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  1. Video Game Level Design Reflects Challenges in Education

    May 5, 2011 by Josh Caldwell

    Thanks to my PLN, I scan through a ton of education articles every day, parsing much more information than I could hope to encounter on my own. Sometimes, though, the best finds come when pursuing my other interests. Sometimes I just can’t help but view everything in my life through my teacher-glasses.

    Case in point, Shaun Inman’s post about video game level design.

    Good level design coaxes a player into first discovering then utilizing their abilities in a variety of situations. It requires balancing revelation and repetition.

    Mentally I replace “level” with “course” and “player” with “student” – all of the sudden I’m back to thinking about my students (how do they get into my head like that???).

    Shaun goes on to discuss the process of introducing and reinforcing basic skills and game parameters before presenting the player with tasks that require more sophisticated interactions. So, by gradually introducing new obstacles, players (students) are allowed to experience successful mastery of a skill before moving on to another. Then, just as players master the core skills, they’ve got to discover how those skills interact with other game elements. All of these building blocks have to be mastered and reinforced before a player can beat the game. You fail to master a skill, you don’t move on, you don’t win. The game doesn’t keep going without you, instead it ask you to practice until you’re reading to progress – at your own pace.

    What does this approach reveal about the learning aspect of games? Game design necessitates a balance of success and challenge; games that are near-impossible to succeed are no fun (except to the die-hards) and games that are too easy provide no engaging challenge. You can’t think about the final goal without deeply considering how to build in the frequent, achievable-yet-challenging goals that take you there.

    The message to educators – we need to spend more time on the level design. We need to teach players to run, jump, and shoot before we toss them at the final boss. We need to allow players to discover the parameters, reinforce skills, and make their own way through the levels. We can’t force a student a student onto level 2 when they haven’t mastered the skills to beat level 1.

    The article ends with some questions that will be very familiar to educators.

    How long should each level be? With what frequency do I introduce new concepts and threats? At what stage do single threat introductory screens become patronizing rather than educational? Repetition is necessary for learning but at what point does the lesson become too repetitive?

    I have a feeling that trial and error is the name of the game from this point on and a hope that experience will eventually start answering those questions before the handwringing sets in.

    [via shauninman.com]


  2. MIT’s “Vanished” Game Asks Middle Schoolers to Be Scientists

    April 25, 2011 by Josh Caldwell

    Vanished

    Saw this pop through on Twitter and I knew it needed a little more than just a RT. MIT has created an interactive game that combines science, anthropology, and mystery to get middle school students engaged in scientific problem-solving and critical-analysis.

    “Vanished” is a two-month-long game, which debuted the week of April 4 and stems from an initial scenario revealed in recent video messages on the site. The premise is that people living in the future have contacted us in the present, to answer a question: What event occurred between our time and theirs that led to the loss of civilization’s historical records? Students must decode clues in hidden messages, and in response find and provide information about Earth’s current condition, such as temperature and species data, to help people in the future deduce what wound up happening.

    I kinda want to play this myself – I just hope this is the first of many such realtime games from MIT (how about something I can use in my LA classes, please).

    [via MIT]


  3. TIL A New Word

    April 20, 2011 by David

    Today I learned about a word I had never heard before: pseudo-teaching (PT). I came across this term at a great blog Action/Reaction that has an entire thread devoted to it here. This word is used to describe something that looks like teaching, sounds like teaching, might even smell like teaching (but that’s probably the students …) but isn’t actually teaching. So how do you know? How do you find out if you are teaching or pseudo-teaching?

    Ask yourself, “What is the purpose of teaching?”

     

     

    I’ll wait …

     

     

    If you came up with something close to “so the students will learn” then we’re thinking along the same lines. But now here is another question, “How do you know when the student has learned something?”

    That’s the kicker. We might be used to students telling us about how boring or fun a lesson was or if they thought they learned something but how do we really know?

    Assess them. We’ll hold off with the caveat that the assessment must be aligned to the learning targets or intended outcomes so let’s just pretend for the sake of argument that it’s a great assessment that shows what the student knows and can do, or not, as the case may be.

    So back to the original question of how to pick out pseudo-teaching vs. teaching:

    1. Pre-assessment
    2. Instruction/practice
    3. Post-assessment

    How effective was Step #2? What was the change between 1 & 3? If the change was small (or even negative) it was probably pseudo-teaching.


  4. Socrative – My Initial Reactions (and frustrations)

    April 18, 2011 by Josh Caldwell

    After running across the slick web-based feedback tool Socractive, I knew I had to give it a test run with my Freshmen. While Socrative is clearly designed small screen mobile devices (smart phone, iPod, etc), our district unfortunately doesn’t allow students to use their personal electronic devices on the network, so I couldn’t take advantage of all of the tiny web browsers floating around in my students’ pockets and backpacks. Instead, I took the kids to the computer lab to be my guinea pigs – since Socrative is a web app, it should work on any device with a modern web browser.

