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K-State using Second Life island to help high school students learn earth science
Date:4/16/2009

A mysterious island that moves through time. Travelers in search of answers.

It sounds something like the science fiction television show "Lost," but it also describes a new approach to teaching earth sciences to high school students.

Iris Totten, an associate professor of geology at Kansas State University, and Molly Davies, an associate professor of geology at University of Missouri at Kansas City, designed TerraWorld, an island in Second Life, to help students learn geology in an interactive way. It is part of the larger GeoWorlds project.

"In geology, the only way we can talk about past times is to look at the fossil record," Totten said. "So this tool is especially useful. Through their avatars, the students can see that the biota are different and know that they're in a different geologic time period. They may see flying pterodactyls. They can click on different organisms and bring up more information about them. They can watch videos from the Chicago Field Museum, the Discovery Channel or National Geographic."

Totten and Davies are working with Stacey Fox, a visiting assistant professor of art at the University of Kansas. Initial parts of the project included involvement from iVersity, a company that designs virtual worlds.

Totten and collaborators received a $700,000 grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to study the impact that TerraWorld and the coming WaterWorld have on student learning and attitudes about science. The programs are being piloted at Tolbert and Brookside charter high schools in Kansas City, Mo. In the fall, about 400 ninth-grade students at Junction City High School will start using the program.

Creating TerraWorld meant that Totten had to do in-depth research about the types of animals and plants that existed in each geologic time period. Using a computer-sculpting program, Fox brought the plants and animals to life. Totten and Davies provide the content and design, an
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Contact: Iris Totten
itotten@k-state.edu
785-532-2251
Kansas State University
Source:Eurekalert  

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