Environments in virtual worlds can be realistic or fantastical, each has benefits for students both as visitors and as creators. National and state educational standards require that students can identify, describe and understand the differences in both land and water-related Biomes. Teaching these standards begins in lower grades and becomes more complex in higher grades to include an understanding of geography, climate and weather, environmental issues, and animal and plant diversity, adaptations and interdependence. A recent search on the internet for lesson plans in this area of science provided mostly traditional lesson activities such as coloring, drawing maps, finding pictures, writing a report and constructing model biomes (dioramas with found objects and art supplies). The virtual environment offers a potential that includes elements of these activities and takes it to the next level.
Students can build Biomes in the virtual environment and learn required concepts in doing so. Building a Biome will require some or all of the following:
- Research a Biome in order to adequately recreate it in the virtual world.
- Plan the depiction of the Biome in the virtual world to include necessary elements
- Terraform the necessary terrain.
- Build the plant and animal life and add appropriate textures.
- Photograph “textures”, plants and animals in their own environments, and import these textures to create a virtual world to depict the particular Biome.
- Search and locate specific plant and animal life on the Internet to create custom textures for building in the virtual world.
- Draw and photograph or scan images to use as textures and backgrounds.
- Add ambient sounds to the virtual environment from sound effect sites or CDs.
The teacher may choose to start from scratch for each group of students or to have each group of students add to the environment over the course of a year or longer. The project lends itself to group work and the 21st Century Skills. Once the Biomes are built, students should visit each Biome to compare and contrast. Younger and/or less capable students may be invited to visit the student created Biomes to experience and explore each. In less than an hour students can visit each Biome; no field trip forms, no money collection, no transportation requirements, no Chaperones, no sub needed for the kids that couldn’t go.