Ezra Keats – Pan Pacific Project

Last June I was approached by Dave Menshew, a teacher at the Enochs High School Forensics and Biotech Academy, to take his Ezra Keats Grant Project virtual. He had heard about the PacRimX Project and wanted to use the Teen Second Life islands for a forensics project with his students. This project called for US students to construct a forensics mystery for their Japanese counterparts to solve collaboratively using virtual forensics techniques.

In past years a diorama was constructed and sent to Japan with the written scenario for the Pan Pacific mystery. The students would then collaborate through email and come up with a solution to the mystery. Over the summer, students in the Forensics club at Enochs High School worked with Dave Menshew in building a functioning Forensics Lab in Second Life. With this year’s project the entire scenario was presented virtually and all collaboration was done in-world in Teen Second Life. We just concluded this project with the Japanese students coming to Modesto and working together with the Enochs High School students face-to-face.

In keeping with tradition, a diorama was again constructed of the crime scene this year:

Before sitting down to go through the PowerPoint of the crime scenario, and working through the virtual crime scene, the students discussed the diorama:

This diorama was only of the one room where the crime was committed. The same room in the virtual world of Teen Second Life looks even better, and is life sized for the students to virtually walk through it together in real time:

With Teen Second Life the students constructed an entire house for this mystery complete with a landscaped plot of land on the waterfront. This setting allowed for a much richer scenario for virtually exploring the crime scene and surroundings. The scenario started out in the back yard on a deck by the water during a BBQ. Clues to the crime were spread throughout the house. The students constructed a fully functioning Forensics Lab in Teen Second Life to support this project. Here’s a previous blog post on the Forensics Lab with many pictures. This lab was used by the students to test evidence found during their investigations. All equipment is fully functional, including a computer that is linked to a national laboratory database for identifying DNA sequences.

The students were very excited when they finally got to meet in person to complete this project. Here’s a group picture of both groups of students and the two teachers involved with this project:

This is the same group of students that met in-world in the virtual forensics lab this past June (as detailed in this blog post):

Before getting down to business at hand, the students snacked on some pizzas and shared stories with each other:

Once the pizzas were gone the students got down to the business of solving the crime. They met in the Enochs High School Library Computer Lab to log into Teen Second Life for this final event.

The Japanese students came with their individual findings from the crime scene written up for presentation to the Modesto students. Here one of the students explains how he arrived at his conclusions (with notes in hand). This student had the most thorough analysis of the crime scene and solved almost all of the puzzles laid out by the Modesto Forensics students:

This project proved to be very challenging from a system perspective, as we moved our project from the original PacRimX Islands to the Skollaborate project in early August. Many things went wrong in the move and we lost time and access to the crime scene and forensics lab while we worked out the problems. We were literally still fixing things the morning of this meeting to get it ready for this collaborative event. And to top everything else off, the Second Life client was updated with a forced patch days before this meeting, requiring manual updates to these computers.

In the end, everything came together, the students were able to get in-world together, discussions were had and solutions presented. Having everyone physically in the same room added to the excitement of the conclusion of this project. Not bad for a project that took place after school got out last year and required a lot of work on the student’s part over their summer break. Teen Second Life has the ability to really engage students and motivate them to put a little bit more into their projects than they would otherwise with traditional methods.

Looking into the future, we already have plans to vastly expand the virtual forensics lab. We hope to have a much richer setting for the students to work in for next year’s project.


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