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.
In this era of change, Stratolab is changing too. We are shifting our focus from after-school classes to software. In the new year we will be creating video games that teach. As a result, we are closing our cozy studio. January 31 will be our last class.
Last Chance to Take a Stratolab Class. Call Now. All courses are 30% off in December and January. This is your last chance to experience Stratolab. Tell all your classmates. Email all your friends!
Eric Scott is our new Advanced Computer Programming teacher. He runs Dolphin Micro, a web development company, but loves to teach a bit on the side. I have worked with him and he is an outstanding programmer. I’m very happy to have him on our team teaching our Game Programming for Teens course.
By the way, he also has a lot of experience in Marketing and Sales so he is a great consultant for building websites. If you need a website built, we recommend him highly.
Angela’s two sons took our DIY Electronics course in August.
…By the way, [my sons] are really enjoying the projects and the process of making them. As a parent, I could not ask for anything more :)
— Angela L., August 2008 Parent
Thanks so much for creating the ultimate birthday party for our son. The whole Stratolab team really went the extra mile putting it together and we loved ending with a virtual pinata! The kids had an amazing time and our son had his dream event. After a summer of creating robots and video games, he’s addicted to not just playing with tech, but MAKING tech — which is the best of both worlds: learning something while having a blast. Looking forward to many more Stratolab adventures.