Thursday, February 17, 2011

Second Annual Mars Sim Journey

 A year ago our school took a giant step for 5th grade girls by sending them into our OpenSimulator Mars crater sim to find meteorite samples and enjoy the low-gravity orange haze of the red planet. That first experience is documented here. This week the same science teacher and I are once again introducing our current 5th graders to the experience and I'm happy to say I've learned from my previous mistakes and made some valuable improvements. Disabling flying and showing the students how to use the mini-map allowed them to stay focused on the goal of working as a team and getting everyone through the mission together, which is really what the experience is about. The other technique they took much greater advantage of is local chat. I wish I had the logs because they reflect so much collaborative problem solving and cooperative negotiation. The one other improvement I made was to specify a different account for each pair of students right on the tutorial handouts I gave them, which prevented the duplicate logins that caused groups to kick each other out of the sim repeatedly last year and had me pulling my hair out until I figured it out. These changes greatly reduced the tendency toward chaos that took over at times last year and undermined the simulation experience. So the result has been that they really get the experience and what it's about. It's a really fun way to practice working as a team and solving complex problems. And hopefully we've captured their imaginations about the world of space flight to boot.


Maria Korolov said...

So cool! Thanks for writing about this.

Do you have the simulation and associated lessons plans available for other educators to look at?

I wish my son's class could do something like this!

-- Maria

Erik N. said...

That's a great idea, Maria. I'll post something more detailed soon. Thanks.