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Friday, April 25, 2008

Computer Games and Learning

Frankly, I'd like to play more games in the classroom... the idea of using gaming in the classroom is something that's really grabbed my attention of late. In particular, two specific types of games:

  1. I've always been a big fan of simulation games, and the Civilization series is one of the best - raise your tribe from infancy to a powerful nation by researching technology, building cities and armies and public improvements, all the while keeping peace (or not) with your neighbors.

    I've stumbled across several educators who discuss using Civilization as a teaching tool for World History or World Geography. In my school, I'm working with those same subjects to pilot some lessons for using Civilization-type games as possible teaching tools. Because our teachers feel like they don't have a lot of room to move around the standards, I'm having to come up with some small-scale lesson plans. (If you've ever played Civilization, you know it's a multiple-hour, if not day, endeavor.)

  2. My family got our first computer back in the day before Windows, before graphics - but that didn't stop me from playing games. I've always loved interactive fiction, especially the Infocom titles like Zork or the Enchanter series. Interactive fiction (IF) is making a bit of an underground resurgence - not as a viable commercial option, but rather as a labor of love, as a throwback to games that were a little more mentally challenging, and as a new genre of literature(?). I've found a couple of articles discussing the use of IF in the context of language learners - delayed readers, or ESOL students.

    I'm interested in working with our ESOL teachers on possibly introducing some IF games to help support their students' comprehension and learning of English. It's possible that I might need to write some custom-made games over the summer... thank goodness for Graham Nelson and his Inform 7 authoring software.
Is anyone else using gaming in the classroom - particularly, certain mainstream games perhaps not intended for the classroom? Let me know!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Moving the Vision Along...

Wow... going away for a week for Spring Break sure causes one's Google Reader to fill up with posts. Sorry I've been out without a post, but now that I'm back to work, I've got plenty of stuff to catch up on.

One thing that caught my eye today was a graphic on a post at the Change Agency about School 2.0. The graphic itself was a copy of the School 2.0 Ecosystem map, which illustrates how connected the school of the future might be. It's a very interesting artifact, with examples of how technology can help schools connect to other schools, other students and teachers, workplace professionals, and the community at large - not to mention how the "learning environment" becomes more than just the classroom/school itself.

It provides some great food for thought - but not necessarily any complete answers. While it does point out some important things to strive for - such as the essential need of building capacity, the empowering and challenging of faculty, and the constant mastery assessment of students - each district will need to use its own measures to determine how best to meet this vision.

Here's what I think the really challenging part is: in order to move towards this vision - to really embrace and adopt "school 2.0" - schools, districts, teachers and everyone concerned will need to rethink their perception of what "school" is. We've been using this compulsory education model for so long, it's going to take a herculean effort to uproot it quickly OR a very long time to uproot it gradually. And by doing it gradually, we run into the very problem raised by the Change Agency blog post - how quickly do districts need to move towards this vision to achieve it before the elements of this vision become obsolete?

As I've mentioned before, will we find ourselves achieving school 2.0, only to find out that the new current standard is now school 3.0?

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Students and PowerPoint, Part 2

Part II - After the Lesson - April 3

Last week, I told you I was working with a history teacher on improving her students' PowerPoint presentations. This week, I was with them in the computer lab for a couple of days while they worked on them, and then sat in on about half the presentations in class. I'm going to send the teacher the links to these two articles so she can share them with her classes (if she likes), so this is both a recap for readers and a list of comments to the students:
  1. First of all, I was very impressed with the majority of the PowerPoints. Students had taken it to heart that the slides don't need to be filled with text. Several of them used very vibrant images, and some included animations to help emphasize their points. For the most part, text found on the slides was the important text, and was not all of the text. Good job, guys!
  2. What I felt was lacking - and this is no real fault of the students - was skill at presenting. Even though the presentations were fine, it was clear that the presenters were a little uncomfortable speaking in front of their peers, or didn't know or review the material. While, for the most part, they didn't read off of the PowerPoint slides (the worst of all presenter sins), many read directly from their notes (the next-worst).

    I completely understand the need to do this, though - very few people can be expected to become an expert on a topic in three days (plus a weekend), especially with six other classes to worry about - some of which may have been deemed by students to be more important than U.S. History. Perhaps what the teacher and I should've built into the lesson is how the students should prepare for the presentation itself -
    • reviewing the material ahead of time;
    • how to address the audience, not just the teacher (or the board);
    • engage the audience - don't just talk to them, talk with them (even if it's only once)
    • looking like you know what you're talking about;
    • practice with your partner ahead of time (even just 5 minutes) so you know how your presentation will go.

    These are just a few suggestions I'd like to pass on to the students. Overall, guys, I still think you did a very good job, and I appreciate you letting me come in to your classroom and work with you.
  3. Personally, I think one really useful element to add would have been to video the students giving their presentations, and then let them watch and critique themselves. (The teacher and I actually discussed this, and it didn't work out because of the timing of the presentations and other class considerations. Maybe next time...)
  4. What I'd really love is for you, the students in the class, to add your comments to this post, so that readers can hear what you thought about the overall lesson. Was it successful? Did it change how you thought about class presentations? Was it just the same old have-to-do-it assignment? Please share your honest thoughts with me. Use the link to this post, or look for this article in the April 2008 archives on the right side of http://techieteachr.blogspot.com. (Notice the missing "e".)

I happened to run into another teacher later in the day, and I was chatting with him about the project. He was very enthusiastic about it and wants me to come work with his classes, because he sees the same thing with his students. Between the two of us, we realized that this lesson is best placed at the beginning of the year, and delivered to students in such a way that they can keep these skills in mind as they give future presentations in class.

At this point, I'm thinking of trying to put together a series of lessons that teachers can use - either with my help or without - in order to help students improve their public speaking skills. If and when it materializes, look for it on the library section of techieteacher.org.