Suffern Middle School in Virtual Worlds

A running account of the process of the proposal, acquisition, development and integration of a virtual presence for education at Suffern Middle School, Suffern, New York, USA.

Suffern Middle School in Virtual Worlds

SO Many Worldz…So Little Time….

January 5, 2013 · No Comments · Musings

If you re visiting this page for information about the  Ramapo Islands Project in Second Life you have come to the right place.  Although I no longer update this blog, I have left the content in place as I believe it is still timely and important.  I am very happy to support any teachers who are embarking on a journey into virtual worlds and  I can be reached via email, Twitter, FB, or Google+

To learn more about my latest passion, please visit:   http://wowinschool.pbworks.com     or     http://3dgamelab.org.shivtr.com/

Go forth and be fearless!

Peggy Sheehy
Teacher on a Mission

 

 

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CH CH CH CH CHanges…

March 25, 2011 · No Comments · Musings

As the Worldz Turn

This link will take you to  the Treet TV Machinima of my Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education Keynote (March 2011)  I feel that watching the video will explain the changes that have occurred over the past year.  These are changes in logistics, as well as in my thinking and in my experience.

A full transcript, with notes and sources is available HERE

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A Special Ed Class Takes the Leap…

January 28, 2010 · No Comments · Musings

I must say…this Second Life experience is great! My 6th grade special ed students are learning this virtual world much quicker than me. Not only are they hands on, they are learning critical thinking skills, navigation, cooperation, attendance is almost perfect (big thing for us) among many other skills. The students are teaching me and the confidence that gives them is beyond great. I have one student with major speech issues. He has a very hard time communicating.. so he doesn’t. But on Second Life, this kid becomes alive, I’ve never seen him smile so much and get so excited about school. My whole class has asked for library passes during lunch, who gives up lunch? Kids that are having fun while learning in Second Life..all teachers should get their students on..make the time, it won’t be lost.
Proud Special Ed Teacher

One of my teachers has brought her 9 special ed students into Second Life this week.  Understanding the special needs of these students- I was prepared to slow down the pace, deliver chunks of content in a model/execute model/execute method -and it was a good way to begin.  But, true to the virtual landscape, it wasn’t long before the kids felt the confidence to extend their knowledge through self- discovery and peer mentorship!  We have been working together for a week or so now- and the kids are truly remarkable.  Every discovery in world is met with delight and the kids have been cooperative, focused and just plain fun to be around!  They are now building simple objects and next week we will be starting a literature project.  More to come but in the mean time I asked the teacher for a reflection…

“I must say…this Second Life experience is great! My special ed students are learning this virtual world much quicker than I. Not only are they hands on, they are learning critical thinking skills, navigation, cooperation, among many other skills, and attendance is almost perfect (a big thing for us).  The students are teaching me and the confidence that gives them is beyond great. I have one student with major speech issues. He has a very hard time communicating… so he doesn’t. But in Second Life, this kid becomes alive!  I’ve never seen him smile so much and get so excited about school. My whole class has asked for library passes during lunch. Who gives up lunch?  Kids that are having fun while learning in Second Life!!  All teachers should get their students in..make the time, it won’t be lost.”

Proud Special Ed Teacher

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Bringing Literature to (Second) Life

January 7, 2010 · No Comments · Musings

First of all, I must say I feel a bit like a renegade, one of those radio pirates of days past, stealing the airwaves of an unknowing station.  This is not Peg Sheehy, the beloved and revered Queen of Ramapo Islands, but one of her minions.  Some of you know me as Medina SMSTeacher, but I’m mostly called Liza Medina in these parts.

I write to you today about a project that introduces a brand new group of students to the Second Life grid.  I mentioned to Peg that I thought it would be good to have a practical, honest day to day look at our process.  She readily gave me the blog address, log in information and told me to have at it, so here I am.

I am a middle school teacher in my eleventh year at Ramapo Central School District (and my third year on the Ramapo Islands), and I have to admit that when I’m away from the islands too long, I do get a bit itchy.  Our district embraces many technologies, and my students have used Power Point, Webquests and Glogster to name a few this year, but nothing really even approaches the immersive experience they’re given through Second Life.  Below is my day to day blog for the week, detailing what was (and wasn’t) accomplished as my kiddos went “In World” for the first time.

