Thursday, September 24, 2009


(The following was written outside, then transcribed here afterward)

Today was an experiment for me. I haven't taken kids outside for class in decades (yes, I've been teaching for decades. Plural.). Recently, however, I've been thinking that taking a group outside would be fun -- it's just been a matter of getting up the nerve. My Creative Writing class is small and filled with upperclassmen, so a good opportunity to let the squirrels scold and the ants explore us.

Of course, I wore my white pants today -- and I gave my two car blankets to the kids. So I'm sure I'll teach the rest of the day with grass stains on my rear end.

Interesting. Two students immediately separated themselves and headed away from the group to write. One of the others made note of it and called them "the real writers." The stereotype of the solitary writer haunts even these 17-year olds. Another girl is near me, but faced away from the group in a world of her own creation.

The others have all clumped together, but even there the dynamics are interesting. The two boys who do not feel creative or comfortable are sitting on the rocks together in conversation. There's a girl sitting somewhat solo, facing another group of three and who is regaling them with stories -- not realizing she's actually involved in creative storytelling by her very nature. Two others sit with their backs against different sides of the same tree, listening, writing, looking, writing. In the midst, yet separate. Jouralists in the making.

So why do I find myself sitting in the sunshine on a beautiful late summer/early autumn day writing about them instead of starting my own story? Because as a teacher, my attention is divided. To my left my solo two -- to my right all the others. They are my responsibility and while I'm not worried they'll escape on me, it's still my duty to be aware of their existence. But when I write fiction, I notice so little of the world around me. I get so involved in the story unfolding inside my head, letting the words flow down through my hunched shoulders and along my arms to emerge on the computer screen via my flying fingers, that it, in fact, takes a scream from one of the girls to bring me back to their fears of a creepy-crawly that turns out to be an ant.

The other reason I can't write fiction lies in the fact that I have no computer in front of me. I'm writing long-hand and I've long since lost patience with how long it takes for the words to get out of my head and through the pen/pencil. And why no laptop? It wouldn't be fair to the kids. I didn't let them bring out the school's laptops as they can't save anything this far from the server and I don't trust the batteries. And its hardly fair for me to sit here with one and not allow them. So I'm writing the old-fashioned way for an hour or so of time.

Okay, so what does all this have to do with virtual worlds? I posit the question, what are stories if not the original virtual worlds? The stories told around the fire centuries ago are no less and no more real than the worlds we create inside a computer, for all our modern stories are written with zeroes and ones. The stories have meaning in both media -- and so my Creative Writing class is as much a class in virtual worlds as my Virtual Worlds course in Second Life.

Funny, I'm getting flack from three students who don't want to be out here. Have I moved them too far from their comfort zone? Do they not like the ants or the fuzzy catepillers? My upbeat mood is rapidly deflating. Only three of them seem to have gotten any inspiration -- or even tried. The remaining six are just glad I'm not watching them too closely and are enjoying their conversations. I'm thinking I have to call this experiment a failure.

(back in my room, having posted and asked for feedback from the kids)

I'm not far off. Most of them enjoyed the opportunity to get out of the building and enjoy the weather. Only a few found it conducive to writing. Of the three who expressed dislike outside, one said he finds it difficult to write with a pen (a physical difficulty) and would enjoy it if he could take a laptop out with him. One of the girls said she would like it if she could sit somewhere other than the ground. Picnic tables were mentioned as a solution. So not as much of a failure as I thought. I might do this again...

Monday, August 31, 2009

new school year...

A new year brings new administrators as well as new kids in my class. Will be interesting to see how this all plays out...

Hope everyone had a good summer. I spent mine in RL traveling and visiting new lands and seeing faraway places. I crossed two things off my "10 things to do before I die" list -- which, of course, means I now need to add two things to it. I figure if I keep the list at ten, I'll never be done...and hence, never die! Well, one can always hope...

Regular updates to start up with the coming of the school year. Till then...take care :)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

some end of the year musings

Had a great meeting with our BOCES liason and the kids today...Lynn Yoder (SL Name) came to our RL classroom for a chat. We debriefed a little (what worked, what didn't) and Lynn told us about some exciting new stuff for next year. To wit:

Next year there's a possibility another school will be holding a Virtual Worlds course at the same time we do. This will give us an opportunity to mix the classes and get the kids working on collaborative projects between the districts. Geographically our schools are about 70 miles away from each other. Our sports teams compete against one another, so this will be a fun opportunity to meet them in another setting.

