Thursday, August 18, 2011

How Computer Games Help Children Learn: Chapter 6

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Chapter 6 The future: Urban Science

    In chapter 6, Shaffer highlights a game called Urban Science, where players take on the role of urban planners. In some ways, it is similar to SimCity. Many elements of designing a city are the same. However, Shaffer refers to SimCity as a “God” game because players can basically do whatever they want within the game. They can build or tear down at their pleasure. There is no real accountability for their actions nor any collaboration required as part of the game structure. As a result, SimCity does not provide any opportunity for an authentic learning experience or explore what it means to really be an urban planner. Urban Science on the other hand, is designed to replicate as much as possible an urban planning training practicum. Players are asked to view the virtual world through the epistemic frame of an urban planer. Just as in the previous chapters, Shaffer examines how this game allows players to develop skills, knowledge, identities, values, and epistemology that urban planner use to think in innovative ways in order to create a comprehensive plan for the virtual community. The hope of course, is that if players can learn to think like an innovative professional and solve problems in the virtual game world, that they will learn to be able to think like an innovative professional and solve problems in the real world.

    The rest of the chapter, Shaffer talks about his hopes for the future and the role that epistemic games will play in education. For the immediate future, he sees them being utilized in “third” spaces, such as summer camps, learning resource centers or after school programs- basically a place outside of a formal instruction, but also not just “free play”. The focus should be just on learning and not selling games or trying to get students to meet standards. Shaffer feels that as more of these epistemic games are developed, they will demonstrate what happens when you “think outside of the box” and will put pressure on schools to make needed changes to how they approach teaching.

    My final thoughts on this chapter is that Shaffer makes a very compelling case for looking to games as a way to help students prepare to become innovative professionals in the future. My only concern is that all the games that he discusses in the book still don’t seem to be widely available yet, which raises some questions since the first addition of the book was written in 2006. He does talk about commercial games that are available, but then points out all they are not really epistemic games. In all the case studies, he talks about the dramatic and measurable improvement that the participants seem to have after playing the games. So if the games are proven to be this effective, why are they not available yet?  My guess is that the games weren’t ready for market yet. They probably had a ton of bugs and didn’t have the look or feel of commercial games. In order to get the games ready for market, Epistemic Games probably needed to raise a boat load of capital. Now the investors probably want a return on investment, so when the games do become available, they will probably become commercial games. It seems the best way to test the games is to have a huge number of people play the games. If it were me, I would put then up on the internet and make them free for everyone.

Monday, August 15, 2011

How Computer Games Help Children Learn: Chapter 5

    A good majority of this chapter focuses on professional identity and how thinking and working like a innovative professional can help youngsters prepare for being successful as adults. To explore this topic, Shaffer discusses his experience of teaching a journalism practicum to a group of undergrads and grad students and goes into quite a lot of detail about what it means to be a professional journalist. He breaks down several key aspects of journalistic professionalism in regards to areas such as identity, skills, knowledge, epistemology and values. The big question raised in the chapter is how does a journalist become a “smart” journalist? Shaffer first discusses a schema-based view where developing a particular set of skills, values, and knowledge are used to solve problems. As he says, “learn the right facts and rules and belief, and then apply them in the right place” (p 140).  Another aspect he discusses is situated cognition, where “newcomers learn a community’s common ways of solving doing things that members of the community do”(p. 141). Basically, he is saying that another way journalists learn to be journalists is by acting like journalists and from learning from more experienced journalists. Becoming a member of a professional community helps to develop a strong sense of professional identity. New journalists can learn to solve problems by seeing how more experienced journalists solve them. While these aspects are important, they alone won’t make a “smart” journalist. The final aspect that Shaffer raises is needing an epistemic frame to tie everything together. As he explains, “epistemic frames are about setting the terms by which actions, decisions, and claims are judged and justified”(p. 163). The final step is learning to think like a professional is  being able to make smart decisions and justify actions. It is about applying knowledge in order to solve problems, essentially thinking like a professional. is a game based on the successes of this journalism practicum. It is an epistemic game aimed at middle school students, where players are asked to take on the role of a journalist and create a series of science related news stories for an online newsmagazine. The game revolves around developing the same key elements as the journalism practicum: identity, skills, knowledge, epistemology and values. So much of journalism is about following a set of rules- both stylistic and formulaic. The game uses these rules as a framework. The game also explores how to be a journalist in the following ways: how to follow a lead, writing to formula, writing as a watchdog, writing for story, reflecting on action through war stories, news meeting, and copy editing. It also focuses on values important to journalism ethics, such as verifying sources and being objective in the writing. By the end of each of the case studies, both the journalism and middle school students developed a strong identity of being a journalist, which continued long after the case studies. Shaffer makes the point that when they act and feel like journalists, they end up thinking like journalist. As he concludes, “the point is not to train young people to be professionals, but to train them to be the kind of people  who can think like professionals when they want and need to be” (p. 165).
    My thoughts on this game is that it is probably the one game mentioned in the book that I probably wouldn’t be excited to play. Namely because a large amount of it focuses on writing. I hated writing more than anything else when I was in middle school.  Like the debate game, I think can be done without actually having the software. When I was in eighth grade, we did a month long journalism project where as a class we made a newspaper. I am sure it was not nearly as in depth as in, but we did all the same things as in the game. We developed a variety of stories and did copy editing, worked on layout and printing. My teacher used to be a journalist for many years and was known for her journalism unit. She also was the advisor for the school paper. The point I am making is that the concept of thinking and working like a professional that Shaffer makes in this chapter doesn’t seem to be as tied to the technology as in other chapters. Since he doesn’t go into much detail about the actual game interface, it is hard to know for sure, but I feel any student who works on the school paper would get the same experience as playing this game.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Computer Games Chapter 4

