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Quest Atlantis (http://atlantis.crlt.indiana.edu/), created by Indiana University professor Sasha Barab, uses a three-dimensional multi-user virtual environment and games with storylines to help children advance academically and learn about life.
In Quest Atlantis, students learn a variety of subjects by assuming the roles of junior scientists, political advisors, business managers or national park rangers. “It positions students as active agents trying to solve problems,” says Barab.
In addition, their reading scores improve, sometimes greatly in the weakest readers, says the principal of Broad Creek Middle School in Newport NC Cathy Tomon.
“We had students who were reading at a first-grade level and were in the sixth grade,” says Tomon. “One student went from a 2.5 to a 6.1 [reading score] from August to June. We’ve seen tremendous growth in his reading.” According to his teacher, she says, the program has given him the incentive to do well.
In North Carolina, it has been the disadvantaged and poor performing students who have seen the most positive results, says Frances Bradburn, former director of instructional technology for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, who approved the use of Quest Atlantis in the state’s schools.
“These hard-to-reach children have been so excited and motivated by the program. Children who normally do not enjoy school have a newfound drive to be there,” she says.
The developer, Barab, says Quest Atlantis was developed to give teachers a way to instruct students in an interesting way and in instances when field trips might be out of the question.
“We use the power of games to help kids understand why they’re learning what they’re learning in school,” he says. The program makes subject content more meaningful and engaging for the students.
“The whole idea is all about putting students in a real-world environment and challenging the kids on different subject matters,” continues Barab. “It gives the students a chance to use the content they learn and see how math, sciences, language arts and reading have an impact on the world.”
Schools apply for participation through the Quest Atlantis Web site (see above) and if they are selected, IU professors train the schools’ teachers to use the program.
Teachers can choose to have their student play games and scenarios in 15 main worlds. Some of the larger scenarios last eight or nine days.
Taiga World is popular. It was designed specifically to host a curricular unit on water quality.
“Students come in and are asked immediately to solve a problem. For example, they’re told the fish are dying, so they have to find a way to improve water quality,” explains Barab. The choices a student makes determine the outcome, giving students a sense of consequences and allowing them to become an agent for change.
“It allows them to connect to things that matter, [such as] environmental awareness.”
source: http://www.eschoolnews.com/ article on 9/3/08.
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