BRINGING LITERATURE TO (SECOND) LIFE PROJECT

DAY ZERO:

As I prepare for this unit, I reflect upon why I’m bothering with such an undertaking. The answer really is simple—I am a storyteller. I love stories; intricately woven threads that produce a tapestry that in many times criticizes, imitates or reveals something profound about life. I am fortunate enough to teach in a place that allows me to be a storyteller, and supports my journey to show children the power of their own stories. At the end of the year, I know my students may not remember all of the prepositions in the English language, but they will walk away secure in the notion that their ideas, thoughts and perspectives are unique and worthy of sharing.

In the hopes of preparing my students for their lives as story tellers, I have to empower them with the tools they will need. Their stories are wildly different than my own—my students will one day live in a world where books may be memories, and all stories will be shared through some sort of digital medium. To pretend that digital communication is an “extra” and not an integral part of what they need to be taught is short-sighted and foolish. My students need exposure to as much technology as possible, not for the sake of technology, but for the purpose of preparing them for an adulthood as a digitally literate and expressive individual.

The students I work with this year have one common bond—they do not like to read. At the start of the year, as I get to know students, the vast majority of them told me they either do not read unless assigned work, and cannot recall a book they truly enjoyed. In order to make reading more manageable, I’ve been trying to embed solid reading strategy in our instruction this year. A large part of my work has been towards inferential thought and building visualization skills. Second Life seems to be the perfect tool to push my students to meet their maximum potential in terms of both of these skills.

When I announced the project at the start of December, I reminded students that in order to accomplish something in Second Life, they would have to read a book first. I gave them the freedom to choose any book they would like, as long as the book had a main character as a focal point. We have done several pre-writing activities, including creating character webs and journaling from the perspective of this character. This was to prepare them for the job at hand—they will need to create and become characters from their novels in Second Life.


DAY ONE: “The best laid plans of mice and men are oft put astray”– Robert Burns

As we returned from break, I was horrified to find that our entire building’s internet was down. Second Life will have to wait until tomorrow, which indeed throws off my calendar, but luckily gives me the luxury of conferencing with students about their novels. While I conference with individual students, the class discusses their characters with partners to try to find similarities between the novels. When I make my way around the room, I am shocked to find that for the first time this school year, only three of my ninety-seven students have not finished reading and pre-writing.  This number is usually substantially larger with my students this year.  When I asked very honestly why they all read, the answer was unanimous– Second Life.  They were so intrigued by the idea of Second Life that they did not want to risk missing out on the opportunity to log in (From past experience, my students know that if they don’t finish work, they are pulled from further activities until that work is done). I’m thrilled that I’ve finally got their interest with this project, and know that with this level of enthusiasm, there’s an opportunity for their best ideas to be brought forth.

DAY TWO: “Welcome to the jungle!” — W. Axl Rose

I am an admitted control freak, so prior to this day, I spent time over vacation logging into each student account to make sure that it worked. I compiled a list of those accounts that weren’t functional and sent it to Peg Sheehy, the Queen of the Ramapo Islands and resident Second Life svengali. Once those accounts were in order, I knew we were ready to go.

On our first day “In World” my students were extremely enthusiastic. However, I couldn’t let them near a computer until the ground rules were established. I made them aware that all school rules and policies still apply in Second Life, and that the virtual world is still our classroom. Everyone is expected to behave in a way that is respectful and productive.  I think a part of my job here is to point out to students that all things digital live on forever.  Simply put, if you commit it to writing on a computer– whether it’s a hand held device, a text message sent via cell phone, an email or a blog, it becomes part of your digital signature.  I want my students to know that their behavior on the web defines their character and people’s perceptions of them just as much as their actions and words in person.

After enduring my monologue, the students were basically frothing at the mouth with anticipation, so I let them log in.  With their pre-writing sheets and novels in hand, my students got their first glimpse of their digital alter egos. I allowed them a few minutes to log in and get acclimated. I encouraged them to practice walking, flying and moving with their avatars. For some of my economically disadvantaged students, this was a truly new experience. For others who have played in virtual worlds thanks to the people at Build A Bear Workshop and Webkins, this was a variation on a familiar theme. Regardless, all of my students adjusted rather quickly.

After five minutes, they were ready to be directed in how to communicate via local chat and instant message. Since this is still my classroom, it is critical to me that students know how to ask for and receive help whenever they need it. Today’s agenda had to be about how to communicate properly, or the entire project would not succeed.  We practiced communicating using Instant Message, as well as Local Chat, then got into the business of creating “Friend Lists.”

This again was familiar to most students because of their time on instant messaging technologies and social networking sites. What amazed me, however, was their eagerness to “friend” everyone in the class. There was no social stigma based upon clothing or group or intellect. It seems none of the regular “cliques” in our building made the transfer into the virtual world. It was much like being with Kindergarten children—everyone was open to the idea that anyone could be a friend or a helping hand.

