I can only dream! about virtual worlds

When it comes to change, I’m a person who is not comfortable with taking time about it all. So since starting at Joeys I have been brimming with optimism for the opportunity to ‘get digital’. Lots of new things began to happen as the year progressed, and we made some wonderful advances in our thinking and in the things we are doing.

So you can imagine how excited I was when Peggy Sheehy invited me to Suffern Middle School for the day, on my recent trip to New York City. My ever-patient husband, Martin, was heard to say “You want to do what? take a day out of your 5 days in NYC and work??”

Needless to say, work it was not!

Peggy Sheehy has been leading the way for many years,  demonstrating the power of virtual worlds for learning! Based at Suffern Middle School, Peggy leads the Ramapo Islands initiative, and if you haven’t been reading her blog I suggest you start watching it now. Virtual worlds are the future as learning becomes wrapped in interactive and immersive 3D environments.

It was totally amazing to visit Peggy, meet the Principal and staff, and participate in some introductory classes – new kids launching themselves into Ramapo Islands. Peggy very kindly brought forward some lessons so I could see and participate.  How natural it all seemed! How easily the kids understood what it was all about! In one period these kids were dressing their avatar, walking and flying around, talking with friends, and playing  – the favourite experiment was sliding down the large water slide. If this all sounds like a lot of fun and games – it was! But don’t for a minute assume it was wasted time.

Read Peggy’s blog to see what happens after these first lesson as students become more involved with virtual learning opportunities that teachers create at Suffern Middle School. Peggy writes that they will soon be tearing down the virtual walls and opening Ramapo Island to collaboration with other Teen Life education projects.

I rode the train back to New York City, and wondered how long it would be before I could do such exciting things.

Good intentions win the (Second Life) day!

I love our online technology world!!  This morning I was up and online at 6 am for the ISTE Webinar From Good Intentions to Best Practice: Teaching with Second Life in Middle School.  I was ready to listen to Peggy Sheehy (Maggie Marat) from Ramapo Island talk about her Second Life work – Peggy inspired the Aussie crowd at NECC, so i knew I would be hanging on her every word . The presentation was all about kids researching, building, discussing, creating, exploring and more, with teachers who are taking excellent pedagogy from their classrooms into a virtual world – in which students can extend their understanding and learning in many different subject areas.

Peggy reminded us that teacher preparation is vital. We need to Get Informed: read second life press and forums; read SL education wikis; and belong to SLED – the educator’s email listserve. We need Experience: get a SL account; tour popular places; visit educators spaces for collaboration and join groups; and start to learn to build simple objects. We need to Develop: identify a learning objective; build curriculum with appropriate space!

She explained that we are not looking for extra time in curriculum, but looking for opportunities to move existing curriculum into a space that will engage students in a more powerful way. We still need structure, feedback and quality assessment.  Second Life is an equaliser – reticent students blossom and converse and contribute. It’s the teacher strategies that count!  The skills learned carry right back into the real world classroom, and both students and parents are reporting profound benefits from having a learning environment that incorporates Second Life.

There was a great deal of superb information in this ISTE Webinar. Follow Peggy’s work Ramapo – Suffern Middle School in Second Life

See and download the full gallery on posterous