In addition, at least one other school has expressed an interest in bringing kids on "field trips" into SL. Lynn told the class that those who remain will be asked to provide specific builds depending on what these teachers request. I saw grins from the four returning students, that told me they're excited about that possiblity.

Speaking of returning students, the four mentioned above are returning to the class itself, but three others have asked if they could remain as mentors, even though they're not taking the class. I'm encouraging them to do so, since this IS what they trained for this year. Two others are graduating, four want nothing to do with this after the end of the week (I think they wanted more shoot 'em ups). The others are still making decisions about what they want to do next year. Since I have only 14 in the class, I'm thinking a 50% retention rate (as in coming back to work or help next year) is pretty good!

Some other suggestions/requests for next year:
Allowing students to set up businesses that could actually be run for a profit
Taking out 2 of the carousels (kids admitted it was fun riding one the first time, but they didn't go back. And three carousels is overkill)
Get permissions to modify buildings put in by Ohio State or rebuild them and then remove them as there are bugs and assorted problems with some of them that we can't fix without permissions.
Fill up the libraries with texts from Project Gutenburg.

Winding down!

Friday, June 5, 2009

the end is almost here...

We've made it through our first year of VW Explorations -- and have lost only a few along the way. Two students left the class because they turned 18 and thought they would lose their avatars (although apparently this isn't the case; something for me to track down next week). One other student has decided this isn't what he thought it would be when he signed up last year and shut down on me a few weeks ago. He grudgingly does what I ask him, but he lets me know he's not happy.

As for the rest, most are not taking the class next year, but are looking forward to being mentors for the newbies coming in. In fact, one group of girls has been working to create a "mentor center" as a place n00bs can come to ask questions. Very cool initiative on their part!

I had four objectives when starting this course:

•To introduce our students to new ways of learning and doing business using virtual worlds.

Hit: Students learned several new skill sets (how to move, talk, create) in a virtual world. We also talked at length about legal, financial and cultural issues that crop up as a result of a virtual neighborhood.

•To create a body of mentors that will be available next year as more students from other districts begin to use this new technology.

Miss with some hits: Not everyone who took the class this year has signed up to take it again next year. This means we’ll be training newbies again, although there will be a few old-timers to help out. The up-side of this is that BOCES now has its act together and creating the student accounts will be quick and easy (or so I’m told!) so it won’t take as long for the new students to become comfortable enough to mentor others.

•To explore several of the issues surrounding education in a virtual world for myself and see what kinds of things kids learn from using them.

BIG Hit: Was a LOT of fun watching the kids struggle and learn from each other, from the ‘net and from me. Caveat: next year I’m planning to do more community-building exercises as that didn’t happen spontaneously like I expected. The kids formed small groups, but never really formed a community of any sort.

•To create independent learners who don’t need me to tell them what to do next. They can use me as a resource for guidance when needed, but are capable of designing and executing their own projects.

BIGGEST HIT: The creation of the Drop In was one of the most rewarding of my career. It truly was wonderful watching them all take ownership of their sections of the site and then work together to create something useful and beautiful. This was the highlight of the year.

I looked over my blog before I wrote this – and boy, has it been a year of ups and downs. The technical end of getting this class off the boards alone would have been enough to daunt a less-determined teacher. Add in the above-mentioned student-apathy and a healthy dose of attitude from at least one fellow staff member and you have all the elements for a disaster of a year.

And yet, somehow – it wasn’t. I watched students work together to create The Drop In, a central spot where all new students coming in world will get their orientation and skills. It was great to watch them break the task into manageable tasks, then split themselves into groups with each group taking one task and breaking it down even further. They worked together, fought together, succeeded together and in the end, created a practical work of art that will benefit the community for a long time to come.

Would I do it again? Yes. I’ve learned a lot about how to handle kids in several locations at the same time, I’ve even taught from home while they were in world and in class. I’d like the opportunity to go again and see if I can make it a smoother and better experience for all involved.

Till later,

Thursday, May 7, 2009


Finally getting to post the new machinima I made. I'd wanted the kids to do it, but we got scheduled for the Board of Education meeting a month earlier than expected. So I wrote a script, had the kids each record a line and threw this together. A special shout-out to Heath Vercher, whose music I used to underscore this one as well. Sorry, Heath -- forgot to give you credit!

The presentation before the Board went well, although I spoke too fast and tried to cram a half-hour's worth of information into twenty minutes. They seemed to enjoy the video even with the uneven sound quality, though.

