Virtual World Teaches Real Science
GeoWorlds is an innovative new learning tool that teaches urban students about Earth Sciences by immersing them in a virtual world resembling the Cambrian, Permian, Cretaceous, or Eocene age.
This collaborative learning environment, built in the online world of Second Life and funded by the Kauffman Foundation, gives students an opportunity to learn geosciences content and enhance their problem-solving skills.
In traditional classroom instruction, students see information from one
source—the teacher—presented in a manner that can be as linear and as invariant
as the ordering of chapters in a textbook. In contrast, GeoWorlds is highly
participatory and non-linear, using the teacher as a guide and the terrain as
For example, within each time period of geologic history, students may wander
around and freely explore the plant, animal, and geographic features of the
time. Students may participate in scavenger hunts for note cards that provide
needed information about the world around them. They may chat with each other
and the teacher to share perspectives as new challenges arise, and form teams in
pursuit of academic goals set within the world.
Students can literally design and create creatures to populate the virtual
world—under the constraint that those creatures be accurate representations of
life forms that did actually exist at the time. Virtual field trip activities
are particularly easy in virtual worlds: students can count, first-hand, the
local population densities of life forms around them in GeoWorlds, and arrive at
results that are scientifically accurate, thanks to the accuracy of the
underlying simulation. But, students also can conduct experiments not even
possible in the real world, for example, changing the oxygen or carbon dioxide
content of the atmosphere in the Permian era and watching its effect on the
population density of differing life forms. Beyond the textbook, beyond the
classroom, virtual worlds are a learning environment rich with opportunities for
exploration, engagement, inquiry, and creativity.
All content is based on
national and state educational standards. Teachers and facilitators are
available as guides in the learning environment and have been trained
in the problem-based learning approach.
Preliminary research has shown that virtual environments can enhance the skills of students as well as engage their interest. The GeoWorlds project takes advantage of the natural interest of teens in virtual environments to help increase their knowledge and understanding of the real world they live in.
The first edition, TerraWorld, is available now. The next edition, WaterWorld, will be available soon.
Learn more at http://www.geoworlds.org/