Recently our English 9 Honors classes took on a project led by Andrew Wheelock called Islands of Enlightenment – Understanding the Holocaust. This project, created in OpenSim, allowed for an immersive virtual experience that resulted in students making deep connections about the Holocaust, World War II and their own lives. It was a great project from start to finish and I wanted to share a glimpse into our classroom and our virtual world learning experience.
Here is what teacher Deann Poleon had to say, “Experiencing a virtual world, such as Islands of Enlightenment, provides students with an opportunity to explore at their own pace. My students, after viewing Diary of Anne Frank, were able to explore the annex in which she lived, learning additional facts from the notes left around the space. While completing assignments within this world, they needed to make comparisons to their lives, consider what life was like on a daily basis for people (Jewish and non-Jewish), and research stolen artifacts. Students also researched WWII related topics, places and people. Google Slides presentations, posted within Islands on a virtual presenter board, allow our students to teach others about their topic of research. While my students will present this information within our classroom, others visiting the virtual world may read through these presentations to continue to educate themselves. Symbolic objects have also been created by students. These objects, often challenging for students to complete, require students to think symbolically in regards to their researched topic. The experience with Islands prepares students for the world that exists within the novel Night: a world where smoke filled furnaces are at the end of the path, Swastikas strike fear in the hearts of innocent people, and people hope for death.”
Students received avatars set in 1940s attire and set on a learning adventure that involved student choice and hit the highest level of the SAMR model. This project pulled together history, literature, art and technology. As a technology integrator, I am thrilled to be able to work with technology that can hit on a majority of the ISTE student standards. From empowered learner to digital citizen to innovative designer, students gained great experience in many of these areas.
Side view of the Secret Annex toured by students
The project’s student tour card created for the annex shows what students used to move their avatar throughout the virtual space.
1. The front door: The smaller doors on left take you to the first and second floor. The middle doors take you into the warehouse. We will go there first.
2. At the back of the warehouse there is a storage shed that leads out to a garden. The garden gives you a feeling how close together the houses are.
Back to the entrance:
3. The doors on the left are entrances to different flights of stairs. The one on the right takes you up to the first floor and the front office.
4. Between the front office and back office there is a small closet. The back office is straight ahead.
5. Go out to the hallway and take a right to get to the private office in the back. This is where important meetings were held.
6. Also on this level was the kitchen for employees. This kitchen had the only hot water in the building. The people in hiding would use this for bathing on the weekends.
7. The room beside the kitchen is a bathroom. Anne used this for privacy while she bathed.
8. If you go up the flight of stairs you will come to the bookcase. But first we will tour the rest of the factory. Go up the stairs, turn a sharp right, forward a few steps, then turn left and go through the door. On left is another door into storage area. This is the room that has the window painted blue so the workers could not see the Annex.
9. Again, go through the double closet area to get to the front work space for the factory.
10. Now, we will go out through the door, down the hall, through next door and straight ahead to the bookcase.
11. This bookcase is the entry into the Annex. It takes you into a crowded dark hallway. To get to the Frank’s room, click bookcase, click door, enter hallway, bear to left, click next doorway.
12. The next small room is the bedroom that Anne Frank shared with Fritz Pfeffer.
13. Attached to Anne’s room is the bathroom which was shared by all 8 people.
The easiest way to get upstairs is to go back to the bookcase, click it to move it, click the door, and go quickly straight up the stairs.
14. At the top of the stairs is the Van Pels’ room. This room was also the kitchen, dining, and living room.
15. Peter Van Pels slept in the small room beside the kitchen. The stairway to the attic was in his room.
16. It is very tricky to get up to the attic. The stairs are steep and the entrance is small. When you enter Peter’s room you need to walk to stairs and then turn left. You will now only see a wall…so your climb is blind. At the top of ladder turn left again.
Touring the virtual world added great depth to the learning. Imagine being able to walk your avatar through these spaces along with classmates in a true virtual tour. Setting an avatar to “mouse look” view allowed to see the space through the eyes of Anne Frank. It was extremely powerful and this is were the technology was truly transformational. Without experiencing it for oneself, it is tough to understand its impact.