And without further ado...our Drop In!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Dancing the technolgy shuffle

Some days I feel we take two steps forward and one back. But then I remind myself that at least we're moving forward...mostly.

The Drop In is nearly complete, although we've been having some trouble with permissions when the kids work together. They forget to mark things properly or two different people will put two different scripts into one object and that will goof up the previously set perms. I think we're set now, though. They really have learned so much doing this.

For the next projects we're working on, I'm making them do a LOT of outside work first. They'll be out of world for the next week or two as they make their plans and drawings -- and get my approval -- before they go inworld and create. That, however, has lead to another glitch in our technology. To wit:

One of the greatest resources, the SL wiki, wasn't open to them; it was blocked and we lost a period while we got that open (because we meet so early in the morning, no one is around who can take care of these matters immediately. Step backward). But now that it’s open, two of my girls want to create clothing and they got on the SL wiki and found all the tutorials. Great – two steps forward.

They need to download the templates for the clothing. But our Internet blocker doesn’t allow students to download anything. Step backward. I download them onto my computer and tell them I’ll post them to the class wiki. Except when I try to, they won’t go. They’ll upload, but then corrupt when I try to post them on the page. Step to the side – and back.

Today I get the bright idea that I’ll email the file to them both. But neither have a school email. I can email it to their home accounts, but then they won’t have it at school and neither can get SL at home. Stuck in place.

They both now have applied for school email accounts. I’m also going to try putting the file on a jump drive and have them copy it to their own drives. But that’s a job for tomorrow. In the meantime, the enthusiasm they had for this project has been dampened with frustration of what should have been a fairly simple task: go to the SL wiki, download the templates and begin to learn how to use them. An entire week gone.

The two have been putting their time to good use, though and probably aren’t as frustrated as I am. I want things to work right the first time and when they don’t and I have to wait for others because I can’t fix it myself, I tend to get impatient. The girls, knowing they have no power over this at all, simply adjusted and went out to research clothing ideas so when they DO get the templates they need, they’ll be ready. Nothing needs to be done in any particular order, as long as the task gets done.

Which, now that I think on it, is actually a good skill to be teaching them. The ability to adjust and try again in the face of frustration is something we all need to deal with in real life. Perhaps I can learn something from my students…

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Drop In Lessons

Things I've learned working with the kids on The Drop In:

1) make sure they have a specific plan before beginning. This means NO BUILDING at ALL until they've run the plans by me. We've had several false starts by groups who didn't have a clear idea of what they needed to accomplish. One group needed several starts and I'm not entirely sure even now that they understand their task.

2) have the plan in writing. I had them develop the idea on the wiki and, for the most part, went with their general outline. Mistake on my part. While two of the four groups could self-direct themselves, one "group" ended up with only one person doing all the work and the other group has been lackadaisical at best, mostly because I truly think they didn't (and don't)understand the task.

And by in writing, I mean -- on graph paper. We need to have discussions before hand about where single prims can do the work of many. I will make an attempt to clean up the prim usage once I have all the pieces, but to be honest, planning ahead would have saved a LOT of work.

3) All posters need to be approved BEFORE they are uploaded into SL. I actually had that rule set before, however, some followed that rule, some didn't. Those that didn't ended up with posters that didn't work (font too small, colors that didn't match, etc).

4) Set the number of prims allowed beforehand. We decided partway through on what the limit should be and by that point, one group was already over.

More to come...

Friday, February 27, 2009

Moving right along...and a problem

Inworld we're still working on The Drop In but several sections are nearing completion. The hub group has only a few posters to design and put up yet, the vocabulary and communications group has the rooms finished and is now decorating, the movement group needs to check in with me and the appearance group has finished their room layout. We still hold to a finish date of mid-March and we're right on schedule.

This despite losing a member of the class to school suspension. The student's actions certainly warrented suspension from school, but it does raise some troubling questions about a suspended student's participation in a virtual world. I put the student on "read only" for the two class wiki's he's involved in, but have not yet removed him from our islands on Second Life's Teen Grid. I'm dragging my heels even though I know the suspension will probably be for the rest of the school year.

Why have I not moved faster on this? While I have to admit the possibility of his going inworld and wreaking as much havoc as he can, the reality is, I don't think he's the kind of kid who would. His hearing isn't until today and even though I've been told he will not be back, the process of getting a student inworld is so long and arduous I don't want to toss a perfectly good avatar until I know for sure.

