Education, Technology, Video Games

Abundance in Education – James Gee Meets Pajama Sam

Image from here.

My mother is reading this book called “Abundance – The Future is Better Than You Think” by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler. She marked a chapter titled “Education” starting on page 174 and told me I would be interested in this. I am. If you’re interested in education, not just teaching, I think you would be too. In the last few and next few posts, I am summarizing the sections in this chapter so I can remember them and hopefully you will likewise find it interesting and provide your own insite on each section.

“James Gee Meets Pajama Sam” (182-184) is my favorite section so far. It’s about video games and learning. Apparently, video games actually teach stuff – who knew. Dr. James Gee got into research of video games and learning because he wanted his six-year-old son to develop better problem-solving skills. He got him a game called Pajama Sam. It was more difficult than expected, but very engaging – like many video games can be.

Video games aren’t as relaxing as watching TV. Many of them provide a constant learning curve or creative outlet. He explains how Pokemon can help teach young children to read because the game is designed for 5 year olds, but the reading involved is at a 12th grade level, requiring that a parent read allowed for the child until s/he gets the hang of it. “World-building games like SimCity and RollerCoaster Tycoon develop planning skills and strategic thinking,” (183).

Games can be incorporated into learning to teach fact-based subjects, visual coordination, creativity, collaborative skills, and more. They take students through the scientific method as a student is presented with a new problem, has to analyze and develop a hypothesis to deal with said problem, then test it out and take mental note of the cause and effect.

Some teachers have been using video games in the classroom. For example, “Jeremiah McCall…makes his students compare the battle depictions in Rome: Total War against the historical evidence,” (183-184). Lee Sheldon decided to use a game-based grading system where students come in on day one as level 0 characters and work to achieve level 12. This means that everything they do in the classroom gives them experience points to help them level up – just like in a video game. I actually had this idea when I was considering teaching middle school instead of high school. It kind of got shot down by a few peers (mostly because I shared it as a grain of an idea and not a full, thought-out plan), but this has certainly renewed my interest in that concept. I still think it would work better in middle school or lower, but maybe it would work with high school students. I could also ask my kids next year what they think about the idea and then share the idea with my peers here (who are a lot more supportive than my previous ones).

The book also mentions a school called Quest2Learn in New York. It is a public school founded by Katie Salen and it has a “curriculum based on game design and digital culture,” (184). I wonder how I can incorporate video games into chemistry and algebra. We have virtual labs that have “games,” and those do get some of the students more engages, but they’re not the same as an actual video game. This is certainly something I will want to look into more as the school year goes on while I lesson plan, but probably won’t be something that gets fully developed in my second year of teaching.

What do you think about incorporating gaming in the classroom?  What game-themed things would you be interest in trying or seeing in a classroom? Have you introduced any games as part of your lesson? How did it go?

Community, Education

Abundance in Education – Another Brick in the Wall

My mother is reading this book called “Abundance – The Future is Better Than You Think” by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler. She marked a chapter titled “Education” starting on page 174 and told me I would be interested in this. I am. If you’re interested in education, not just teaching, I think you would be too. In the next few posts, I am going to summarize the sections in this chapter so I can remember them and hopefully you will likewise find it interesting and provide your own insight on each section.

“Another Brick in the Wall” (179-182) talks about how schools were set up in during the industrial revolution and are set up like assembly lines where a bell sends a group of students from one class to another to all be taught the same subjects at the same age. For 150 years the way schools run has not changed and Sir Ken Robinson has been a voice calling for reform, saying that schools squash creativity and hold back potential.

A big issue the book points out is that no one can agree on what comprises success, so we don’t have an agreed upon set of goals for schools to accomplish. This leads to students going to college without being able to apply their knowledge (if they even retained it), interpret complex readings, think analytically, perform research, or write clearly. The book states that “50% of all students entering college do not graduate,” (181) and those that do graduate are not really ready for the workforce. I know I wasn’t ready to be an engineer after engineering school. I had a steep learning curve in the office after school and I feel like I didn’t even apply a lot of what I learned. Much of the stuff I did apply, I had to re-learn or refresh my memory.