So, what did the students have to say about it? Here are a few of their reflections:
How do you like interacting with the environment?
- I like interacting in the environment, by doing so I can learn more while playing in a game like atmosphere, I can meet people and historical figures just by walking around the different features in the program. I feel like I learn things better while interacting with my classmates on a computer. Overall I enjoyed this experience.
- I like how we can explore so much in the game and how much interaction there is in the game. I enjoy flying in the sandbox, interacting with certain objects to make them do something, and just exploring different places such as the museum to see others slideshows and learn more about the Holocaust.
- I enjoy interacting with the environment, everything has some sort of way to interact with it.
How does being able to visualize the Secret Annex digitally help in understanding Anne Frank’s plight?
- I understand Anne Frank’s plight much more after digitally touring the annex and the museum in Amsterdam. I can see it how it was and not have to make up some image in my head on what I think it looked like.
- It helps us grasp what Anne’s life was like being trapped in the small area for many months. We could understand how little privacy she and the others had and how hard it must have been being confined to a single space so such a long time.
- It allows me to not have to imagine what I’m learning about, rather I can see it with my own eyes.
Do you like being able to create a digital museum exhibit? Why or why not?
- Yes, I enjoy seeing other people’s work and adding to the collection on my own. I feel like it helped me understand the topic a little bit better reading multiple different accounts of what happened from different perspectives.
- Yes because I can share my work and also see my peers work and other students work who may not even be in our area. We can also learn stuff maybe we wouldn’t have known or something we didn’t find that another student found.
- Yes, I find it interesting. It is much like real life in which information of the past is stored in museums.
Would you like to be able to create a learning adventure here? Do you think you would learn more that way? Why or why not?
- Yes, like I said I can really understand the environment in which the Franks lived in now and doing this really broadened my vision of what they had to endure. This is definitely a different style of learning but I enjoyed it.
- I would like to create an adventure here. Visualization would help students learn faster and more efficiently.
- Being able to create a learning adventure here would help me learn more about the topic because I learn better visually. It would also help me realize how the events occurred and what it would have been like to live in the situation/setting.
Students as Museum Curators
As it came time for students to present their research and their virtual museum virtual models, Mrs. Poleon, Mr. Wheelock and myself each observed virtually.
Each student was asked to play the role of museum curator and build a 3D model in OpenSim to be placed in the gallery. These are images of student creations along with their note cards for museum visitors. The object build was to symbolize their research topics. Enjoy!
This is my creation. It is a lush tree, representing the freedom after liberation. The prisoners had no vegatation within the camp, so a lush tree would be a sight to behold. -Gavin
This is my creation of the Fuhrerbunker. The Fuhrerbunker was an air-raid shelter in Berlin, Germany. This object is relevant to my subject, Adolf Hitler, as he spent his last moments here. The Normady Invasion had Soviet troops surround Berlin. Hitler was trapped. With no escape, he committed suicide on April 30th 1945, in the Fuhrerbunker. -Jacob
I decided to build a podium for my project because I felt that it fit best with my topic. My topic is the Nuremberg Trials, and during the trials, there was a podium for speaking that the judge, witness, or defendent would use to speak at. -Nicole
I built this table to represent the conversation that the Nazis had about the final solution. Many people gather around a table, not to express their ideas but to be told what their ideas should be. They are told how to kill innocent people and that this is the right thing to do. -Amanda
Josef Mengele was a very famous doctor during the holocaust. From his experiments he was nicknamed “the angel of death.” Many of his experiments consisted of torturing his patients to their deaths. One of his most well know experiments was he injected chemicals into children’s eyes in attempt to change their eye color. All of his experiments were done without anesthetics therefore putting all of his patients through extreme pain. -Mary
This is the backdrop that was set up at Hitlers Nazi Rallies. Three big pillars each with the Nazi swastika on them. These pillars were created for because they were set up when the Nuremberg Laws were introduced to the nazi youth, and public. These pillars could be seen from miles away due to their massive height. When the Nuremberg laws were introduced a panic swept the world. Even today, when people see the Swastika that originated in Ancient Hindu society but was altered for the Nazi army. When seen, some people remember the fear and pain they felt at the time. The nazi parties harassed so many people, not caring of their sex or color. The nazis only left the people they felt fulfilled the pure Aryan race alone. -Kirsten
The Sunflower By Simon Wiesenthal
This book is about Simon Wiesenthal’s experience being taken to work in a concentration camp. It tells about his life pre-Holocaust when he lived in Poland and while he faced anti-semitism. It then goes on to describe the humiliation, illness, hunger, and the constant threat of death in the camps.
