USN Lower School Technology!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Happy December 2008! Fun, Games, and Learning

As we sneak into the last days of 2008 (can you believe it?), several grades "work" with "play."

It's long been understood that learning can be enhanced with the thoughtfully applied use of well-designed game technologies. Anyone who has never had an extended conversation with a child immersed in Pokemon game culture, for example, should rush out and do so a.s.a.p.: No one is assigning children homework in understanding the particular attack power or defensive worth of any given character card. No one is quizzing them. No one is making them take notes. But I can recall sitting through conversations with my 9 year old (now nearly 13 and more interested in guitar tablature then trading card games) that absolutely floored me with his (self-)learned expertise.

There is a stunning paper, one that's been around for quite some time, actually, called "Eat Your Vegetables and Do Your Homework: A Design-Based Investigation of Enjoyment and Meaning in Learning," by Barab, Arici, and Jackson at Indiana University, that was a groundbreaking treatise, raising the questions like "How does school learning become tinged with a negative connootation? What occurs to shift the perspective from 'learning as play' to 'learning as work?' Is it possible to reconnect the two and do so even in the context of schools?"

These are significant questions, especially when considering that the total number of graduating Bachelors of Science candidates in Science and Engineering in all of the United States hovers around 450,000 graduates. Compare that with around 1,100,000 users of Runescape, a popular computer game, and over 10,000,000 World of Warcraft players. It's all about the scope, according to Merrilea Mayo, Director, Future of Learning Initiatives, at the Kauffman Foundation. Serious game design holds serious potentials for the future of learning. (Click image for full-size graph)

All that said, I'm announcing this week that I'm crafting our 4th grade students' entry into Quest Atlantis, a virtual world environment designed by the aforesaid Dr. Barab and teams of educators from across the globe, and based out of Indiana University. I'm so impressed by what I've learned so far about QA, as I will henceforth call it, that I've spent the equivalent of two working days in professional development training and countless hours researching, discussing, and planning in order to bring this opportunity to my students. I'll be sending home consent letters next week and hoping they all return by the beginning of January, when we'll ease on into the world and begin Questing! More on that later!

The 3rd graders began working in a game this week as well. It's called "Multiflyer" and it is an online game dedicated to reinforcing basic math fact skills. A complex backstory immerses the player in the mission of "obtaining coordinates" for the next planet in the solar system by solving multiplication problems at the "easy," "medium," or "hard" level (player-chosen) and stops along the way present facts about the solar system. I have also been looking into a math-facts game software called "TimezAttack," and it's in the testing stages in the lab. Look for more on that later as well.

2nd graders this week went into for a tic-tac-toe game involving multi-digit addition and subtraction, and they will be playing "Math Mayhem" next week. This online game requires quick entry of basic addition problem solutions and allows players to compete against others in distant locations. It's safe, compelling, and fun. I just played against six others and my "Scotty" only came in second. Was there another teacher online? A college student looking to best little kids? It doesn't matter: I had fun and I got practice with my facts that was certainly much more friendly to my spirit than sitting at a table with a stack of flash cards might be.

It's certainly not boring in the lab these days...

Kinder and 1st graders are creating pictures for me to deliver to Boowa (actually to my friend Jason, the creator and owner of, so that they might have a chance of being displayed in January's online art gallery. We're using Drawing for Children and the students have a choice of creating a picture "of" Boowa and Kwala or one just "for" them. I believe in choice. Here is an example of each:

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