Archive for March, 2013

Exploring Virtual Worlds

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

I am on the fence about virtual worlds. On the one hand, I recognize their value as an educational tool (especially in the year 2013) and I know most students would enjoy participating in a virtual world; but on the other hand, I find virtual worlds to be strange (creepy, almost) and part of The Problem rather than the solution. By the “The Problem,” I mean disconnection. Our 21st century world is taking us further and further away from real life– real interaction– and closer towards diluted versions of ourselves and human interaction. However, these virtual worlds do provide a means of collaboration and communication, which, I suppose, is better than nothing.

I very much relate to Elizabeth Knittle’s initial reaction to the virtual world in the article “A ‘Second Life’ For Educators”: “I looked around and I thought, this is crazy […]I just couldn’t see the value of it, so I left” (2009). I couldn’t have said it better myself. But as she explored virtual worlds more, as I did with Second Life and NASA @ Home and City, I started to warm up to the idea of the virtual world as a collaborative space. To me, the virtual world is a highly visual, complex and life-like Google Doc. You sign on, contribute freely, and others do the same. For the record, I still prefer just a good ol’ fashioned Google Doc, but for more visual learners (and Digital Natives) I can really see the value of communicating via the virtual world.

John Lester (2009) makes another solid point in that same article about the value of virtual worlds as a space for professional development:

“With teachers, you have this built-in culture of collaboration,” he says. “It’s in their DNA; they succeed by working with other people on projects and learning from them and leveraging each other’s work. It’s not surprising that Second Life is proving to be such a useful platform for their own professional development.”

And admittedly, that was not a use of the virtual world that I had thought about previously. I was thinking of these virtual worlds for student use only, not for teachers to collaborate with each other. We all know how difficult it can be to coordinate schedules with other teachers, nay just other adults in general, and Second Life provides a space for teachers from everywhere to meet and collaborate. Much cheaper and more convenient than a conference, I’d say.

Although I recognize the benefits of virtual worlds, I still can’t help feeling that they contradict themselves. They are a space for collaboration, but they also require users to hind behind their respective computer screens– an isolating act. The Horizon-K12 article, “What Are Virtual Worlds,” makes a valid point saying that, “it has become evident that people generally return to virtual spaces because of the experiences they find there, not because of the spaces themselves” (2011). Those “experiences” are interacting with other human beings. Meeting new people is an experience (and a worth while one). I am of the opinion that the best way to meet someone is in real life, not virtual life. Perhaps this is an exaggeration, but sometimes I feel like real life will cease to exist. That instead of leaving our homes and our computer screens, we will live and interact entirely online. As an educator, I would rather provide as many real life experiences for my students as possible, and use the internet as a tool rather than as an experience.

Resources

Waters, J.K. (2009). A ‘second life’ for educators. The Journal. Retrieved from http://thejournal.com/Articles/2009/01/01/A-Second-Life-For-Educators.aspx?Page=6

“What are virtual worlds?” (2011). The Horizon Project: K-12. Retrieved from http://k12-2011.wiki.nmc.org/Virtual+Worlds

Mini Projects, Part 2

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

With these mini projects, being related themselves, I chose to stick to a related theme; that theme, of course, being Walt Whitman. My idea is to incorporate both a TimeToast timeline and a Google Trek as part of one larger learning project / experience.

Our journey would begin the the classroom. We would start our Walt Whitman unit with his poem Song of Myself– reading, analyzing, and having students write their own Songs of Self– and then we would find out who this Walt Whitman person was. I would show my students My Walt Whitman Timeline, and then show them how to use TimeToast (it’s pretty simple) to create their own. This allows them to concisely consolidate their research in one place and chronologically. Of course, I wouldn’t send my students into the Wild Blue Yonder of the internet to do research, so I would provide for them a Custom Walt Whitman Search Engine, made by yours truly.

Once the students had gotten to know Walt a little better, I would introduce them to his Civil War poems, many of which are written about his experiences right here in Fredericksburg, VA! Assuming the students were getting interested and involved with Whitman’s poetry (how could you not?), I would plan a field trip to historical Fredericksburg.


