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Background

“The project (MissionV) is innovative and is making excellent use of a number of cutting edge technologies." Jerome Morrissey, Director, NCTE

In Spring 2010 MissionV took off for the first time in a pilot programme based in Gaelscoil Eoghan Uí Thuarisc, Carlow when five students logged on to their 16 acre digital desert island.  This was the first time that virtual worlds technology was used to support the Irish primary school curriculum in a learning support setting. Here, they learned to model and programme in 3D using Scratch and by the end of the first phase of the project had built a  complex “city in the sky”, had recreated replicas of the Castledermot High Crosses and had enjoyed an online visit by award winning children’s author Bob Burke.  Learning Support Teacher Brid Ui Mhaoluala has been teaching small groups of exceptionally able children at the Carlow Gaelscoil for the past number of years and was interested in using this type of technology to provide enrichment material for her current group of students:

“In the past few years, our exceptionally able students have done things as diverse as building a Morse code machine, creating powerpoint presentations on the Famine, written their own novels and researched and demonstrated scientific experiments to their classmates. Sometimes, I felt the children were doing projects or tasks almost to please me, rather than for themselves. I was delighted to be included in this pilot where the children could work on what they wanted and on something truly challenging. I am not a techno-wizard, I don’t even have an ECDL, so by taking this on, I felt I would be able to say to any teacher that if I could do it, anyone could.”

MissionV is a teaching tool for building immersive learning experiences supported by the National Centre for Technology in Education.  Our programmes put the focus on 21st century skills, helping children to become original digital creators with 3D modelling and programming skills vs. passive digital consumers.  MissionV allows learners to connect, create and collaborate in a 3D world entirely of their own making. In fact the pilot programme evaluation suggests it has great potential as a teaching tool with particular relevance to the Maths curriculum, using as it does geometric building tools which help develop maths abilities and spatial skills. Given the recent OECD results that confirm Ireland’s maths standards are falling we need new ways to teach maths that will engage and excite students, whilst demonstrating the practical applications of maths and geometry.

“The project (MissionV) is innovative and is making excellent use of a number of cutting edge technologies. It is very timely given the Department of Education and Skills’ prioritisation of numeracy at both primary and post primary level. The use of a 3D learning environment and geometric building tools by children to collaboratively build 3D replicas generating a fully interactive world powered by their own software is very much in line with the thinking and implementation of the project maths curriculum at post primary which is being rolled out at present to all schools.” said Jerome Morrisey, NCTE Director

In the next phase of MissionV  20 National Schools (including the original pilot school of Gaelscoil Eoghain Uí Thuairisc Carlow) will each have access to a 16 acre secure virtual island where up to 10 students from each participating school can connect, create and collaborate in an immersive 3D learning environment for a period of twelve months. Here they will use geometric building tools to collaboratively build 3D replicas of real world or fantasy structures and program those objects using Scratch to generate a fully interactive world powered by their own software. They communicate and plan their projects via their digital character or avatar making this a truly immersive and engaging experience. The 20 schools chosen, under criteria set by the NCTE, will be representative of primary schools nationwide, with a mix of patrons, large and small school communities, rural and urban locations and with a special emphasis on schools with DEIS status. The project is expected to have positive effects on social inclusion particularly for those children from disadvantaged areas and will give these children an opportunity to develop their talents, learn 21st century skills and, looking to the future, allow them to compete at a high level on the national and world job markets.  MissionV will also include a mentorship programme to support the participants which will involve online, real-time future science masterclasses by scientists and technologists at the very cutting edge.  The project also recently won First Runner Up in the Global Edublog Awards which demonstrates how it has captured the imagination of educators worldwide.

MissionV has potential right across the curriculum particularly for history, geography, literacy and the visual arts. This is illustrated with a lesson plan, or ‘mission’ as they’re called at MissionV. One mission challenged pilot project students in Carlow to ‘Build a model of Clonmacnoise as it was during the Middle Ages and perform and film a historical re-enactment of a Viking raid on the settlement’. This challenge demonstrates how MissionV can act as the hub for an extensive variety of skills. To begin with it requires research and understanding of the relevant history. Then it necessitates that students plan and co-ordinate a wide range of projects tasks. Viking, monk and commoner garments and weapons/implements must be designed and made for the avatars (digital characters). The avatar characteristics must be carefully adjusted to reflect the ethnicity, height, weight, hair, head-dress, etc, of the various protagonists. The monastery and terrain must be researched and re-constructed, literally brick-by-brick using geometric shapes along with the necessary mathematics to build complex structures. And finally the children must script, act, direct and film the raid on the settlement; in effect producing an animated movie of the historical re-enactment in a quality not unlike the original Pixar animations (e.g. Toy Story). MissionV therefore has relevance for history, geography, visual arts (design), mathematics, drama, and literacy.

In Phase 2 all schools on MissionV will have their virtual islands connected, such that students can travel between them. This will facilitate virtual field-trips and lesson plan sharing. As more and more content is developed, by the students themselves, MissionV will grow into a next generation learning hub.