Monday, June 7, 2010

Polk third graders explore Savannah lighthouse in OWL project

by Staff reports

At high tide, the base of the old lighthouse on Cockspur Island at the mouth of the Savannah River is approximately 3 – 5 feet underwater. When the beacon was built in 1849, it was well above sea level. So, what happened?

Some third-graders in Polk County and Marietta will soon be able to explore the island as it was in the 1800s, trying to determine what forces, both natural and man-made, led to the lighthouse eventually being abandoned. Entering this virtual world as an avatar – a digital representation of themselves – students will be able to take soil samples, and interview the light keeper, his family and soldiers from the island’s Fort Pulaski.

“The simulation will be like a time machine for the students,” said Assistant Professor Doug Hearrington, Kennesaw State University (KSU). “Applying earth science lessons, and some engineering principles, they will investigate the problem and recommend a solution.”

Curriculum Director Laurie Atkins, Polk School District, said teachers from Van Wert and Cherokee Elementary Schools would receive training for Project OWL (Online World of Learning) during the summer. Teachers from Van Wert are Lawana Gurley, Kay Hughes, and Jennifer Moss. Cherokee teachers include Janice Stewart, Connie Martin, Selena Mobbs and Joan Hunt.

“This is a collaborative partnership between KSU, Confucius Institute at KSU, Polk schools and Marietta-City schools,” Atkins said.

Using a $72,817 grant from the U.S. Department of Education that was awarded to the Bagwell College of Education, Hearrington will begin implementing Project OWL in Polk and Marietta.

An elementary school in China will also participate. OWL is based on Hearrington’s research using multi-user virtual environment technology in the classroom.

Polk’s teachers will visit China this summer to meet with their partner teachers for workshops and planning. The collaboration with the Chinese elementary school fulfills the program’s global component by broadening students’ understanding of global environmental issues and cultures.

“Today’s students have grown up with ubiquitous access to various forms of technology,” he said. “Bringing this technology into the classroom provides a familiar format that increases critical thinking skills while making learning fun.”

Beginning this fall, the pilot year of the program, Polk and other Georgia teachers will begin immersion training with Lighthouse Island, the lesson simulation plan based on the Cockspur Island Lighthouse designed by Hearrington.

“Now that we know what happens to the lighthouse – today’s conditions – how can we go back and keep it from happening,” Hearrington said. “I believe the students will come up with some very creative ideas.”

Project OWL will also provide virtual space to enable students to develop their own simulations. Hearrington and the Project OWL teachers are discussing a variety of potential classroom simulations, including economic models, a virtual aquarium, and a simulated version of each of Georgia’s habitats and the organisms living in each.

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