I read a post a while back by an american teacher who taught in another country (Finland, maybe) and high school was at least set up with specific goals in mind. Students could choose between three different high school programs based on what they planned to do after school: go into the workforce, go to a trade school, or go to college. Each program was catered to prepare the students for where they planned to go after college. Students also had more options in classes to cater to what kind of trade school they would go to or what they planned to major in in college. I love this idea. It offers a clear purpose with specific goals for the school to accomplish with the students. And the students get to feel like what they are learning is applicable to their own lives. They also only go to school from around 9:30 to 2:30 so they are just taking advantage of the peak performance hours for teens and not burning out the students or the teachers, but that’s a rant for another time. (I so wish we did that here for our poor kids.)

Back to the book. This section goes on to mention that memorizing facts isn’t a needed skill in a world with Google, “but creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and problem solving” are the major skills needed to succeed in today’s workforce. They also still need the three R’s and corporate executives say they want people that “ask the right question,” (181).

Schools need to change, but how is the question. They need to more entertaining than TV and video games and learning needs to be addictive. I have no idea how we achieve that, but I can at least try to incorporate those bold skills into my chemistry lessons so they are learning the material and the skills they need to be successful. What ideas do you have for incorporating teaching creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and problem solving in a chemistry or algebra class? How do you teach those things in your classes? As a parent, what skills do you want to see your child gain in school? As an employer, what skills do you see are lacking that need more support?

Education, Teaching, Technology

Abundance in Education – The Hole-in-the-Wall

My mother is reading this book called “Abundance – The Future is Better Than You Think” by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler. She marked a chapter titled “Education” starting on page 174 and told me I would be interested in this. I am. If you’re interested in education, not just teaching, I think you would be too. In the next few posts, I am going to summarize the sections in this chapter so I can remember them and hopefully you will likewise find it interesting and provide your own insight on each section.

“The Hole-in-the-Wall” (174-177) talks about a man who was concerned about students in areas that were higher poverty and where good teachers didn’t want to go. He mainly carried out his experiments in India, but his methods can be applied all over the world. One thing he did was have a computer station (theift-proof) out where children could get to it. Children that have never seen a computer or browsed the internet before. Children that didn’t even speak English. They played with the computer and even taught each other how to click on things and get on the internet and look things up.

In one of these towns, he challenged a group of students to learn biotechnology in English. These children were using a device they have never seen before to learn a subject they have never heard of in a language they didn’t speak. They did it. With two months of unsupervised study, this group of kids was able to get a 30 percent score on a test about the subject in English. Over the next two months they had an older girl act as a “tutor” even though she didn’t know any biotechnology. She just encouraged them and asked them questions to further their own learning. Their scores rose to 50 percent.

After doing more experiments to refine his method, he determined that schools could install computer stations – one computer for 4 students to collaborate on – give students specific questions to look into (ie “Was WWII good or bad?”) and offer Skype with older ladies who would encourage the students. When students were tested on what they learned, the average score was 76 percent. Even better, because they figured everything out on their own, the information was retained. When the students were tested again two months later on the same material, even though they had moved on to learn new material, their scores were about the same as the first time.

I love this. It uses the natural curiosity of children to get them to learn without a teacher. They have someone asking questions or giving them specific topic and someone occasionally encouraging them along the way, and they are able to educate themselves. I really like how this concept can be used with any group of students, no matter the location or the language. Of course, I don’t love the idea of not having a teacher, but the point of this method is to use it in places where there are no teachers, or there aren’t many teachers. I think, though, it could still be beneficial in the classroom. Many teachers give a group of students specific research topics with questions for them to answer and have them figure out how to find the answers online. I know I have done this. Have you? What are your thoughts and observations on this concept? Do you think this could be an effective method to bring education to students who don’t have access to good schools or teachers?