As has been my past observation, many of my special education, ESL and otherwise classified students took very readily to Second Life. One student in particular, who I will call “Pete,” is a learning disabled young man without a confident word to say in class. However, in Second Life on the very first day, he hit the ground running. He added friends and then bounced to other computers to help those who struggled with the task. He clicked around avidly and found amazing capabilities. “HEY! My avatar can laugh!” he announced. He was suddenly the center of attention, but in the most positive light. Envious peers lined up next to his computer to see how their avatars could also be made to laugh.

Overall, it was a wonderful first day. Sure, there were glitches– this one couldn’t log in (“What do you mean I have to capitalize my log in name?”), that one didn’t know where she was (“OH, those numbers are COORDINATES!  HOW CUTE!”)– but they were far outweighed by the excitement and enthusiasm of my students. As we immerse deeper into the virtual world, I’m intrigued by what they will be able to do.

DAY THREE: “Vile fiend!”– William Shakespeare

Alas, technology. Thou art a fickle mistress. No Second Life today due to those ever possible technology issues. My kids are deflated as they enter the classroom and realize we’re working with pencils and paper today.  It struck me so plainly in that moment how foreign these school tools really are to their real life selves.

When I was in middle school, I took comfort in writing in my journal (Hello Kitty with a little metal lock, to keep a nosy older brother from knowing my true thoughts) and reading Sweet Valley High books.  Paper, books, pencils– I used them in every facet of my life.  However, these kids go home and unload their innermost thoughts and feelings on a computer screen– livejournal, saywire, facebook, myspace.  If they aren’t literally plugged in to technology, they don’t feel “plugged in” to life at all.  So, sadly, today’s class was “Unplugged,” but the promise of technology is just around the corner…


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THE FASHION SHOW…

January 4, 2010 · No Comments · Musings

I AM INCLUDING SOME OF THE  NOTES FROM THE CHAT LOG DURING THE FASHION SHOW.  I COULDN’T EDIT THEM IF I’D WANTED TO!

