Elementary students to explore curriculum in virtual worlds

Cockspur Island Lighthouse

Project OWL is designed to increase student interest in science, technology, engineering and math…

Georgia (May 21, 2010)Project OWL is designed to increase student interest in science, technology, engineering and math

 At high tide, the base of the old lighthouse on Cockspur Island at the mouth of the Savannah River is approximately 3 – 5 feet underwater. When the beacon was built in 1849, it was well above sea level. So, what happened?


Some third-graders in Marietta and Polk County will soon be able to explore the island as it was in the 1800s, trying to determine what forces, both natural and man-made, led to the lighthouse eventually being abandoned. Entering this virtual world as an avatar – a digital representation of themselves – students will be able to take soil samples, and interview the lightkeeper, his family and soldiers from the island’s Fort Pulaski.


“The simulation will be like a time machine for the students,” Assistant Professor Doug Hearrington said. “Applying earth science lessons, and some engineering principles, they will investigate the problem and recommend a solution.”


Using a $72,817 grant from the U.S. Department of Education that was awarded to the Bagwell College of Education, Hearrington will begin implementing Project OWL in three Georgia classrooms, two in Polk County and one in Marietta, this summer. A fourth elementary school in China will also participate. Project OWL (Online World of Learning) is based on Hearrington’s research using multi-user virtual environment technology in the classroom.


“Today’s students have grown up with ubiquitous access to various forms of technology,” he said. “Bringing this technology into the classroom provides a familiar format that increases critical thinking skills while making learning fun.”


Beginning this fall, the pilot year of the program, 13 Georgia teachers will begin immersion training with Lighthouse Island, the lesson simulation plan based on the Cockspur Island Lighthouse designed by Hearrington.


“Now that we know what happens to the lighthouse – today’s conditions – how can we go back and keep it from happening,” Hearrington said. “I believe the students will come up with some very creative ideas.”


Project OWL will also provide virtual space to enable students to develop their own simulations. Hearrington and the Project OWL teachers are discussing a variety of potential classroom simulations, including economic models, a virtual aquarium, and a simulated version of each of Georgia’s habitats and the organisms living in each.


The collaboration with the Chinese elementary school fulfills the program’s global component by broadening students’ understanding of global environmental issues and cultures. The Georgia teachers will visit China this summer to meet with their partner teachers for workshops and planning.

Jennifer Hafer, jhafer@kennesaw.edu


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu