A few months ago I read a magazine article about crop circles and looked at the beautiful patterns and thought, “That would be a great OpenSim building activity”. At the time, we were still working on our first project, TechnoSpirit, so I “filed that one away”.
I had discussions previously with one of our Junior School teachers who was already involved in our school’s Quest Atlantis Project. Roger was keen to learn more about the OpenSim building tools and how they could be used within the Maths curriculum.
Months passed and Roger spoke to me again about OpenSim building activities but this time he was keen to include it as part of the Year 5 Extension Maths curriculum. In particular, the students were going to be focussing on Geometry in Term 4. Could a virtual world be used to teach Geometry?
With Roger’s experience in Quest Atlantis, he understood the value of immersive environments and how adding a simple narrative to this project would increase student motivation in the virtual world. And so “Planet Orbis” was born! The students would be extra terrestrials from the imaginary planet and be known as “Orbisites”. They would be on a mission to communicate with the people of earth via geometric patterns that would be created in-world.
So how was this project actually organised? Our private grid is made up of four sims. One is used as the Begonia Island Sandbox and the remaining three are being using for the Planet Orbis Project. One sim has been created as Planet Orbis using an incredible OAR file that is based on actual Mars terrain data! Two sims have been devoted to a wheat farm where the crop circles will magically appear and, rather than leaving the terrain as flat grass land, the students can explore a farm house and surrounding area that is being created by a member of our Virtual Worlds Project Team.
And so, last week, we welcomed fourteen new Orbisites to our virtual world! The orientation session went just as expected. The students watched the “Planet Orbis Mission Movie” with excited yet bewildered looks. (Who did that strange alien voice belong to? ) They walked, ran and flew around the sims until OpenSim crashed. They discovered how to edit their appearance so that their extra terrestrial avatars became something that would be right at home in any Doctor Who episode. They learnt about the Mini Map and Map features in OpenSim and that you can use coordinates to navigate your way around the sims. They were enthusiastic and excited as most of the students had never ventured into a virtual world.
I’ve noticed that all virtual worlds sessions seem to finish in the same way – students leave feeling happy and enthusiastic about their learning and I leave feeling incredibly proud of their achievements.
It’s hard to believe that our OpenSim Project was officially opened to students just a few short months ago in May. Since launching this project, it has been a real privilege to be involved in both face to face and online conferences and presentations. Recently, we were asked to share our TechnoSpirit Project at the Ignite 2010 Conference held at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia.
The Ignite 2010 Conference is organised each year with both face to face and virtual worlds sessions that are held “in-world”. Therefore, I was able to be a presenter without leaving my home!
The focus of the presentation was how we created the TechnoSpirit sim using existing OpenSim resources as well creations by our Virtual Worlds Project Team. We also looked at how the use of virtual worlds can motivate reluctant learners, even when the topic may seem unappealing to them at first glance.
Special thanks to Dean Groom (Manager, Educational Development Group, Learning & Teaching Centre, Macquarie University) and Jo Kay (Freelance Digital Designer and Educational Technology Facilitator) for their wonderful assistance in preparing for the presentation and Adrian Bruce for the in-world images.
Last week, our Virtual Worlds Project Team started work on a new project, Planet Orbis. We will blog about this new project in more detail soon but, as the name suggests, there is an extra terrestrial element to it.
At today’s meeting, we talked about creating planets using the OpenSim building tools and one student showed a particular interest in this. By the end of the session, he had not only started work on his own spacecraft, but also created his own planet (yet to be named!) with two sets of rings that rotated vertically. Although he said this was quite accidental, we all agreed that it looked awesome!
We then discussed the possibility of creating replicas of the planets of our solar system. An internet search for “planet textures” brought great success in the form of the Planet Texture Map Collection Site. This site provides beautiful textures with free versions to download. You can then upload the textures to your OpenSim Inventory and use them to create the planets.
Witnessing the work of our students made me think of all of the times I’ve heard the statement, “Make a poster about…” This is just one example where virtual worlds offer a highly engaging and richer learning experience for our students.
Option 1: “Make a poster about the solar system.”
Option 2: “Create your own 3D solar system – and fly through it!”
Many thanks to everyone who played a part in our recent presentation at the Expanding Learning Horizons Conference in the lovely bayside area of Lorne in Victoria. Without the support of a number of people, including staff, our Virtual Worlds Project Team and educators from outside our own school, the opportunity to share our story would not have been possible.
Below you will find a copy of the presentation but you may also wish to visit our public OpenSim space, Begonia Gardens, on ReactionGrid. We have set up a number of in-world resources for you to explore. Click here to sign up for a ReactionGrid account then follow the instructions to add ReactionGrid to your 3D Viewer software. You may also wish to view our screencast if you’re unsure how to do this.
You can visit the Resources page on this blog, for a full list of virtual worlds resources.