Learning science in a virtual world

February 12, 2008 9:00:00 PM PST
Imagine a science class without text books. It sounds tough to do, but it is happening at one school in our area. It's part of an innovative pilot program that allows students to experience lessons like never before.

Education reporter Art McFarland has the story.

It is an experience that is out of this world, but inside any computer.

"You can do things things you can't do in real life, like fly," student Ernesto Machado said. "You can actually go into the volcano."

It is called "Second Life" for a reason. It allows computer users to live outside of themselves, even inside an erupting volcano. At Brooklyn's High School for Global Citizenship, Second Life is part of a science class.

"It connects fun and science, which a lot of kids can't really find these days," student Shaquille Sanders said. "And it was just fun to do and experience things that you can't really do in a classroom."

Second Life is an online community populated by so-called "avatars," a name for the virtual likenesses of computer users.

"So when you go into a virtual world where you can do all that and more, because physics are surreal and you can fly," program director Barry Joseph. "The possibilities are endless."

Joseph is with the not-for-profit Global Kids, which founded the small public high school four years ago. The Second Life science class is a pilot program, new this year. It is paid for by a corporate grant and also provides the students with computers.

Most students will tell you that working in the virtual world is more fun than traditional classroom work. But they also say it's not as easy as it looks.

"It's not just like walking," student Shabede Spencer said. "You have to learn how to use the computer."

"The more technology we have, we have our students interacting with technology every day, the more equipped they are to go out there and compete in the world, which is driven by technology," assistant principal Tracy Rebe said.

Officials say there will be a test at the end of the school year, and that test will happen in virtual reality.