The Pandora Project

There are more and more subjects that students need to learn each year.  Whether or not the education system is responsible for teaching values has been debated for years but the bottom line is that students learn values in school from teachers whether intentional or not.  Having students participate in a game that helps them see more than one side of a situation is a definite life skill.  They learn what professionals think of as "important, interesting and meaningful"(105)

This game is based on a medical controversy where there are five different view points all vying to get everything their way.  The game players have to think globally and be aware of the risks and benefits of complex science based public health issues.  As I see it, the main objective of this "game" is for students to realize that in the real world you have to give a little to get what you want.  They learn to negotiate to achieve each groups "best alternative to a negotiate agreement".  They have to learn to research to see what each viewpoint's needs will be and, as in debating, they need to come up with alternatives to what other groups want as well as to what they are willing to accept as compromises.  This game was only  played for nine hours in the classroom but was motivating enough that group members spent outside time researching and debating talking points.  They learned to prioritize issues and debrief afterwards to discuss and reflect on the results.

I see the benefits of this game being the group members learning to see more than one side, to weigh the options and think about the repercussions of political actions.  The chapter pointed out how some students opinions on decisions changed after playing the game and seeing how others might view the situations.  One player said, "In order to do it right, you had to look at everything from everybody's point of view."(123)  You couldn't just have your own opinion,  you had to understand all the other opinions in order to get what was best for your group.  This educational experience wanted students to develop and understand values as well as learn the skills and knowledge to communicate and understand others values.

This was about more than just values, it was about getting learners involved in the learning and motivated to learn.  There is a big difference between this and having students pick a view point, research and then write a paper on a controversial issue.  When you can get students involved in a discussion about a topic they are interested in, they will spend more time researching and thinking and less time writing.  It isn't about the knowledge, it's about the process.  This is a more motivating process.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Chapter 3 - ZPD and Frustration

I just finished reading chapter 3. Again I, I don't really deny that games can help students learn. The research that has been presented so far are in fixed environments with controlled settings - perhaps even "special" that lends itself to different behaviors. Is this feasible in the general school setting? Would Natalie have been successful with the presence of the boys she usually flirts with? My point is not to downplay the effectiveness of these techniques as much as to say that isolated solutions don' t help the general problem that Shaffer acknowledges, "Most schools [and a lot of teachers] in the United States today celebrate declarative knowledge over procedural knowledge." Addressing this problem does not require isolating students from each other or special programs. ' Schaffer left out a component of ZPD, which is frustration. When people are presented with tasks that are too hard, or beyond their ZPD, they experience frustration and potentially give up.

In the first chapter I was really glad to see mention of the game Civilization, which was one of my favorites going through high school and college. I skimmed ahead to find something I could apply to Civics and found Chapter 6 which discusses SimCity and Urban Science. I'm now disappointed because while the chapter goes into detail about the deficits of SimCity and touts Urban Science, the latter is not available. I wound up on the Epistemic Games website to find that these monument games "were designed to be tested not distributed." So, fantastic...there is isolated research on the effectiveness of video games that only exist for the purpose of that isolated research.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Computer Games Chapter Three: Escher's World

Chapter three focuses on how kids can use game situations to participate in complex tasks that adults accomplish after years of study and practice.  The author looked at Escher’s World, a game that he created in which middle school students who had not had geometry instruction used a program called Geometer’s Sketchpad to create images based on mathematical principals far beyond their classroom knowledge.  The kids went through a four week course where they were treated like young architecture students, and were expected to be as independent as possible, with minimal adult interference. 

