Second Life usage in math?

[tags]Second Life, math, teaching, calculus, mathematics[/tags]

I’ve been hearing a lot in the blogosphere about Second Life, a game (if you can call it that) in which you create an alternate persona and enter into a virtual 3D world. In that world, you interact with other players, create things, and do other kinds of stuff. It seems to get very intricate, with a market for buying and selling land in this virtual world (which I guess ought to be called “virtual estate”), a police force, and even the ability to make real-life money off of the things you create “in-world”.

The first extensive look at Second Life that I ever read was this, in which Wes Fryer shares his thoughts on the game and throws in a few implications it has for teaching in the Millenial world. That article got me wondering how something like Second Life could be used for teaching math.

What comes to mind initially is using Second Life as a way of following up student work on a mathematical problem that can be used to model something in the “real world”, to “see” if the student’s solutions really work. For example: if a group of students is doing a problem where they are given a formula for the height of a ball as a function of time and are asked to find out the time at which the ball attains its maximum height — a typical derivative application question — the students would do the work on paper, and then, rather than checking the back of the book, they go to Second Life and “actually” throw the ball and see for themselves. That way a student could see right away that, for example, a maximum height in the thousands of meters range is impossible.

The advantage of the simulator versus actually throwing a real ball is that you could vary some of the parameters of the problem — initial velocity, initial position, etc. — for each group. And students could do this work while physically apart from each other; there are a lot of implications for distance learning here.

I’ve got enough stuff in my First Life to make having time for Second Life out of the question. However, I’ve said before that the connection between playing and learning is something we need to pay a lot more attention to, and these robust 3D simulations seem to have a lot of potential for re-establishing that connection.