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The Steuben Courier Advocate
  • 'Digital natives': Students create virtual worlds at SciFair Showcase

  • Over the course of two hours, students, parents and educators took a journey through secretive caves, Alcatraz Island, the “Hunger Games” dome and the Periodic Table – all through a computer screen.
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  • Over the course of two hours, students, parents and educators took a journey through secretive caves, Alcatraz Island, the “Hunger Games” dome and the Periodic Table – all through a computer screen.
    Middle school students from four area school districts gathered at the Wings of Eagles Discovery Center Thursday to guide guests and each other through virtual worlds they created for GST BOCES’ Southern Tier SciFair Showcase.
    The four teams of students, from the Addison, Bath, Campbell-Savona and Elmira school districts, spent 10 weeks creating virtual worlds through EDUni-NY and Active Worlds, an online platform for virtual world creation.
    “This is all online; it’s all interactive,” said Erin Schiavone, GST BOCES Virtual Worlds coordinator.
    Geared mainly toward middle school-aged students, the program requires the virtual world creators to build something STEM-based (science, technology, engineering and math), though keeping the kids interested in the subject matter is also important.
    “A lot of what they’re doing inside the world is coding, and basic coding skills for computers already uses engineering, math, science and technology,” Schiavone said. “So we’re also interested in finding something that is an interest to the students so they want to continue to participate.”
    Students from the Addison Central School District looked to a current movie and book series for their inspiration: “Hunger Games.”
    “The majority of the kids love ‘The Hunger Games,’ so they wanted to do a world based on that,” said Kim Seaman, A-3 after-school site coordinator for Addison. “We created the environment for ‘Hunger Games,’ including the dome, the flower bed where Rue died, stuff like that.”
    In addition to researching and building the “Hunger Games” environment, students also researched and created characters by creating avatars and embedding character videos into the world.
    Taking cues from the natural world, students from Dana Lyon Middle School in Bath created a virtual world based on caves.
    According to Mike Binkowski, a sixth-grade earth science teacher at the middle school, the students often choose scenarios that correlate with the earth science curriculum.
    “We’ve done other worlds before like space and tornadoes,” Binkowski said. “We try to find different aspects that relate to sixth-grade earth science curriculum. They basically learn hands-on research and more information on whatever subject we’ve been working on.”
    Currently in his third year of SciFair participation, Noah Bresee, an eighth-grade student at Dana Lyon Middle School, took on a more senior role in developing the cave world.
    “We went around building caves in a lot of secret areas in the world for people to find and there’s information about what you can find in caves and how caves are formed,” Bresee said.
    Page 2 of 2 - Also looking to geography and national landmarks for inspiration were students from the Campbell-Savona Central School District who chose to simulate Alcatraz Island for their virtual world.
    Sara Balliett, the district’s director of technology, notes that these students, who have grown up in the 21st century, oftentimes teach their instructors digital skills.
    “These kids are like digital natives, just what they know and what they do all the time,” Balliett said. “A lot of times they’re teaching the adults who aren’t the digital natives to use these skills and we teach them how to use it appropriately.”

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