentically incorporated and integrated the Practices and CCCs with the SEM and VFE, and that the involvement with the SEM and VFE in association with the observational investigation facilitated expert-like thinking and behaviors towards the selected Practices and CCCs.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6

Data Availability

All redacted data and materials are outlined in the paper as well as are available upon request of the corresponding author.

Code Availability

Not applicable.


Download references


Dr. Sara Spaulding of the Unites States Geological Survey is an expert contributor that has reviewed samples collected and imaged by the Camp NANO student participants. Funding was provided by the MJ Murdock Charitable Trust, Field Electron and Ion Company (FEI), and PhenomWorld. Friends of Tryon Creek State Park hosted the camp in their summer camps catalogue. Portland Community College hosted the camp in their lab space in the Makers Space. The manuscript was improved with feedback from three anonymous reviewers.


This work was supported by funding provided by the MJ Murdock Charitable Trust, the Field Electron and Ion Company (FEI), and PhenomWorld to J. Wells, and tuition fees for the summer camp.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



All authors contributed to the study conception and design. Material preparation, data collection and analysis were performed by Nancy Price, Jennifer Wells, and Frank Granshaw. The first draft of the manuscript was written by Nancy Price and all authors commented on previous versions of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Nancy A. Price.

Ethics declarations

Ethics Approval

This study was conducted under the “Review Not Required” determination by the Portland State University Research Integrity office (submission #174243—“Camp NANO: Design & Pilot of a “Three-Dimensional” NGSS-focused Summer Camp Curriculum”).

Consent to Participate

Not applicable.

Consent for Publication

Not applicable.

Competing Interests

Nancy Price worked as a paid consultant for Achieve, Inc., the non-profit company that managed the development of the Next Generation Science Standards and that continues policy support work for the standards. This work was done before conception and execution of this project. The other authors have no relevant financial or non-financial interests to disclose.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Springer Nature or its licensor holds exclusive rights to this article under a publishing agreement with the author(s) or other rightsholder(s); author self-archiving of the accepted manuscript version of this article is solely governed by the terms of such publishing agreement and applicable law.

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Price, N.A., Wells, J.G. & Granshaw, F.D. Building an NGSS-aligned Middle School Summer Camp for an Observational Investigation with a Virtual Field Environment. J Sci Educ Technol (2022).

Download citation

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • DOI:


  • Virtual field environment
  • Scanning electron microscope
  • Investigations
  • Scale
  • Communications
  • NGSS