    I was excited right from the start – Socrative was crazy easy to get going with, both for myself and my students. No setup, or student usernames, or navigating around to find the assignment, just a simple interface and a single “room number” to get in. I decided to go with a Short Answer question, which seemed to work a treat, right up until a student asked if he could resubmit his answer.

    That’s when cracks started to appear in the veneer.

    There was no apparent way to allow students to resubmit a question, so I figured I would just start a second question for the student to use. That turned out to be a Bad Idea; as soon as I opened up a new question, the old one disappeared in a puff of bits, and with it, the student responses.

    Whoops.

    Fortunately, my students are used to the guinea pig treatment and willingly, if not without  frustration, tackled the question a second time. As the responses floated in, I noticed that students who had already submitted their feedback were stuck with a “Waiting for teacher to start an activity…” screen, and I couldn’t find any way to queue up a second activity for those who were waiting to move on (I certainly wasn’t going to go poking around and risk loosing all of my responses again). But the real pain came after the students had left. You see, I had intended to actually use the responses I’d gathered, but apparently responses to real-time questions aren’t saved in Socrative, so when your browser crashes because of your obsessive need to leave a hundred tabs open “just in case,” all those wonderful student responses just dissolve into the ether. Ugh.

    My experience may sound bleak, but I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet; there’s a good bit of potential there. For a class with more readily available technology access (particularly a 1:1 class) the ease of quick feedback offered by Socrative’s real-time data collection would be a godsend compared to standalone feedback devices. For those of us who have to schedule our lab time a week or more out, it’s more a question of how best to adapt. Given that I intended to keep my feedback for later evaluation, and that I wanted students to move through a set of questions at their own pace, I probably should have set up a quiz instead of using the on-demand questions (note to the folks @ Socrative, it would still be nice if the responses to on-demand activities were saved somewhere). I’d love to hear from teachers using Socrative with a class set of iPods or iPads – that’s where I see its real potential as a “clicker” killer.


  5. Education Should Be More Like Video Games

    April 14, 2011 by Josh Caldwell

    Achievement Unlocked

    Differentiated instruction, intrinsic motivation, meaningful rewards, achievable challenges, corrective feedback – sounds like a laundry list of traits associated with Good Teaching. It also sounds a whole lot like video games. Neurologist Judy Willis makes that case that video games can be not only powerful learning tools, but also a model for classroom instruction.

    Video games with levels of play allow the player to progress quickly through early levels if the gamer already has the skill needed. Gamers reportedly make errors 80% of the time, but the most compelling games give hints, cues, and other feedback so players’ brains have enough expectation of dopamine reward to persevere.

    Try, fail, learn through feedback, succeed, achieve reward. So why are kids willing to persevere through a challenging game, but not through a challenging school assignment?

    Good games give players opportunities for experiencing intrinsic reward at frequent intervals, when they apply the effort and practice the specific skills they need to get to the next level. The games do not require mastery of all tasks and the completion of the whole game before giving the brain the feedback for dopamine boosts of satisfaction.

    Who has the time to provide the kind of constant, and automated, feedback and reward we get from video games? Willis suggests individual goal setting based on incremental level progression.

    Free bar graphs downloaded from the Internet can be filled in by students as they record and see evidence of their incremental goal progress. In contrast to the system of recognition delayed until a final product is completed, graphing reveals the incremental progress evidence throughout the learning process.

    Forget gold stars, I think I’ll start providing Xbox Live style Achievements…

    [via Edutopia]


  6. My Edmodo Wish List

    April 13, 2011 by Josh Caldwell

    As I sit in the lab, watching my students engaging in a discussion on Edmodo, I’m struck by how quickly one site has become the hub around which my classes spin (see my previous post about how Edmodo has changed my classroom). I’m constantly thinking of new ways to make old assignments more vibrant, social, and collaborative. Edmodo is great, but it could be better. Here are a few modifications that would take Edmodo to the next level:

    Gradebook - Here’s a great example of the balance of simplicity. The Edmodo gradebook doesn’t try to do too much – no weighting or custom scales – but it’s almost too simple to be really useful, so here’s what I’d like to see:

    • Student IDs – The gradebook has an export feature, but my desktop gradebook uses the student ID as an import key, so export/import doesn’t work for me (and most others, I imagine).
    • Custom rubrics – I use a 4 point rubric for writing assignments, so it would be nice if my students just saw MS (Meets Standard) instead of a score.
    • Maybe the best solution would be to leave the built-in gradebook as-is, but allow users to replace it with a full featured gradebook. Integration with other services is something Edmodo does really well, so why not save yourself the hassle and outsource your gradebook (might I suggest LearnBoost).