View Walt Whitman Fredericksburg Tour in a larger map

There are a few things on this Google Trek that I would amend for a field trip, though. First and most importantly, we all know that it’s not safe to walk over the bridge, so this is not truly a “walking tour” of Fredericksburg. Also, with children in tow, I would skip the visit to Colonial Tavern for a Walt Whit beer. But I think you get the general idea.

Admittedly, I felt pretty uninspired about creating a timeline, but I do think it a useful tool for historical and/or biographical information. The Google Trek, on the other hand, I found to be really engaging and fun to make! I especially enjoyed making it for an area that I am so familiar with already. Assuming the Google Trek is used for its intended purpose (a field trip), then it becomes part of the very definition of experiential learning– and I like that! Not only do students get the benefit of fresh air and getting out of the classroom, but also something that seemed unreal, merely words on pages, becomes real. Fredericksburg is a real place, Walt Whitman was really here, the catalpa trees he wrote about in The Wound Dresser are still alive and standing outside of Chatham House. When things become real, they become more meaningful.  And even if a student hates poetry and hates Walt Whitman, there is bound to be something along the way that interests him/her. That’s the beauty of having a shared experience, each person derives their own personal meaning from it.

Mini Projects, Part 1

Thursday, March 14th, 2013

I have been home sick this week, so the mini projects that involved my voice (currently scratchy, phelgmy, and frequently coughing) were out of the question. This considered, I poured myself into the comic book project and designing a lesson using Wordle.

For my comic book, I created an alternate ending to William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. If you are unfamiliar, the book ends with Jack chasing Ralph (antagonist & protagonist) with the intent to kill him. Before anything deadly can happen, however, the boys are rescued by a British Naval Officer. In my alternative ending, Ralph hides and throws a rock at Jack, knocking him unconscious. Suddenly, he feels regret and shame, and hurries over to Jack to try to save him. The boys make nice with each other, and this is when they both see the Naval Officer who saves them. In changing the ending, I changed the entire meaning of the book; Lord of the Flies is about the animalistic, base instincts within all of us, but by showing Ralph’s sympathy and regret, I chose to illustrate the “brighter” side of humanity. Although I don’t intend on making comics as a hobby now, I do think this would be a great project for my students. Students would love to make alternate endings to books, especially the ones that they hate the ending. It’s a great way to inspire students to reflect on the narrative as a whole, and have them discover how changing the ending can change the theme of the entire novel.

I designed my Wordle lesson around Elie Wiesel’s Night. (Sorry I’m so dark this week, maybe it’s the sickness). My lesson involves a “Before and After” usage of Wordle, which is to say that we will create a word cloud before we start the activity, and then another once we have completed our analysis of Night.

The lesson begins with a reading of the children’s book Goodnight Moon. Goodnightmoon

Afterwards, I’ll ask the students to reflect on what nighttime meant to them when they were 11 years old, which is Elie Wiesel’s age at the start of the Holocaust. We will create a Wordle word cloud of these little-kid-nighttime-words: “pillow,” “cuddle,” “comfortable,” “quiet,” etc. I expect this cloud to be of mostly pleasant words.

Then we will launch into our Night activity. Reminding the students that Elie Wiesel was just a child when all of this started happening. I will have students break up into small groups to discuss sections of the book with a reading guide. The reading guide leads students to locate and think about passages that involve sleep and nighttime, and then to put together some keywords that describe those passages.

Once the students have finished, we will come together as a group and create another word cloud to contrast our first one. This word cloud, undoubtedly, will include much darker words– “fear,” “fire,” “screaming,” “restlessness”– and I will pull the previous word cloud so that the students can clearly see the contrast. My hopes is that this will lead to a discussion of how the Holocaust destroyed Elie Wiesel’s (and every other child’s) childhood innocence. If nothing else, I hope the students enjoy the use of Wordle, and at least mildly grasp the magnitude of The Holocaust.

I really enjoyed creating these little mini projects, I love creative challenges! Once I no longer sound like an old woman that chain-smokes, I will tackle the others!

References

Goodnight Moon. (n.d.). Retrieved March 14, 2013 from wikipedia.org: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/5/51/Goodnightmoon.jpg