The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a very useful website for Teaching Copyright issues. It is an excellent resource for teachers on a tricky subject. The website covers the issues in a balanced way I feel—it clearly states downloading copyrighted music without permission is illegal. However many of the subtle areas of fair use are discussed which are the important parts. I used their first lesson plan today and while the kids loved the Copy Quiz Game Show, I had some suggestions overall. I emailed them, but I thought I’d post them here too for others.
First of all, I made the mistake of jumping right in and not setting the context—why should my students care about copyright and fair use? I found my students took a while to focus and I think an introduction on the value of the lesson would help.
Second, some of the questions in the Copy Quiz Game Show are somewhat difficult to interpret when said out-loud. E.g. question 8: “Kathy downloads a few photos of local organic farms from Flickr.com… She follows the rules of the photographer’s specific CC license… That’s OK.” The true/false question hinges on just the last sentence and it is unnecessarily hard to parse when spoken aloud. Which “that” is ok? Also, in some of the questions, the teacher reads out statements which are false, such as “Paula wants to use a short quote from the Titanic in her school paper. That’s copyright infringement.” This statement is false, but in the confusion of the game, that is too easily lost. The students remember what the teacher said, but the true/false part is overwhelmed in the player’s run for a chair and the ensuing struggle. I recommend the questions be rephrased as situations, and the chairs are labeled as Legal and Illegal. That way students are concentrating on the situation and if it is legal or not. Rather than the specific phrasing of the last tricky sentence.
Arcademic Skill Builders is a website with a few dozen excellent Flash games for teaching math and English Language Arts skills. I played Dirt Bike Proportions, a math game where you answer questions about fractions in order to go faster and beat friends in a race. I was quite impressed with the quality of the graphics, and especially that this game can support network play–you can race against three friends. I would like to see games develop higher level math skills.
- Genre: Networked Arcade Games
- Graphics: 8/10 — Nothing exciting but well made
- Sound: 8/10
- Quality: 9/10
- Fun: 7/10 — It’s pretty fun for a math game.
- Overall: 8/10
The EduGamesBlog lists ten significant serious games. The games cover important social topics rather than academic skills. For example SimCity is the classic urban planning game and Re-Mission helps cancer patients understand their condition. Some of them are online/Flash games, but others are Windows-only downloads which need to be installed.
Here is a great article on how to integrate off the shelf commercial video games into classrooms. Richard Van Eck gives his method for evaluating a game to see if it would be useful for a particular learning outcome, and then how to augment commercial games to better achieve your learning goal.
Flash Math Creativity is a book of programs that use relatively simple math and Flash to create digital art. I bought it years ago, and recently realized that it has a website that illustrates all the programs. Take a look:
Grow Island is a puzzle game. The player deploys different fields of engineering by clicking on a button. The fields can reinforce each other if they are deployed in the proper order. The goal is to find the optimum order to deploy each field.
Grow Island’s puzzle is simple in concept, but very tricky to solve. The feedback is subtle so you have to study it closely and try many times to figure out. You get clues when the different fields combine on the screen in some interest way. For example the machine developed with mechanical engineering combines with the computer to make a robot. That combines with aeronautic engineering to make a flying robot.
- Genre: Puzzle
- Graphics: 8/10 — Delightfully cute
- Sound: 5/10 — Good for the first 30 seconds, then it gets repetitive.
- Quality: 8/10
- Fun: 8/10 — It’s cool when you figure out a good combination and the animations come alive.
- Overall: 8/10
MindLab is a program for teaching problem solving and thinking skills with board games. My friend Avram, of Evolvems fame, turned me onto this program. I have not seen their program in action, but I met with the folks in charge of NYC MindLab, and was very impressed with their spiel.
The main idea is: you teach kids how to play any one of 200 games they have collected. Once the kids get the feel for the game and are struggling to master it, you step in and show them one of a dozen problem-solving methods MindLab has identified. They have cute names to help memorization and discussion. The kids learn the method quickly and then you move them to a second game. When the kids see this strategy works in two games, the method starts to stick in their brain. But the final and most important step is to transfer these methods to general life situations.
One method they described was the Stoplight method. The stoplight method is three steps: red, yellow and green. When you are playing your game, first do red: stop what you are thinking about (usually your next move) and think instead about our opponent. What is he thinking about? What move would he like to do. Yellow is to consider a counter-move. Finally with Green you choose your move, either a defense or an attack.
This method sounds fantastic—it’s an vital strategy for any competitive game. But it can be applied so much more broadly. Imagine a conflict with a classmate. The “red light” step is to put yourself in your opponent’s shoes. Consider how he sees the situation and figure out what his move might be. But this is exactly what conflict resolution courses teach—think about the other’s position. Once you can see the other person’s point of view, most conflicts can be resolved peacefully. Those that cannot, can be more successfully fought.
The stoplight method and dozens more are part of the MindLab curriculum. But in the end, it all comes down to the teachers. A great teacher will find teaching moments everywhere. The best curriculum in the hands of a poor teacher will just be boring with lots of wasted time.
Flip Boom is a simple animation application for Mac OS X and Windows. It comes from the makers of Toon Boom, a well regarded animation package. I haven’t tried it out, but it looks cool from their website.
Stratolab’s new business is writing software—tools and games—for learning. We have started working on several projects including a math game and a training simulation for teachers. We have many more ideas too, but first things first.