And then there is the student to think of. All the work he's done inworld (which mostly was testing stuff to see if it could be broken) will be lost. Because I know all their passwords, I did go in and make sure permissions were set for each of the items he made so they could be tranferred to other members of his group. But I did not delete anything he "owns". And of course, that brings up another issue: does he, in fact, "own" anything?

Because these are closed sims, his avatar cannot ever exist anywhere else BUT on our islands. Once the avatar is deleted, he ceases to exist and all his inventory disappears. So I think I'm right in saying he does not truly have ownership over anything on the islands. Its not as if he can take it with him to another island somewhere.

The only issue I don't have the answer to is if our teen avatars migrate to the adult grid once the student turns 18. I know they do on the regular, open sims of the TG. But what about avatars created specifically for specific closed sims? I'll have the answer soon enough. Our oldest student turns 18 in another 6 weeks and we'll watch closely to see what happens next.

But in the I delete the student's account entirely? Do I allow the student to continue working with the class (although at a different location)? What role does a RL suspension play in a virtual world class? I'm open for ideas -- feel free to comment!


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Downtime is still productive time

Today SL's logins are being fussy (two students were able to log in, the rest can't). Since we're still in my room and limited to five computers, that was going to mean an entire class of downtime, something we've not had to deal with since we got into SL back in December.

But there are tasks that need to be done out of SL and I put the other groups to creating the posters that need to go into their respective areas. The group in charge of The Drop Off (the landing point) is also the group in charge of THE RULES (school isn't complete without a set of rules to govern behavior). I am very impressed with the seven they came up with...and with their phrasing. Without any input from me, they came up with their draft. While they were working, I heard one of them tell the others, "We have to make this PBIS language." When they turned to me and asked if they really had to do that, I reminded them that no one likes a list of don'ts. Keeping the rules positive would set a better tone. That was my sole input (well, except for fixing the spelling of "you're" to "your") -- they came up with the list.

But here's where I realized how stuck I am in old technologies. I suppose in the very olden days the students would have hand-written the list and then written it by hand on the board for the others to see and comment on. In a more advanced class, perhaps they would have used carbon paper and the room's typewriter to make several copies kids could share. Today, they attached it as an email and sent it to me so I could put it up via the projector and they could see the list on the screen to suggest changes. Another alternative would have been to have the small group brainstorm and put the rules right onto the wiki and let others read and make suggestions when they had the time. I still haven't quite incorporated that technology fully into my teaching. Something for me to work toward :) .

I'm proud of the work the kids are doing. There have been some frustrations, but those are good and they're learning. The group I have that's trying to break what's currently there have found several problems and are working to get them fixed. The communication group has come up with a cool design for their section and the appearance group, after a frustrating start, is now coming along quite well. The movement "group" consists of only one person at the moment as his partner has been absent. In spite of that he's come up with some great ideas and is moving right along. We're aiming for a finish date sometime in mid-March.


Tuesday, February 3, 2009


Been a while since I posted...lots happening and keeping us busy.

We're still working with only 5 computers for 14 kids. Not easy, but we're limping along. Each student has now completed a task list I created consisting of 25 skills they have to master in order to continue with our main goal in SL: that of creating a space for other classes to use. I paid the students 10L for every skill they mastered -- they'll be using that money for textures for their next projects.

Before break for exams we brainstormed ideas for an orientation spot and came up with a web concept. The center will be a single space with doors off to the other sections. The thought is that each new avatar can control which section he/she wants to visit first, but all the skills they need will be taught there. The areas that they can visit are: Appearance, Movement, and Communication.

Lynn Roder (waving to Kelli!) came to visit us in RL yesterday and the kids shared with her their ideas for an orientation spot for all newbies coming into our islands. We're working on the assumption that these newbies have never been in any virtual world ever. Those that have can run through the tasks quickly...those who haven't can take their time and everything will be explained. She enjoyed the kids and even threw in her vote for the name of this orientation spot: The Drop In.

The class has now broken into four groups with each group responsible for an area of The Drop In. They're in the process of creating wiki pages that they'll use to keep their notes on. Each group is creating a mission statement and a list of tasks they need to do (including coming up with a theme for their area). They're expected to prioritize the list and assign the tasks so each person knows exactly what they're doing (and so will I!).

So we're off and...walking. Still attempting to get a lab for the kids so I can have more than one group inworld at a time. Otherwise this is going to take forever when each group can only do actual work once a week...and spends the other days just twiddling their thumbs. Makes it hard to keep the momentum going. But we're moving along!