The book is centralized around the fact that he was asked to forgive a dying Nazi, at the Nazi’s deathbed. But he denied giving forgiveness and suffers and regrets it long after, wondering if it was the right choice or not. which leads to the important question of the book: Would you have forgiven the Nazi, if in his position?
This question leads to the last two thirds of the novel where there is a series of essays from over fifty people, one even a former Nazi, responding to his question. -Stephanie
This shovel represents the tool used to dig the trenches. They would use the trenches they dug as a burial place for the Jewish men, women,and children. The mobile units would line the men, women, and children before the trench and shoot them. -Dayna
This path represents the path that the prisoners took while marching. The placement of the gun symbolizes the danger these people where in if they were to slow down or fall behind. They were immediately murdered and left on the road. This shows the brutality and inhumanity of the soldiers during the Death Marches. – Jacob
My object is a hospital because Josef Mengele performed a lot of medical experiments on children and people. Also because he was a medical officer at the Auschwitz- Birkenau complex. He was the chief medical officer of the main infirmary at Birkenau in 1944. -Jordan
The Gestapo were a secret police force. They started off as Hitler’s personal guards, but eventually become a separate entity. The SS eventually merged with the Gestapo. The Gestapo got rid of any opponents to the Nazi regime, no matter how small. Just telling a joke that was insulted the Gestapo or Nazi regime could get you arrested. The Gestapo would collect political opponents, Jews, gypsies, and other people from newly captured areas. They also monitored the citizens lives using block wardens. These block wardens would visit each household at least once a week and report back to intelligence agents about what they found. Almost nothing that the Gestapo did was legal. They used the excuse that as long as they were doing what the government wanted, nothing they did was illegal. They would arrest people as soon as they were found innocent by the courts. Most people arrested by the Gestapo were sent right to concentration and work camps without and legal formalities. The Gestapo was named a criminal organization during the Nuremberg trials. Despite this, most Gestapo leaders were already dead, however some managed to escape. -Jenna
This house exemplifies Kristallnacht as it is what most of the homes were, on fire and ruined. This house is meant to show the pure destruction of that terrible night. -Logan
This object represents boots. These boots were worn by a Jewish prisoner on a death march. This prisoner marched over 60 miles under horrible, harsh conditions. There were hundreds of others marching along with him, only a few survived. – Emily
This dresser resembles what the prisoner of Buchenwald wore. The prisoners had to wear striped pajama. They wore these to bed, when they went out to work for the day and to role call. -Emily
This jail represents the Nuremberg Trials. The Nuremberg Trials were a set of trials against the Nazi leaders for war crimes during World War II. 11 out of 22 Nazi leaders were executed. The other 9 had jail time. Three were ranged from 10-20 years while the other three had a life time for imprisonment. This jail shows that they had to be held accoutnable for what there actions were. They made million and millions of jewish lives suffer severly or end them. Being behind these prison bars locked up is how the jewish people felt locked up in the concentration camps with no where to go and the only thoughts of will I die soon? Being behind bars for life will make them realzie how alone they feel and how alone the Jewish people also felt. -Sara
Hitlers book “Mein Kampf” is shown in the object below. This is a very important piece in the Holocaust. Hitler had written this book in prison when he was sentenced for 5 years but was released after 9 months. The translation of this book means “My Struggle” as Hitler wrote and talked about the problems he and Germany are facing. -Madeline
These handcuffs represent the Gestapo or the Geheime Staatspolizei. The Gestapo were the secret state police of Nazi Germany who were in charge of many outrageous and cruel events. They could do anything they pleased, as long as they followed the will of the government. They were mainly responsible for the mass arrest of the Jewish race, as well as stopping resistance and underground movements. The Gestapo used violence to accomplish their assigned tasks and had almost unlimited power. The handcuffs represent this organization because they were one of the legal forces Hitler used during World War II. -Hanna
I built a bunkbed because for the prisoners sleeping was the only time they had where they were not being tortured tourmented or harrased. Eventhough the beds were very uncomfortable and very crowded the prisoners adapted to the conditions. -Nathaniel
The Warsaw camp used to just be a city. It was filled with buildings that had use previous the invasion. This Building is what an apartment building would have looked like. It was made of brick and had a roof. They were made to live in a small sector of the corner of the city while the other citizens kept living their lives. -Katrina
Gas vans were used by the Einsatzgruppen beginning in 1942. They were basically mobile gas chambers asphyxiating the kidnapped people as they drove. This is an example of one of the vans. The picture on the van is their insignia. -Colin
I chose a big podium to represent the style that Hitler gave speeches on. while the SS surrounded him. After the failed attempt to take Munich, the SS accompanied Hitler at every big event. -Bella
During the holocaust, different types of people were marred with certain colored patches to label who or what they are.
