This NY Times article portrays a lawyer who worked 20 years helping inmates on death row. He gave up a high salary to become a middle school teacher “having seen too many people at the end of lives gone wrong, and wanting to keep these students from ending up like his former clients. He quotes Frederick Douglass: ‘It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.’”
This article is a pleasant reminder that teachers affect society is so many ways.
Kosmosis is a Communism themed space arcade game from Molleindustria, designers of the excellent McDonald’s Game parody. You play a space revolutionary and you have to organize your fellow proletariates. An especially intriguing aspect is the way your comrades move automatically like a flock of birds. As your group of comrades grow, the group starts to take care of itself and you can sit back and watch. Read his fun description of the space game as a reflection on America’s capitalistic and war-mongering society. The game is fun too.
- Genre: Arcade Games
- Graphics: 8/10 — Fine vintage look
- Sound: 8/10 — Spooky swarmy sound
- Quality: 9/10 — Nicely polished
- Fun: 8/10
- Overall: 8/10
Here is an interesting paper written by the designers of the educational game Europe-2045. The game is a simulation of the economies and politics of the European Union and the project was to develop a computer game for use in high school. The authors summarize prior research in educational games, and then discuss their experiences from developing their game. Some of the notable conclusions:
- In a classroom, some students and teachers are eager to use games for learning, but others do not like it. There might be a preference among people for an exploratory style of learning, while others like the traditional explanation and then practice format.
- There was a wide disparity of how much students could grasp. Perhaps due to previous video game experience, some students understood the complexities of the simulation, while others did not. Are these first two conclusions related?
- Visual storytelling was very effective for engagement in the game. A necessary ingredient though was having the players choices affect the outcome. The player quickly realized when their decisions didn’t change the story, and they lost interest.
- How the teacher framed the game and reflected on the game’s lessons had a huge impact on how well students transferred their understanding to the real world.
You can read the paper here:
I’ve been reading a bit about Joe Renzulli and I like his Three Ring concept of Giftedness. According to Renzulli, there are three important factors for the development of gifted behaviour: Above average ability, creativity, and task commitment.
Renzulli defines Creativity as the fluency, flexibility, and originality of thought, an openness to experience, sensitivity to stimulations, and a willingness to take risks. Task Committment is motivation turned into action (like perseverance, endurance, hard work, but also self-confidence, perceptiveness and a special fascination with a special subject). Renzulli argues that without task commitment high achievement is simply not possible.
I like how he has identified these three aspects. One thing I wonder about though, is ability innate or is it learned? I like to think that almost anybody can learn to do almost anything, if they have the perseverance.
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