With the rise of games like Minecraft, Roblox, Fortnite, and other massively multiplayer online games for kids, the need for engaging online educational solutions has never been greater. The Sun Foundation, located in Washburn, IL, was looking for just that. Together, we sought to expand the in-person Clean Water Celebration (CWC), featuring activities such as storytelling, animal conservation, and environmental protection-themed events, into an online virtual world.
This collaboration presented a unique opportunity and several challenges, as “fun” and “education” are not usually words that the average elementary/middle student would consider in the same sentence. We had to give a lot of thought to how to captivate younger kids. But it goes beyond expectations, as it’s been the age-old question that educators have been trying to answer: how can kids be better engaged in the classroom? Interactiva was up for the challenge.
After discussing the vision that the Sun Foundation had for this new virtual platform, we knew from the beginning that we needed to distill traditional activities into a series of videos and games that would be interactive within the virtual CWC platform. Since the original event was held outdoors, we would also host this virtual classroom in a virtual “outdoors” setting with tents and interactive activities that students could freely approach. We also had to design from the ground up a third-person character that kids could be able to relate and play with–we ended up coming up with “Robin,” a friendly robot from the future made out of recycled aluminum.
The videos were made by Brian “Fox” Ellis, a renowned storyteller known for his ability to captivate audiences and engage kids alike. We included these in large virtual TV screens inside the virtual tents, which the user could walk up to and interact with.
The mini-games were the most exciting and involved virtualizing the various activities, usually hosted in person, into something engaging. The results were a series of creative games involving everything from collecting stamps to trophies, sorting through trash, and digging virtual archaeological sites. For example, one specific activity walked through different trash items and how to sort them in their respective bins. Kids would then appropriately layer the compostable items in a composting pile, and the student would be quizzed at the end about what they learned.
We launched the first iteration of the virtual classroom on April 26th, 2021, via Web, iOS, and Android apps. It had great success reaching 29 schools and over 1700 students from elementary and middle schools all over Illinois. One of the students remarked that after playing in the virtual classroom, she felt that “we should start to care more about our surroundings and the environment around us.”
After the success of the first platform, we redesigned a new iteration featuring improved visuals, updated activities, and improved performance centered around the same fundamentals of an activity-based outdoor virtual classroom. The success of the second platform was similar to the first and helped the Sun Foundation further increase its outreach outside of central Illinois. Plans for the third iteration in 2023 are in motion, featuring virtual reality (VR) world, with the addition of several languages and new activities. Interactiva is delighted to keep exploring how far we can take this important annual event virtually!