Wednesday, December 17, 2008

We broke it :(

Well, after a little less than two weeks, we managed to break Second Life. Or at least break the sims we're in.

Seems one of my kids figured out how to edit terrain. Since he didn't really know what he was doing and figured he could undo whatever he did, he raised a whole bunch of mountains -- mostly over the tops of buildings. Then the period ended before he had a chance to change them back. When we ran into them (literally) the next day, I tried to flatten them, but since landscaping isn't in my realm of expertise, well...we were stuck.

Not one to give up easily, I searched for tutorials and found one that showed the steps. I did the steps. Nothing changed. I finally wrote Lynn (owner of our sims) and told her we broke it and couldn't fix it. I also got the kid to did it to fess up when I told the class I wasn't mad and he/she wouldn't be punished for being curious.

In fact, the incident helped both Lynn and me to understand a part of the purpose of my class: we're beta testers. We're there to break as many things as we can so we can then figure out how to fix them when others break them. Or to figure out how to set the permissions so things can't ge broken again. Both are valuable pieces of information. So I congratulated the kid for giving us a challenge and he felt a lot better.

I have one student who is too old for the Teen Grid, but he's in the class at least till the change of semester. He's fascinated with scripting and has been searching websites for cool animations and activites. He then sends the script to one of the kids inworld and works with the kid in helping him to create. Today they created a box that, when you sit on it, it counts down from 10, then launches the avatar X number of feet in the air. The avatar then free-falls to the earth. The kids loved it and several spent quite some time having fun being launched.

Now some would be concerned: does such a scripted object have practical use? I would say, "YES!" One, it taught the kid how to change the script in an object. Two, the distance covered gave each of the kids a great overview of the islands. And three, it was just plain fun. And having fun together creates community -- something I very much want to achieve with this group.

So we're "breaking" things, and stretching boundaries in our attempts to find out who and what we are inworld. If all groups "Form, Storm, Norm, and Perform," we're definitely Stormin' now!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Two items of note:

First item:
Our wiki is featured this month in PBWiki's newsletter -- yay! The kids knew this was coming and several of them spent some extra time cleaning up their journal posts over the past week or so. Funny how things like capitalization and spelling become important when you discover REAL people will be reading what you wrote. The newsletter came out on Thursday and we've had several hundred hits over the weekend. I'm so proud of them!

Second item:
I threw my back out on Friday morning while shoveling snow. I took a sick day so I could go to the chiropractor and get myself straightened out. But since my class meets early in the morning (7:20 am to 8:00 am), I told the sub to make sure 5 kids got inworld and I'd meet them there. I sent out a group notice with a landmark to where I was and sure enough -- by 7:25 I had all five students in front of me! We held class as usual, with them doing tasks and me making payments for those tasks, only I kept track on a piece of scrap paper instead of in my database, since I couldn't get to that from home. I even disciplined a student who wasn't in world by shouting at him. The inworld students were all relayed my message!

Of course, teaching remotely does bring up some interesting issues the union will need to deal with in the future. If a teacher isn't in school, but is actually teaching the students from somewhere else -- should that count as sick time (or conference time/bereavement time)? She's still teaching and still interacting with the kids; the only difference is that she's not in the room with them.

Our IT manager likes to remind us, "Any job done by a person will someday be able to be done by a computer." I can forsee a time when kids and teachers go to school only one or two days a week to build social skills, spending the rest of their week in remote learning situations. Kids who don't have computers at school will still need to come to the buildings so they can use the computers. Of course, that begs another issue: will any social stigma be attached to those who come to the building vs those who choose to stay home to meet up with the class?

Many questions for us to consider...

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

They're taking off!

I was late to school today because of the icy roads. Not real late, only about 5 minutes, but it was long enough that, when I entered my classroom, the computers along the wall were already occupied by students, one row sitting, the other row standing, nay -- crowding-- around to watch and advise. In other words, had I not shown up for class at all -- they would've been just fine without me. :)

Isn't that a teacher's true objective? To make the kids independent learners? I asked a journal question after their first foray into SL: "Are you a 'learn-as-I-want-to' person or a "you-tell-me-what-to-do-next" type person?" We'd read an article that postulated today's generation wanted structured lessons, that being left to their own devices generally produced frustration. In their journals, nearly every student who answered stated they wanted to be left alone to explore on their own. When they had questions, they'd ask. What I've seen of their behavior in SL supports their words. In other words, they're walking their talk.

Interestingly, when left to their own devices, the girls are still fussing with clothes -- trying on new outfits and modifying them to their own designs -- while the boys are grabbing pre-made houses from their inventories and are building a village of their own. One boy already made his own "house", figuring out without any instruction from me how to twist the pillars and add texture.

Some teachers might find this alarming. After all, when kids go off to learn on their own, the focus of control switches. We're used to being the Be-All and End-All of learning. We decide what's important and we decide what order it should be learned in. I will admit, there is a part of me that's affected by this control issue: what if they do something they shouldn't? How can I justify my position as a teacher if they're doing the majority of the work?

