I’ve heard of James Gee all over the place but I’ve never delved into his ideas before. I stumbled upon this interview with him on Edutopia and he very succinctly describes how video games are little learning environments.
My friend Lois Huang just told me about an excellent book—The Seven Laws of Teaching by John Milton Gregory. Published in 1884, the seven laws are things every teacher knows such as “Never begin a class exercise until the attention of the class has be secured.” But the way Gregory lays them all out simply and concisely is very useful, and his discussions of the various facets and implications of his laws make it essential.
Later in the book, Gregory talks more about the mind of the learner such as: “The pupil must reproduce in his own mind the truth to be learned.” This idea is the essence of constructivism which I suppose Piaget was formulating at around the same time (late 1800’s). And this is exactly what I’m working on in our educational video games. The work is to translate these ideas about teaching into the realm of video games. The seven laws are about how a teacher and learner work together. But a video game can’t watch and understand the student like a teacher can. It does however have infinite patience, and always works one-on-one with the student.
Scott Brodie in writes Gamasutra about creating more meaning in games by using life experience, distilling it to a core truth, and building your game around that. Brodie applies this idea for making games more fun, but it could be used to make games more educational as well such as mathematics or problem solving.
Here’s a good article on Teach for America’s studies on their teacher’s effectiveness and what they now look for in new hires.
GameCareer.com has an article by Lindsay Grace in Educational Fantasy. This articles explores the idea of the fantasy setting and its necessary role in creating an engaging and entertaining experience. “[Fantasy] is probably one of the greatest single challenges facing educational game design. How can the practical matters of education intersect the enveloping fantasy we expect from games?” The examples of Logo, Oregon Trail and Fantasy Football reminds the reader that educational messages are more exciting in an enhanced and engrossing setting.
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.
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