This morning we got up REALLY early and got the 7am train. The reason for the silly early start (for a holiday!) was that we were going to school. This wasn't because I was missing being at school or because we thought Louis needed a head start in his education. We were actually going to visit the Science class I had been working with in Second Life.
Beth, who has been developing the science course material, visited the class today as well. She lives a hundred miles away but this was her first time visiting the class too.
The class went well. Today they were learning about coal mines. They were finding it difficult to navigate through the coal mine as it was small, crowded and also a 'phantom' object (they could walk through the walls) so combined with the lag meant they kept popping out the sides.
The detail was amazing though. At the entrance to the cave was a canary in a cave, while inside the cave was a dead canary in a cage! There was a miner 'chatbot' to question about how horrible it was cavemining. There was a shiny stream running past the mine that turned a bit gunky as it flowed past the cave. There were fish swimming around (actually moving) in the upstream water, although they looked a bit floaty and dead after the polluted water from the mine had been added.
The students job today was to look around and write down observations. They also had to interview the chatbots in and around the mine (coalminer, researcher, etc) and think about how much of what they are told is scientific 'fact'.
The students were a bit confused at me being in the room but were very friendly when I went round and helped them. It is so much easier being able to help kids in person than stand around in the virtual world and ocassionally shout "anyone need help?"
It was interesting at one point one of the kids told me he liked Sean's shiny trainers, pointing to Sean sitting at the back of the room. Sean doesn't have shiny 'bling' shoes in real life, he was logged into SL. The class has never met him before, yet this student was quite happy that this new person in SL was also the new person in RL.
Afterwards Tracy Rebe, the class teacher and Vice Principal, gave us a tour of the school. The school used to be Prospect Heights High School, a school with over 2000 students and a bad reputation. The school was split into four separate schools four years ago: HSGC, a international school with mainly ESL students, a school specialising in Science, and a fourth one that specialises in the music and theatre. The students don't mix and are not allowed in the other schools' corridors. There is also very little interaction between the schools staff.
The four schools are seperately about the same size as my school, yet the differences were incredible. Apart from the computers bought by Global Kids for the science SL class, there are a handful of computers around in various states. Similar to my students in Edinburgh, many of them don't have access to computers at home, yet at HSGC it isn't a taught subject. This has affected our science class in unexpected ways. At one point we asked them to email information to their teacher, yet many of them were unsure how to send an email. This is also a cultural issue - kids in the USA and the UK don't use email, they instant message (IM).
Funding for schools seems very unequal and dependent on how much tax people pay in the school district area. A rich area of New York state will have schools with computers and textbooks, while other schools in other areas struggle. Even comparing the four schools in the same building they seem to all be getting funding from different sources. HSGC gets some funding through Global Kids. I was very confused when I was first told that GK "had a school" but it makes more sense now.
The school is doing fantastic work though. Tracy spoke with pride about the students' work and huge change in attitude and behaviour since the old large school closed four years ago. The students are also getting fantastic opportunities that they wouldn't normally have, to travel and meet people. Academically results are much better, and this year will be the first year of students graduating from the High School for Global Citizenship. Congratulations to them all!