Homosexuals and Sex Offenders: Pink
Political Prisoners: Red
Jehovah’s Witnesses (Bible students): Purple
Foreign Forced laborers or immigrants: Blue
Professional Criminals: Green
Roma (Gypsies): Maroon
If you were a Jew, your patch would be the Star of David, with a section or one of the triangles colored with “your color”. -Maela
This chimney represents the gas chambers and crematoriums used during the Holocaust. Adolf Eichmann was one of the main organizers behind Hitler’s Final Solution. At a young age Eichmann joined the Nazi Party due to the lose of his job. During the war he climbed the ranks very quickly because of his determination and hard work. Eventually he was put in charge as the architect responsible for organizing and implementing the Final Solution. He enjoyed the “production” of mass executions of the Jewish people even though he had no particular hatred toward the Jewish race. Through the use of gas chambers and crematoriums, he performed mass murders of innocent people to his enjoyment. -Samantha
The SS began as a small group of about 8 men but expanded to 209,000 members in a period of 7 years. Each member was expected to wear the same uniform, which was a black coat, black cap, a death’s-head emblem, death-head’s “ring of honor” and a loyalty motto, “Meine Ehre heisst Treue”. This translates to, “Loyalty is my honor”. The SS became the “backbone” of the Nazi regime since they were involved in the torturing and murders of hundreds of thousands of people. These uniforms symbolized, to many victims, fear and terror. -Ally
This giant, yellow star is the Star of David. This is the symbol of the Jewish heritage and Israeli culture, but through the Nazis’ perspective. During WWII, Nazi officers ordered all Jews over the age of 6 to sew this item onto their clothing so they can be easily recognized as Jews.
This is the tree Oskar Schindler planted at the avenue of the righteous. He was honored at Israels Holocaust museum and recognized by both Israel and Germany for risking his life to save the Jews. -Kylee
During WW2, Josef Goebbels was editor of two magazines called Volkische Freiheit and Nationalsozialistichen Briefe. Josef Goebbels was in charge of most of the propaganda that had to do with the Nazi party or any of their plans for the Jews. Goebbels was known as Hitler’s “right hand man”, so he was able to give speeches, write magazines and even write a newspaper. He used his influence to persuade people to think that the Nazis weren’t vicious. -Faith
My object is funeral wreath that represents the number of people that died at Bergen Belsen. There were 35,000 to 40,000 prisoners that died of disease, starvation and execution at the camp. Typhus is the disease that killed the most prisoners. Anne Frank and her sister both died from this disease at Bergen Belsen. -Paige
This is the main gate to enter Auschwitz. Above the gate reads the words “arbeit macht frei” which means, work sets you free.This slogan appeared on the entrances of many other labour camps. The expression comes from the title of a novel by German philologist Lorenz Diefenbach, Arbeit macht frei: Erzählung von Lorenz Diefenbach (1873), in which gamblers and fraudsters find the path to virtue through labour. -Justine
A huge thank you to Andrew Wheelock and all of the contributors to this virtual world. Our student creativity and learning would not have been possible without their dedication and efforts to innovation with educational technology.