The Birth of Planet Orbis


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”. ūüôā

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? ūüėČ ) ¬†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. ūüôā