Friday, March 15, 2013

ABC Students Take a Trip to an Alien Planet

Written by Kenneth Horrocks and Jennifer Garcia

Science took an exciting turn at the ABC this week, as students from Grade 8 explored a virtual planet populated by alien plants and attempted to classify them according to Earthly classification standards. Each student used their own personalised avatar, kept a careful record of each plant identified in an online field notebook, and made a reasoned judgement about the probable taxonomy of each specimen. While exploring the virtual world, they had to content with mountains, carnivorous plants, floating islands and a giant monster pair of eyeballs which chased them around and stuck to their avatar bodies. The activity forms part of an unit called ‘Plants as Organisms’, in which student are expected to learn the fundamental properties and behaviour of plants, and is part of a new initiative in Key Stage 3 science to ‘theme’ traditional units in science in a way which will be engaging and related to current media or events. The theme for this unit is the multi-million grossing movie ‘Avatar’ by director James Cameron.

Planning and preparation for this activity began four months ago and involved staff from both the science and ICT department, as well as a highly talented and dedicated team of ABC students who used their virtual modelling talents to create many imaginative alien plants on Tuesday afternoons as an extra-curricular activity. Of course this is not as good as taking them to a real alien planet, but it is a lot safer and it fits into the modern pedagogical concepts of using problem solving approaches to learning.

The original idea came about when Mr. Horrocks mentioned that he was interested in creating a virtual alien planet. Now this may sound  like a rather odd request, but it makes perfect sense if that planet is to be used for Science students to investigate and classify life forms. In less than 10 minutes we had a plan. In fact the idea for the club, the region and work flow for the project all came together very nicely.

We new upon conception that this project would work extremely well in 8th grade science.  It just happens that end of each school year the 7th grade learns to navigate and build in-world in an Open Sim grid. This meant that we already had several skilled builders in the current 8th grade. The LRC had already arranged to lease a region on Jokaydia Grid and it made perfect sense to use Jokaydia for the Science project too. ABC Pandora was launched!

The club took off with a small group of dedicated students from 6th to 8th grade, Mr. Horrocks and Mrs. Garcia. The younger students, despite their lack of experience, picked up the new skills very quickly and soon their imaginations took flight. During the 7 weeks that the club ran, he team created a large variety of virtual 3D Alien life forms, out of basic 3D shapes. In doing so, students chose their shapes care, then modified and linked them to others. They applied textures, effects and even scripts if they wanted their creations to move about. The new life forms were placed within the assigned region, in  their own small micro systems. There they were then named and cloned. Soon ABC Pandora had morphed into a region rich with alien plant forms, as well as a few very strange creatures and was ready for action.

Here are examples of the forms used by students to take notes and annotate their findings.

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