Imagine living on a planet that doesn’t rotate.
One side would permanently face the sun, creating extreme heat. The other would face a moon without exposure to sunlight. And both sides would have winds so powerful that people would have to live in caves.
As part of a yearlong project, students at Centre Learning Community Charter School created the imaginary land of Eurus on planet Udo Tiven, inhabited by people who survived what students called the “Sky on Fire” that brought the “Great Winds.”
CLC is a charter school that serves students in fifth through eighth grades.
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Seventh and eighth-grade teacher Brian Rowan said that with help from former student and Penn State graduate Nathaniel Peters, he incorporated a method of teaching called Worldbuilding for Education into class curriculum this school year for the first time.
The mission is to engage students in a project that nearly puts them in the situation they’re creating by using a computer software program.
“The objective is to increase engagement of kids so they fully understand the task at hand,” Rowan said. “There’s an all-encompassing history aspect for students to think at higher levels, and use real-world methods to create their own world.”
The idea was introduced to CLC in the spring of 2014.
For a senior capstone thesis project, Peters used the Worldbuilding for Education program to help teach a three-week 3-D modeling class after school at CLC.
It included two to 12 students per session, Peters said.
“They were willing to take me in as an after school teacher and we did a 3-D modeling course, and learned to 3-D model with an (imaginary) world,” Peters said.
As a starting point, he asked the students to think critically by telling a story from a picture they found online.
“They found cool art like spaceships flying around and I’d ask them to think outside the box with story ideas that then lead into traditional 3-D modeling, technical literacy and figuring out what tools they needed to render their ideas,” Peters said.
He said the class used the same software as Pixar.
“We created basic cities in a world of their own and they were able to have a visual and written reference of their project,” Peters said.
Each student participant then created different things for that city including an airplane and flight tower, spaceship, and houses and buildings, and created the equivalent of a World War II scenario with its inhabitants.
After graduation in May 2014, Peters helped with summer camp at CLC that incorporated similar Worldbuilding for Education initiatives.
It’s a way of using stories to get kids interested in learning. You get general stories with problems in math, for instance, but don’t have the context that worldbuilding focuses on that allows students to apply knowledge they learn through story, picture, map and critique.
Nathaniel Peters, designer and educator
“It’s a way of using stories to get kids interested in learning,” Peters said. “You get general stories with problems in math, for instance, but don’t have the context that worldbuilding focuses on that allows students to apply knowledge they learn through story, picture, map and critique.”
That’s why Rowan said he wanted to use the teaching method in his 26-student class this year.
“It’s the perfect thing to try at CLC because we do things a little differently,” he said. “We do multidisciplinary projects.”
Students are halfway through the project that will end with a video documentary of their work, which will be presented to the entire school.
Rowan said the first part included mapping with weather patterns. The next part of project will include earth science, development of cultural history and developing a cave nation with medieval to modern time period-type influences.
“It’s taking real information from history to help influence how they live,” Rowan said.
Another part of the project allows students to dress their characters and find ways to get the products, like cotton, used to make clothing.
This hits me on lots of level because it comes full circle with a former student who came here some 10 years ago and came back to help out.
Brian Rowan, lead teacher at CLC
“They’re asking the question ‘why?’ because they need every bit of knowledge of what they’re doing and where it’s coming from, and they need to create all existing parts to make it a livable world,” Rowan said. “This hits me on lots of level because it comes full circle with a former student who came here some 10 years ago and came back to help out.”
Peters visited the Monday morning class to introduce a web app that would help them finish their project. The app part of the project will be launched next month, Peters said.
“The nice thing with worldbuilding is you have all these kind of directions and you can explore something new,” he said.
But he also hopes to help implement the education method to other institutions.
Peters said he presented at SIGGRAPH, a technology and design conference, in August in Los Angeles that created “a lot of attention to community colleges” from Texas and Colorado.
“More than anything they were interested in how the students reacted to it,” Peters said. “Hopefully I can help expand it more than locally.”
Peters majored in design with an emphasis in interdisciplinary digital studio at Penn State’s School of Visual Arts and is a freelance designer in Pittsburgh with his own design firm, NMP Design and Visual.