Monday, May 24, 2010

The Year in Review

The Virtual Worlds course began its second year in September with 17 students. Because our islands were all set up from last year and our administrator had a year's worth of experience under her belt, the kids were able to get inworld the second week of class instead of the third month of school. We spent only about a month on the task list since I had four returning students. They acted as mentors for the newbies which meant instead of just me teaching, they took over. Wonderful!

We also created our own Burning Life exhibit this year. I shared with them the concepts of the Burning Man festival and when SL held Burning Life, we did, too. There were some great creations. You can view pictures here!

One of the best pieces we did came from an administrative snafu here at the high school. I had ordered two dozen copies of The State of Play; Law, Games and Virtual Worlds, edited by Jack M. Balkin and Beth Simone Noveck. When the books weren't in two weeks after school started, I investigated and discovered the paperwork had never been sent. The books were never ordered. It was time to fall back ten yards and punt.

There are seventeen chapters in the book, each one written by a different expert, each one exploring a different aspect of the law as it applies to virtual worlds. I assigned each student a chapter and then we round-robined the book for the next seventeen weeks. Each kid read his/her chapter, chose three quotes from the chapter that held important concepts and then we held discussions each Friday about the chapter of the week. I am SO glad the office goofed up! This worked beautifully and I'm adding it to my teaching toolkit. When the kids can teach each other, it becomes SOOOO much better.

Our Civil War build came next and this was decidedly mixed in the kid's eyes. They all seemed enthusiastic at first; we chose the Battle of New Market because it's a little-known battle and "would give a greater opportunity to teach other students who came inworld" (their words). It required a great deal of research and I found their research skills to be abysmal. Hence it took a lot longer to get the information than any of us thought it would. Once the building commenced, some finished their tasks in a week, others took nearly four to get their projects done. I'm not entirely happy with the result. This group never came together as last year's class did.

And now they're bored. We're alone in world and frankly, they're tired of each other's company. We really need other schools to come in and be with us. Unfortunately, because of staff cuts, this class is in jeopardy and may not fly next year. I'm thinking of offering an after-school option just to keep our hand in until budgets get back on track. To alleviate some of the boredom, we're planning an end-of-the-year showcase of the things they've created in the past month. One student created a stage, another has made a scavanger hunt of roses, a third created "Poe's Corner" in the library featuring the works of E.A. Poe. Two other students have created several dresses; one of them has begun work on creating hair. The rest of the seventeen are totally disinterested, unfortunately.

So that's the year in a nutshell. Personally, this was the roughest start to the school year I've had since my first year of teaching, and probably accounts for the lack of posts. My teaching assignment included a class I've never taught before with students who have emotional and learning handicaps. Let's just say that one class has taken up most of my planning time this year and leave it at that. Next year will be better. It has to be!

Take care,

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