One of the interesting things about this chapter was the math problem example at the beginning.  It was a basic geometry problem followed by an in-depth explanation of how to find the answer.  The explanation was dry, difficult to follow, and it was supposed to be.  This was followed by a story of a girl who participated in Escher’s World, and came to the answer of the problem via a completely different route, yet still understanding the basic principles that make it true.   We found this whole example somewhat ironic, considering the author does this to us to a small degree when he goes off on his long-winded descriptions of the Oxford Studio, an architecture studio course at MIT after which parts of Escher’s World were modeled.  We both had the same reaction: confusion as to which program we were discussing here and there, followed by an “aha” when we figured out we were experiencing some of what “Melanie” from the chapter had.

Escher’s World shows how you can definitely take certain games and use their structure to teach a separate instructional concept in a real-world situation.  There are other examples that discuss some of the other Escher’s World participants, but they mainly get the same points across: a.  You do not need to directly instruct about a concept to teach it.  Using games to teach concepts is just (if not more) effective, like using Roller Coaster Tycoon to teach business concepts or using Bridge Builder to teach Physics.  b.  Teaching this way helps kids internalize their skills so that they will be able to use them again in separate situations.  c.  Innovation can not and should not be standardized.  If you want a kid to be creative, you can not tell him or her how to do it.  

Mike and Erin

Kennedy Project Proposal

I apologize for this being late, but I've just had the last of my house guests leave and then my computer died and I had to buy a new one. I am loving my new Mac Mini though!

I've gone back and forth several times for my project, and I'm still not clear on the expectations at my new job and what my schedule will be like so it has been hard to really get into something, but I think I have at least the start of something that I will see through.

I would like to have the students do current events on their own. I don't think we will have time to really go in depth about them during regular class time so I will have them create their own current events virtual notebook. They can create it in Google, iWeb, Noteshare, etc. We will determine the requirements and the grading together as a class. They will have to find the required articles on their own and comment on them based on the requirements we set up. They will be on their own to determine how to present the information and will have to troubleshoot their own issues within whichever platform they choose. I will have periodic check-ins as the trimester goes and then the entire product will be due at the end of the trimester. If it works well, I will do it again for the next trimester.

For the transparency part of the project I plan on keeping a class blog and website so that parents can see what we are doing in both social studies and ELA classes.

So that's that!

Task Rabbit

You can't judge something if you aren't on the same wavelength. Using the internet with innovation requires redefinition of how we interact.

Task Rabbit Got something you want done? Put it on Task Rabbit.

I read this article on Wired and wondered, can we do this in our class room?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Computer Games Chapter 2

I am combining ideas from Jesse and myself in this post as he is away on vacation with spotty internet access.

Chapter 2 discussed using a computer game, digital zoo, to help students put their problem solving skills to use. The study discussed analyzed what the students learned through this game and how they learned it. I found it most interesting that the retention of the information was increased. It seemed that because the students were using their own discovery processes the information was more personal to them. I really liked how the process encouraged them to make mistakes and to learn and grown from those experiences. It was interesting how the point was made that in a simulation environment all students bring their own ideas and experiences to the environment and the game provides the, "framework in which we make sense of what happens when we interact with the simulation." (69) I think this is why these experiences are so powerful. We have the framework that helps us connect and build our understanding.

Jesse noticed the following in chapter 2:

I don't think that, most teachers, are the problem.  I believe that most teacher's are aware of the "factory" style education that is continuously employed but are pitted against mandates for standardized achievement indicators, and cost cutting administrators/school boards.  Socialization is still a major component of education.  Teacher's would love to employ strategies such as presented in sodaconstruction, however are faced with parameters that make this a challenge.  I also question some of the research that was presented.  The sample size seemed very small, and though the group was composed of "disadvantaged" students, there seemed to be degree of motivation.  Lev Vygotsky, referenced in the book also developed the concept of Zone of Proximal Development, where students learn when new concepts are neither too simple, resulting in boredom, nor to difficult, resulting in frustration.  Non of the students reported reached a frustration point, which I find to be unrealistic.  Surely, there are plenty of students who would be disengaged by the projects because of the difficulty involved.  While I see lots of merit in the programs that were discussed, I can also see how these computer simulations have replaced labs and experiments that demonstrate the same concepts.  In short, I don't think its the technology that will advance teaching, I think it is the ingenuity of the teacher.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Cool Tools

This a great blog with tons of tools.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Cathy Atwood Project Proposal

Digital Portfolios
I want to implement digital portfolios for the students of the Brewer Community School. I think that reflecting on the work they do will help them see what they are learning and apply it differently.  I am planning on having them use google sites and it will be contained within our google apps so that I won’t have concerns about safety. It can be seen by their teachers and should be able to be shared with parents. I want to have them link the work they have in their portfolios to the Common Core standard it applies to as well as to the reflection they write on their work.
I intend to use many different kinds of media for them to showcase their work including videos as well as photos.
There will be new skills they will need to learn especially as 7th graders new to laptops. I intend to have them make video casts to show other students, from this year or future years, how to do things.
I have talked to several other teachers on my team and they are willing and excited to work on digital portfolios as well.

