Social Studies 26 • Music 28 • English Language Arts 30 • Science 32 • Multidisciplinary 35 • Tip 35
Social Studies in a Virtual World
By Andrew Wheelock
Professional development for teachers comes in a variety of orms. Never did I imagine,
however, that I would have a meaningful exchange of ideas in a virtual
world. Yet Second Life, the multi-user
virtual environment (MUVE), turned
out to be the most powerful professional development experience of
my career to date.
For learners and educators, Second
Life provides a unique way to connect
with colleagues, and, in most cases,
this networking happens from the
comfort of their own living rooms.
Educators can find islands with literature, science, and history themes.
Some provide thought-provoking
information, such as Virtual Harlem,
whereas others offer aspects of a gaming experience, such as Roma (Virtual
Rome) or Antiquity Texas.
The richness of these interactions
inspired a Second Life group called
the Virtual Pioneers. This started
as a group of teachers from western
New York who wanted to use Second
Life to explore some of the historical
landmarks that the virtual world had
to offer. The group evolved into a collaborative venture where members
meet every other Sunday to interact in
a variety of ways.
Many of our early meetings were
simply tours of history-themed islands. We toured:
Capitol Hill South. This Washington,
D.C.–based island offers a host of
opinions about current U.S.
The Virtual Pioneers toured the Chuba region of Japan, where they watched geishas perform intricate, beautiful dances. Each geisha also gave a written account of the history of Japan.
ISTE Island’s Alamo Exhibit. This is a
realistic display with an informational
Land of Lincoln. This island, dedicated
to the life and times of Abraham Lincoln, has a variety of buildings and
displays that give visitors a perspective
into this time period. It includes a replica of Lincoln’s White House and a reenactment of the Gettysburg Address.
Olana. This New York state historic
site provides hands-on activities with
some interactive quizzes.
Phoenix Elementary. This site offers
a nice model for professional development. It provides lesson ideas and
Second Life freebies.
Ummah of Noor. This Muslim-themed
island offers cultural, religious, and
Virtual Babylon. This museum-quality simulation offers a wealth of
information about this intriguing era.
As our group’s charter evolved,
we were offered a building on Kathy
Schrock’s Lighthouse Learning Island
in a partnership with the Western
New York Regional Information
Center’s (WNYRIC) Model Schools
Department. This is now the Virtual
Pioneers headquarters as well as home
to a professional development area
where teachers of all subjects can collaborate and explore resources, such
as lesson plans, websites, and educational landmarks.
With the growth of our membership,
we have added other activities, such as:
• A historical costume party where
members arrive in period garb and
share a note card with information