    Calendar - It’s a nice idea, and I love that it automatically adds my assignments, but here’s what I need to really make it useful:

    • Make it public – My school has a web page where all teachers keep a calendar of their assignment due dates, so it would be great if I could embed a public version of my Edmodo calendar right there, at least as a start.
    • Enable CalDAV – Even better, just let me synch the Edmodo calendar with my other calendars! I’ve got calendars in Zimbra, Google, iCal and Edmodo; so far, the only one that doesn’t play nicely with the rest is Edmodo.
    • Alternatively, scrap the built-in calendar all together and let me choose an external calendar service (Google) to embed and update.

    Other Bits - All of the other little ideas floating around in my head:

    • Facebook-style “like” button – While I encourage thoughtful and constructive commentary on posts, there are some times when a solid thumbs up says it all. My students have suggested a “gold star” button, which I think is brilliant!
    • Sticky posts – When the wall gets busy, the important posts get pushed down into the abyss. A simple “sticky” check box would allow me to keep assignments or important posts visible until they are no longer pertinent.
    • A “Posts from the instructor” button – There’s no easy, built-in way for students to only view posts from their teacher(s). I’ve gotten around this using tags, but the system breaks down quickly when I forget to tag a post (which I do fairly often).
    • SSO – Make Edmodo a true one-stop-shop. I already embed Glogs, Animotos and Quizlets, how much better would life be if logging into Edmodo also logged you into all of those sites you use with Edmodo?

    If you’ve got features you’d like to see (of if you think my ideas are just plain batty), leave a comment.


  7. Resources for Teaching About Spaaaaccceeee

    April 12, 2011 by Josh Caldwell

    Image courtesy Purpleslog on Flickr

    I love space.

    I wanted to be an astronaut when I was a kid.

    I still do.

    There are many reasons to be jealous of Science teachers, but the opportunity to speculate about space exploration with wide-eyed kids has got to be near the top of the list. So, in honor of the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s trip into the cosmos, here’s a list of the space-related web resources that I might use if I taught Science.

    See What Yuri Saw – Astonishing HD video shot from the International Space Station combined with actual audio from Gagarin’s mission.

    Journey to the Moon – Snagfilm video

    A New View of the Galaxy – Exclusive Kepler data visualization by Jer Thorp

    Extreme Planet Makeover – Interactive planet builder

    Celestia – Free Open Source space simulation app that runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux

    WorldWide Telescope – Virtual telescope that runs as a desktop app on Windows or in the browser via Silverlight

    We Choose the Moon – Interactive history of the Apollo 11 launch

    Ascent – Video commemorating 29 years of shuttle launches

    Go for Launch – Time lapse video of the preparation and launch of the Discovery

    NASA for Education – A vast expanse of resources, straight from the horses mouth


  8. A Big-Picture Approach to Teaching Media Literacy

    April 12, 2011 by Josh Caldwell

    I’m currently working on Media/Information Literacy with my freshmen; it’s one of my favorite units because it is both constantly changing yet always pertinent. This is my third time through, and every time around I’ve approached the topic from a different angle. I’ve got enough material to do a full year-long class, so it’s always a challenge to pare it down to the essentials.

    This year I’ve decided go for a broad overview with a culminating research project that asks students to teach a chosen topic more in-depth. Hopefully, this will let me broach more subjects than in the past, while giving the students an opportunity to pursue further learning in areas that really interest them. Provided here are some of the resources and activities I’ve tried out in this unit. I’ll update this list as I go along. (more…)


  9. Edmodo Delivers on the Classroom-Without-Walls Promise

    April 5, 2011 by Josh Caldwell

    One of the great promises of educational technology is to “expand learning beyond the classroom walls.” Now, that can mean a lot of things, but I’ve long thought of it as a way to transform my paltry 55 minutes a day into a 24/7, full access, virtual learning extravaganza (okay, that may be a bit of a naïve exaggeration).

    To that end, I’ve tried all manner of tools to serve as my digital extension of my classroom, anything from full-fledged VLEs like Moodle, to wikis, blogs, and forums before finally discovering Edmodo. All have been successful to some extent, but nothing has come as close to my ideal of a true boundless learning environment as Edmodo; I’m regularly astonished by how much of their free-time my students are willing to spend on there! (more…)


  10. Socrative – Realtime feedback from mobile devices

    April 4, 2011 by Josh Caldwell

    It’s time we start reevaluating our personal technology use policies in school (see the Speak Up 2010 report for some interesting stats). In the past, I’ve tried sites like Text the Mob to use student devices for realtime classroom feedback. Texting works fine, but setting up a question and getting kids to text the right number is cumbersome, at best.

    Socrative is a site that both simplifies the process and expands the feature set of mobile device feedback. Teachers can ask multiple choice, true/false or short answer questions as well as assigning quizzes, games and exit tickets. Students don’t need an account, they just plug in the teacher’s room number to login. Because it’s a web app, Socrative can be used from any device with a web browser and internet access. This opens up access to students with iPods/iPads (assuming your district allows them network access, which mine does not) but doesn’t provide access to normal (non-smart) phones. I definitely plan on kicking the tires when I get back from Spring Break, and I’ll post back here when I do.