 This will be an ongoing project and I will consider it done when students graduating from Brewer High School have a digital portfolio that showcases their learning for their school years.  

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Erin Morrell - Project Proposal

Project Description
At the beginning of the school year, the freshman classes that I teach do a unit on short stories and elements of fiction.  My plan thus far is to assign one element of fiction to a pair of students, one partner from each of the two sections of the class.  The students will prepare an informative web page using a template that I will create for them in Google Docs, and each one will present the page to his or her individual class.  This requires both students to be involved in every step of the production of the project, and it also presents an element of the unknown to the kids.  Their work will be presented to a class of which they are not a member.  They will have very little knowledge of the chemistry of the class and of the other students’ reactions to their work.  Hopefully this will help to motivate these students to deliver their very best work.  This asynchronous pairing will foster a dependence on technology for the completion of the project, and will help students realize the potential for using Google Docs in a way that they might not have previously thought of.

Throughout the unit, I will consistently update my blog to display some of the students’ work, photos of them working, and examples of what they have done so far.  Because the Google domain in which the students are required to work is already set up to display the students’ full names, I am not able to require students to publish their web pages for public viewing.  However, I do plan to require them to share their pages with their other teachers, and will require them to log in from home to show their work to their parents and guardians.  I will be sending emails (and where necessary, letters) home to parents and guardians to ensure that they have been given consistent access to their students’ work.  If necessary, I will make printouts of the web pages available for parents without Internet access.  My hope is to have the parents give me feedback on the students’ projects and progress in my class.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Project Proposal

My course load isn't exact yet so my project has to be something I can adapt to different areas. Since current events is applicable, in my opinion, to all social studies, I'm thinking of have the students create their own web-based almanac for the year in reviews. I had done some looking at the official world almanac and I believe the project can be broken down into different categories so that students can follow something they are interested in. At this point I'm more familiar with Blogging though I have toyed around with Weebly and Prezi as well. Its possible I suppose to incorporate either or both and get the students doing it.

Computer Games Ch.1

Stupid publishing feature on Blogger...this was meant to post yesterday...

The Debating Game

The introduction of How Computer Games Help Children Learn talks about how computers let us work with simulations of the world which we wouldn't necessarily be able to do otherwise. It also defines epistemology as the study of what it means to know something and therefore epistemic games as ones that are about learning to think in innovative ways. Our world values innovation, not standardization so therefore epistemic games are part of the educational solution. 


Shaffer defines 'game' as collaborative, ongoing and not necessarily connected to winning. He said they should also be personally and socially meaningful and have a set of rules to follow. 

He also says that games allow kids to live in worlds that they are curious about, or afraid of, or want to try out in order to understand the rules, roles and consequences therein.  

The Debating Game 

The Debating Game is a role playing game where students learned to think, analyze and act in a way that is authentic to the 'real-world'. This activity took place before students read about an event in class. A small group of students took on both the pro and con side of a debate on American involvement during the Spanish American war. Other students in the class watched the debate. The teacher served as the mediator and the other students provided detailed, written feedback to the debaters, which made the process authentic. Debaters were expected to use sources to back up their arguments and to follow the guidelines set up by the teacher. This game taught the students to think like historians - not 'if' a source is biased, but 'how' it is and to use that information to shape their arguments. 

My Thoughts

I agree with the assertion that it should be our job as educators to teach children to think. That is my number one goal. Shaffer laid out a solid argument for how 'The Debating Game' does just that. I was very intrigued by the idea as a social studies teacher myself. I've had numerous current events debates, and even some historical debates but they have always taken place after studying a topic in-depth. I am intrigued by the idea of using it as a pre-teaching activity and am anxious to try it myself and see how it goes. 

What I particularly liked about this activity was that it had students analyzing multiple sources of information, reading, writing, speaking, and reflecting all in one activity. What I failed to see was the tie in to computers here. You could use the computer to research or to write the evaluations, but the computer isn't doing anything other than substituting what a pad of paper and a library could do. Did anyone else find that weird? (or maybe I'm just missing something)