[9:28]  Chaser Brody: this is where the person describing the outfit should stand
[9:28]  Chaser Brody: behind this podium
[9:28]  Chaser Brody: and the person who is “modeling”
[9:29]  Chaser Brody: should reallly take their time and try not to finish before the person describing does
[9:29]  Chaser Brody: after that change places
[9:29]  Chaser Brody: are you getting this guys?faashionshow_001
[9:29]  Chaser Brody: cominciamo la sfilata tra poco (we are starting the fashion show soon!!)
[9:29]  Chaser Brody: cominciamo la sfilata tra poco (we are starting the fashion show soon!!)
[9:30]  Kalypso SMSVoyager: Ciao
[9:30]  This SMSTeacher: buon giorno a tuttti!!
[9:30]  Sitala SMSVoyager: Syl ha i capelli marroni e gli occhi verdi. I capelli e lunghi.
[9:30]  Sitala SMSVoyager: capelli e lunghi. Porta una camicia blu che costa venti Euro, e pantaloncini corti viola che costa dieci Euro
[9:31]  Brasil SMSVoyager: buona camicia
[9:31]  Sitala SMSVoyager: Ha un paio di scarpe con tacchi alti.
[9:31]  Hermione SMSVoyager: Mi piace camicia
[9:31]  Nemo SMSVoyager: lol
[9:31]  Palior SMSVoyager: mi piace camicia
[9:31]  This SMSTeacher: grazie
[9:31]  Thoral SMSVoyager: Mi piace la tua camicia! E` bella!faashionshow_003
[9:31]  Una SMSVoyager: mi piace il pantolonchini
[9:31]  Bude SMSVoyager: chebella
[9:31]  Tercid SMSVoyager: la tua camicia e bella
[9:31]  Persephone SMSVoyager: mi piace
[9:32]  Persephone SMSVoyager: mi piace
[9:32]  Nemo SMSVoyager: mi piace grall
[9:32]  Auson SMSVoyager: buona camiicia
[9:32]  Zircon SMSVoyager: mi piace la tua vesitio
[9:32]  Zircon SMSVoyager: vestito*
[9:32]  Klotho SMSVoyager: la camicia e` bella
[9:33]  Persephone SMSVoyager: mi piace scarpe
[9:33]  Areth SMSVoyager: Melib pelto, e ha gli occhi castani. Ha un corazza grigo e gli stivali grigi
[9:34]  Bude SMSVoyager: che bella
[9:34]  Brasil SMSVoyager: molto bello
[9:34]  Una SMSVoyager: l’automobile? perche!
[9:34]  Sitala SMSVoyager is Offline
[9:34]  Thoral SMSVoyager: Mi piace la tua camicia.
[9:34]  Bude SMSVoyager: take a picture
[9:34]  Hermione SMSVoyager: Molto Bello
[9:35]  Klotho SMSVoyager: mi piace l`automobile
[9:35]  Thoral SMSVoyager: L’automobile e` interessante!
[9:35]  Syl SMSVoyager: mi picace la tua camicia
[9:35]  This SMSTeacher: grazie ragazzi!
[9:35]  Nemo SMSVoyager: eww
[9:35]  Sitala SMSVoyager is Online
[9:36]  Una SMSVoyager: il vestito e molto motlo differente
[9:36]  Sitala SMSVoyager: einteressante
[9:36]  Hebe SMSVoyager: differente
[9:36]  Syl SMSVoyager: bello
[9:36]  Hermione SMSVoyager: divertnete
[9:38]  Kallion SMSVoyager: Bello !
[9:38]  Josto SMSVoyager: ha un paio di scarpe rosa sono molto belle.
[9:39]  Josto SMSVoyager: grazie
[9:39]  Anahi SMSVoyager: Zircon ha i capelli lunghi e marroni e gli occhi marroni.
I vestiti costanp novanta euro.
[9:39]  Sitala SMSVoyager: prego
[9:39]  Felk SMSVoyager: mi piache
[9:39]  Syl SMSVoyager: bella
[9:39]  Nemo SMSVoyager: mi piace
[9:39]  Hebe SMSVoyager: mi piace la capelli
[9:39]  Anahi SMSVoyager: Porta una camicetta nera e una giaca di pella nera.
Ha un paio di scarpe con tacco alto e nero. E molto bella!
[9:39]  Una SMSVoyager: mi piace il pantolonchini ci sono moloto bella
[9:39]  Syl SMSVoyager: molte benne
[9:39]  Persephone SMSVoyager: non mi piace
[9:39]  Hermione SMSVoyager: Mi piace
[9:40]  Prymno SMSVoyager: mi no piace
[9:40]  Kallion SMSVoyager: Sappho ha i capellli lungo e gli occhi azzuro .
Porta/Ha un vestito rasso e i stravelli lungo e neri .
Lei ha guanti neri e il gonna rossa .
[9:40]  Prymno SMSVoyager: Boo!
[9:40]  Prymno SMSVoyager: woops
[9:40]  Una SMSVoyager: io voglio un camicia!
[9:40]  Zircon SMSVoyager: Anahi ha i capelli biondi e lunghi e gli occhi azurri e belli! Porta i pantaloni gialli di medio lunghezza. Ha una conottiera viola e stretti. Ha un paio di scarpe con tacco alto e nero. I vestiti costano cinquanta eur. E bella!

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The Immigration Experience…

December 22, 2009 · No Comments · Musings

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Barriers, Fences, and Conflicts…

November 24, 2009 · No Comments · Musings

Students at Suffern Middle School are currently studying the Middle East, a region full of geographic and cultural challenges.  The Middle East unit follows an opening unit called Becoming Social Scientists in which students examined their own community and those of others through the lenses of government, geography, history, economy, and culture.

map-2fd17.jpg

As social scientists, the students now look to the Middle East, examining the themes of adaptation and cooperation.  We analyze natural and human-made barriers, using photos, maps (of the entire region and of the Old City in Jerusalem), and anchor texts: The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seuss and The Seed by Isobel Pin. Students are challenged to think about the following framing question throughout the unit: How is cooperation essential for survival?fence_002

We have placed our discussion pods in close proximity to the fence that divides ToMorrow Island from Ramapo in hopes to begin a discussion about barriers that are impacting the students’ lives in the virtual world.  This is a barrier that they actually face each day.  Next I will ask Old Indigo on ToMorrow Island if the students at The Elizabeth Morrow School may be interested in a lively discussion/debate about the topic.  Baby steps….

TEACHER RESPONSE from Julia Jaffee:

Yes, your teacher has purple hair.  Now, let’s get to work! Teaching in Second Life inspired and rewarded students and teacher alike.  The ability to communicate with students in a virtual environment heightened the notion of the classroom. The students relished in creating new images of themselves, and also stepped up to the plate, so to speak, and participated in the activities connected to our curriculum.

