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.


  1. Never tell a person HOW to do something but WHAT and they will surprise you with their INGENUITY General George S Patton

    I used this concept teaching Colonization to my 8th grade Social Studies class. We used 486 PC desktop I cobbled together to play Conquest of the New World. They had to colonize an island competing agains 5 other group in the their class. They had to find geographic items (MTs, Rivers) setup a colony in best location the mine, lumber, trade, harvest by building the manufacturing in the best place. They had to use defend or diplomacy to interact with other students colony or natives in the area. (ones who only fought battles lost quickly and ones who only were 100% peaceful lost as well)

    Beside the technology (remember older computers with old network connection) the actually game play was great. Students still come up to me today and talk about what they did an learned. *Being an older game it was turned based which actually was better then newer stuff where can continuously play made them have a start and stop point.

    I found that there was less frustration because they were willing to work in groups and work through issues on their own since it was a game

  2. I really agreed with the last part of the chapter. Not that I didn't the first part but the difference in importance between knowing and thinking really made me think. As I teach math, there is more and more controversy over doing computation on paper vs using a calculator. It's a tough one because while our students do need number sense, does it make sense for them to spend a lot of time doing the work on paper or is it more important to know what processes to use to get the answer.
    Our students could probably not write the programs to test strength of constructions, and could spend hours in a lab building and testing and get so frustrated that they would give up before reaching an understanding. Making things easier to accomplish can make them go further in their understandings. I really liked the end of the section on page 65 where it said, “What matters in the digital age is not learning to do things a computer can do for you but learning to use the computer to do things that neither you nor it could do alone.”

  3. As I read this chapter, I kept having the urge to substitute some content area for computer game. Shaffer is saying what all progressives say about learning. True understanding is constructed thru authentic activities. Cathy emphasized the, too often misunderstood, difference between knowing and thinking. I took away the author's emphasis on professional vision, seeing things thru a professionals eyes and using a professional vocabulary.

    Vocabulary is often the key to understanding a text and having a fruitful conversation (being able to ask the right question, in the right words). Shaffer points out that professional vocabulary provides a scaffolding for a way of thinking. The vocabulary provides a language for discussing, comparing, evaluating.

    An example might be this: It would be very hard to discuss woodworking if you did not understand the word "grain". Whether you are staining, cutting, sanding or selecting the right piece of lumber, grain comes into play. Once we start thinking about grain, the structure of plants becomes important. The weather, seasonal conditions, soil composition all begin to become more important. I think the author is making the point that games allow us to indulge in simulations that make the unaccessible possible and relevant.

    Going back to my first comment, I am reading Focus, by Shomker. He make many of the same points. That is, use methods, materials and practices that are most likely to achieve a clearly defined set of learning outcomes.

    One last quote: "the ability to use specialized language is a predictor of success". (pg 61) I believe that 1) having a large reservoir of vocabulary and 2) being able to choose the most suitable word, is a huge predictor of success. That is where teachers come in.

  4. I agree with the open-ended aspect of this type of learning. This past year I told students that I didn't care how they reported a book that they read to me only that it had certain items within it. It could be a song, a website, a play, a paper, a game, etc. They were confused at first, but in the end I got a lot of cool products that I would never have thought of.

    I also try to work with the idea of "cross-functional teams" so that students can all feel like they are contributing to the success of the group. This type of work also reduces absences because kids know that their peers are depending on them to be there.

  5. I also really liked how kids playing Digital Zoo were encouraged to make mistakes and learn from them. I tell my students that when they take their vocab quizzes they should NEVER leave a question blank, because I give partial credit, but some of my brightest kids refuse to guess. They would rather know in advance that they're going to get it wrong than wonder about what their score is going to be! It drives me crazy!!

  6. Great point about the importance of vocabulary. In essence, we are all literacy teachers.

  7. It has been a long time since I had to do any serious math. I am now prepping to take the MATs and have been reviewing math concepts as part of that process. It is amazing how much I have forgotten. I used to be somewhat of a math whiz, now I pretty much feel I need to start over from the beginning. To help me prep for my test, I started going through reviews of algebra, geometry, trigonometry, calculus, etc. Boy was that dreadful. I was barely making and progress, but then I stumbled upon a few math games. Now those I could do because they kept my attention and turned doing math into solving puzzles. The main point of every puzzle is that you are faced with an obstacle and are challenged to find the solution.

    I think that is what a game like Digital Zoo creates is a series of obstacles, which progressively gets harder each step. That is how almost every video game works, you need to beat the level in order to advance. I think that method is now so ingrained with kids. The early level almost always are about learning game control, basically a tutorial for how to operate in the game environment. I am sure Digital Zoo is complicated, but so are the majority of all new video games. Have you seen how many buttons there now are on a typical game controller? You basically need to use both hands, 6-8 fingers, and unlimited combinations of pressing buttons. Kids these days have the finger dexterity of a guitar aficionado. The point I am making is that if the game is designed well, then the first few level are for practice and you learn through trial and error. They give you hints and guidance and you don't move on until you beat the level. Kids who never play video games might have a harder time because the whole concept is unfamiliar. It is probably true for adults who never played video games. I never heard my father so frustrated as when he tries to play a game like super mario brothers. Even still, my guess is that kids would have no trouble learning Digital Zoo. I would even go so far as to say second and third graders would be pumping out fully functioning creatures in a matter of a few months of playing.