But most of me rejoices. This isn't about me -- it's about the kids and their learning. I already know how to use the world. They don't. My position isn't that of the traditional teacher, it's more of a mentor -- answering questions when they have them, guiding their behavior so they remain civilized, laughing at their antics and disciplining where necessary. It's a very different role and not one teacher schools prepare their students for. It is, however, very rewarding to watch what they come up with when all restraints are taken off!

Cool beans!

Monday, December 8, 2008

static vs dynamic

Many thanks to Lynn Roder (in SL) for visiting with the kids inworld. We're still only five in at a time, but having an extra person there for the kids to talk with helps. Since Lynn is actually at a computer 3o miles away from our classroom, the kids have to use text to chat, a skill some of them still find challenging to initiate when the chatbar disappears. But they're learning how to get it back and move on.

I titled this post "Static vs Dynamic" in reference to my classroom vs what's happening inworld. Several times all the students, plus myself and Lynn all stand in one spot. From Lynn's perspective it looks quite static. Nothing is happening, no one is talking. Perhaps one person is editing his/her appearance, but that's all.

But what she can't see is what's going on in my classroom, with several kids clustered around each computer, calling out questions to each other about how to do this or that or, my favorite, "Hey, look at me! I made a new outfit!" or "Hey, watch me fall off this building." I'm afraid the stereotypes are holding true for several of them at this point. Several of the boys don't care what they look like. They spent one period playing with their skin and/or hair and now are ready to jump to some other activity. And several of the girls are interested only in trying on every new piece of clothing they can lay their hands on.

Yes, the majority of the kids lie somewhere in the middle -- both male and female who just want to explore and have fun. Right now I'm not really giving them structured lessons, although they do get a prize for each activity they complete (10L that they're going to need down the road). In fact, when I had them blog about whether they wanted structure or exploration, most chose exploration as their preferred learning style.

GTG-- this is fun!

Friday, December 5, 2008

We're in!

At long last, the students have accounts, the computers are updated, and WE ARE INWORLD!!!

That's not to say we haven't had some bumps -- a big one just this past week. Seems that there are some scheduling issues here at the high school, and we cannot have a lab. Up to this point, the kids have done their wiki work on laptops, but those machines aren't powerful enough to run Second Life. We need the desktops. But no lab is available.

So our IT guy put 5 brand-new computers in my room that are really, really fast. They're part of the school's upgrade, but since we're ready to go, he put my room at the top of the list for replacements.

I have a class of 18 with 14 active members (three students rarely come to class and one student is too old for the Teen Grid. He's fascinated, however, and wants to write scripts, so he's looking over everyone's shoulder and offering help. He's serving as another eye in the room, which I'll talk about in a minute). With only five computers that run SL at my disposal, I've had to go to a lottery-type system. So Wednesday (our first inworld day), I put all the names in a tin and had my 18-year-old pull out five. Those kids went on the desktops and I logged in using my laptop.

A sidenote about my laptop. It's a tablet and while it's wonderful for all sorts of other activities (including blogging), it really doesn't like Second Life. At all. I'm constantly lagging behind the kids!

At first, the five kids went flying. Exactly what I expected. But then they caught sight of each other and realized they all looked the same. Immediately they wanted to change their appearances. We have a 40-minute block. With the first 15 min taken up logging in, accepting their membership into the group, figuring out how to walk and fly...they then spent a half an hour on their appearances. Surprised the heck out of me.

On reflection, however, I should have expected it. Teenagers are incredibly image-concious and to have an avatar that looked like everyone else's avatar? No way! They needed to express their individuality and that was an item far more important than anything I'd planned. So I did what any good teacher does when presented with an important issue. I tossed out what I'd planned and let them edit their appearances to their hearts' content!

Each of the other groups has done the same thing -- although I'm not sure if their choices were just because the first group led the way in that or because they were truly concerned about how others in the world saw them. Doesn't matter that the person running the avatar is sitting right beside them. They know they're going to be judged inworld as well as in RL and so are making choices about that image they project. As a sidenote: most of the boys have experimented with weird, outlandish appearances (hot pink skin, spiky white hair, bulbuous body shapes) whereas the girls are more inclined to change the color of their dresses).

I need to put in a word about classroom management. With only a third of my students inworld, what do I do with the remaining bulk of the class? Today I had the laptop cart again, so those who were NOT inworld were writing about their experiences in their journals on the wiki. So I had one group co-exisiting in the real classroom and in SL and another group in my real classroom doing work on the laptops. And me? I'm bouncing back and forth between being inworld and dealing with spoken questions coming from the group on the big computers as well as answering questions and helping students on the laptops (and wiki).

And that's where my 18-year-old came in handy. Because my attention just can't be everywhere at once, he stood behind those who were in SL and answered several of the questions that popped up. That freed me to keep an eye on my classroom students who weren't inworld while also being in SL and talking with Lynn and the other students. Do I sound schizophrenic? I certainly feel it!

Having all the kids in one place at the same time is the ideal and is what I've had in mind all along. I got a little blindsided this week when I was told there was no lab available (I thought everything had been worked out. I was wrong and it threw me some). Having only a third of them inworld at any point isn't what I planned for, so I'm doing some fast thinking to keep up (forget getting ahead!).

But, WE'RE INWORLD!!! And the course can really take off now! So I'm psyched and we'll find a way to make it happen. All of it. Step by incremental step.

Take care,