The curriculum itself worked quite well in the Second Life format. We entered Second Life as part of the immersion portion of a middle school humanities unit on the Middle East.  Immersion lessons, by nature, encourage students to explore, record, and share.  Second Life worked perfectly for such lessons! Students were able to thoughtfully discuss questions in small groups about barriers, natural and human-made, in the discussion pods.  The ability to view pictures and maps of the Middle East on a giant flat-screen TV in world also facilitated learning well.  Students also learned how to build walls in Second Life, and then discussed the pros and cons of their creations. What an incredible opportunity!

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Ciao Ramapo!

September 22, 2009 · No Comments · Musings

Teacher, Laura Alessi, (This SMSTeacher on Ramapo Islands) started the school year off thinking of ways to engage her middle school and high school students in a collaborative project.  Mrs. Alessi teaches Italian at both Suffern Middle and Suffern High School.  We put our heads together (always a dangerous thing around here!) and decided to start them off in Second Life.  Today we began by orienting the 8th graders in her class at the middle school.  The students joined a group (Ramapo Italian) and Sra. Alessi sent out a notice to the group with instructions for the day.  Part of her purpose was to keep things simple and the other was to conduct an informal assessment to determine the students entry level writing/conversation ability.  Here is one example of a notecard she received back today:

[9:48]  Palior SMSVoyager: ciao
[9:48]  Una SMSVoyager: ciao
[9:48]  Palior SMSVoyager: come ti chiami
[9:49]  Una SMSVoyager: mi chiamo Farrah E tu?
[9:49]  Palior SMSVoyager: mi chiamo anthony
[9:49]  Palior SMSVoyager: come stai
[9:50]  Una SMSVoyager: sta cosi cosa e tu?
[9:50]  Palior SMSVoyager: sta bene
[9:50]  Palior SMSVoyager: quanti anni hai
[9:50]  Una SMSVoyager: Ha tredici anni e tu?
[9:50]  Palior SMSVoyager: ho tredici anni
[9:51]  Palior SMSVoyager: quanti fratelli
[9:52]  Una SMSVoyager: ho un fratello e tu?
[9:52]  Palior SMSVoyager: ho un frattello
[9:52]  Palior SMSVoyager: dove abiti
[9:52]  Una SMSVoyager: Io abito nella Montebello e tu?
[9:53]  Palior SMSVoyager: io abito nello airmont
[9:53]  Palior SMSVoyager: arivederchi

alessisl2_001

Many of the students are new to Second Life, some had forgotten login or basic skills- but enough of them were functioning as student mentors and we are off to a good start.  Using Poinkey’s Pods was a plus — but also required some management as many were still unsure of how to sit properly and we ended up with a few “singles” in what is designed to be a two-person pod (yes– some had threee when students unknowingly sat on each others’ laps—at least I think it was unknowingly )  Pics tomorrow and more conversations–Next we plan on taking them into Decka’s Decks to try multiple person conversations – and from there we will use multiple classes betqween the high school and middle school .  NOTE:  Once again – it was a teacher – speaking to another teacher that now has three more of our Foreign Language Department on board to use Second Life.

alessi_001

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ISTEvision Rocks!

July 3, 2009 · No Comments · Musings

Opening Newsreel for NECC 2009

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When the Planets Align…Or Not!

June 5, 2009 · No Comments · Musings

Students who have recently completed a unit on planetary science were charged with the task of designing a project, to culminate their unit on planetary science.  The required elements of the project design were collaboration, creativity, and teamwork in order that  in some way the unique knowledge they had gained from their research was synthesized into a greater understanding– to see relationships and just how the pieces fit.  Each child had focused their research on one planet, or the sun, or stars.  They were advised to keep it simple since this was their first project in Second Life and they decided to build models of the solar system.  As the four classes proceeded, they ran across problems with duplicate planets being assigned to the same sun- so they allowed for this by adding a last day discussion where they would justify both the dimensions and placement of their planet in relationship to the anchor sun, and decide which was most correct. I have spent a good deal of time “cleaning up” stray planets, moons and prims that didn’t quite make it into orbit but the kids have independently mastered many more skills than those that were originally designed into the unit.  Next week we will finish texturizing, adding rotation and orbit scripts and remove the “target line” used for establishing basic placement.  Not exact science- but the conversations going on  (and we know it’s ALL about the conversation) have been fantastic.  Moving beyond the, “Hey, Get your Mercury out of the way of my Venus,” the kids have been sharing facts, figures, and myths associated with their planets….they are teaching each other…they are sharing their expertise…they are the experts.   Awesome job kids!

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