Monday, September 20, 2010

Putting the Game into Learning

The other day, I read a fascinating New York Times article about a focus on gaming at New York City School, Quest to Learn. According to the article, excitement fills the air at this school. Students become so engaged that they lose track of the clock. Anybody who has seen a child or teenager on an XBox 360 knows without question that these games hold some kind of magic. I've seen children who could not sit for two minutes and write a school essay sit for eight hours and write tricks for scoring higher points at these games. Don't think that this process of deciphering games is easy. It requires deep critical thinking.

So last night I started thinking, what can curriculum developers learn from gamers? What is it about gaming that makes it so engaging when typical school learning is far from engaging? I came up with a short list of ideas:
  1. Games give immediate feedback.
  2. Games offer the challenge of getting to the next level.
  3. Games provide competition, both against oneself and against others.
  4. Massive multi-player role playing games provide opportunity for creativity.

This list is by no means exhaustive. But, if I am correct with this list, an obvious next question would be "How can we incorporate these characteristics into the classroom in meaningful ways?" I don't have all the answers. However, I am confident that these attributes of games can be infused into the classroom.

It's important to note that I specifically did not include anything about technology on this list of game attributes. I am a strong supporter of using high quality technology to enable students to fulfill specific objectives in the classroom. But the truth is that many classrooms do not yet have enough computers for all students. Nor, are there enough high quality educational resources to take advantage of technology.

So, instead what I am urging is that we consider how to extrapolate engaging characteristics from games and infuse them into the classroom, with or without technology.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What's the Future of Writing? Who Cares?

Newsweek has published a very interesting article entitled, "The YouTube Application." The lead sentence reads, "Students try to make their mark by filming a personal video for the college of their choice." According to the article a sizable number of students are submitting video presentations instead of the traditional essay.

This past week I forwarded links to this article to a number of connections that I have on LinkedIn. I attached a note indicating that the article has prompted me to wonder about the future of writing in U.S. schools. Interestingly, I received back a variety of different kinds of comments.

One person told me that he was going to use the article in an upcoming talk as evidence that the future happened yesterday. Several people expressed concern or fear with these admission videos. Will curricula begin to undervalue writing?

I, for one, am a strong advocate that high quality writing promotes high quality thinking. However, I am not certain if writing is the only way or even the best way to promote critical thinking.

I could imagine, for example, that an auditory learner could record thoughts on a device equipped with a simple editing function. (It would have to be a very simple editing function, so that it's as simple to delete and replace the recorded word as it is to cross out (and write) words in a rough draft.) Such a recording device might make it easier for auditory learners to learn to think in critical ways than writing.

Critical thinking is extremely important. Our students must learn how to think critically. It is their ticket to the future. However, like recording devices, pens/pencils/type writers are simply technology. To me one need not worry about the future of writing - people should worry about the future of critical thinking. People should be encouraged to use whatever technology makes it easiest for them to master this essential skill.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Teachers Should Focus on Students Not Resources

Do you think that teachers should be asked to develop their own learning materials and assessment devices?

Can you imagine if a doctor had to develop her own medicines, invent his own cures for illnesses and apply these specific cures to their ill patients? Such a concept would be ludicrous. I imagine that most people would not want to visit such doctors. They'd view these doctors as working in a vacuum with little attention to innovative medical practices developed by others.

If people would not want to visit doctors who operate in vacuums why does society expect them to send their children to teachers who develop their own curriculum resources and assessments? Shouldn't teachers, who should spend their time interacting with students, have the support of others when it comes to development?

Last year, I developed a set of five student centered, problem based units using Google Earth as curriculum wrappers. The topics included: Colonial Economic Regions; Considering the Realities of the Holocaust; Cuban Missile Crisis; Gatsby of the Twenties; and Okies Head West. An associate of mine, an executive at an educational publishing company, told me that teachers could develop these types of units for themselves. Certainly teachers with expertise in Google Earth could develop similar units for themselves. But, aren't we missing the point of what it means to be a teacher if we expect them to take the 40 hours required to develop such a unit on development?

Wouldn't society prefer that teachers spend their time interacting with student to help them learn. Resources can be purchased from outside the school - teacher engagement must come from within.

Friday, September 3, 2010

21st Century Tests

By now, you've likely heard that that the United States Department of Education announced awards to two separate coalitions of states to develop innovative large-scale educational assessments. What does it mean for a test to be innovative?

We are all used to multiple choice assessment tests. The primary reason that large scale assessments tend to use multiple choice is because they have always been far easier to score than open response tests.

However, is it possible that technology has finally enabled us to move beyond multiple choice tests? It certainly seems as if this is the case. Technology now has the ability to scan for specific words or phrases in student writing. Educators and educational publishers alike can use these scanning procedures to evaluate student writing.

Writing is obviously not the only skill that students should learn in school. If they are learning math in a high quality way, they should learn to apply mathematical skills to real world events. For example, they might use algebra and geometry to design structures. Virtual reality could evaluate whether or not students have the necessary math skills to design these structures. Given technological advancements it would also be fairly simple to evaluate the steps that a student completes as he/she designs the bridge. Partial points could easily be awarded.

It is time for technologists and educators to come together and develop large-scale assessments that demand critical thinking skills and are not solely based on multiple choice.

I'd love to discuss these ideas further with anybody interested in dong so.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Technology: It's Simple

The other day I recommended that a client of mine consider asking participants to develop their own blogs, wikis, podcasts, or videocasts in a professional development workshop that she is developing. I believe that this suggestion made the client think that I was asking workshop participants to do too much.

People who have never set up their own Web 2.0 applications don't know how easy it is to do. (I'd like to tell them that if I can do it anybody can do it but that might weaken my pitch to do work for them. LOL!!)

In reality, however, WYSIWYG has made it very easy to develop personal web tools. It has made it very easy to publish to the web. I suspect many readers of this blog know that WYSIWYG is an acronym for "What you see is what you get." If you haven't thought about WYSIWYG think of a word processing tool, such as Microsoft Word. You don't have to use code to tell the word processor what to do. You just point and click and you can easily see what your text looks like - because it appears the way that it will look after you print it or email it to somebody else to see.

The second great characteristic about many web applications is that they are free. Anybody, for example, can set up their own blog on Google's blogger. Word press also makes a blogging platform available for free.

If I could make just one suggestion to educational publishers in this blog post, I would recommend thinking about ways to challenge students to take advantage of free web resources. The applications are available for free. However, publishers could earn significant revenue by selling educational resources that require students to use these applications. Just think: "100 Blogging Activities to Improve Writing."

Just a thought!!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Mobile Learning and Short Term Memory

Yesterday I read an interesting article about the growth/impediments to growth of mobile learning in American schools. The article prompted me to think about the role of mobile learning for K-12 students in U.S. schools. I can't help but wonder if there would be a marketplace for selling review units for just about every subject area for mobile devices.

Just imagine: You are sitting at dinner and your 9th grader son tells you that he has a test the next day in multiplication of polynomials. He thinks he gets it but might also be a little confused. What parent would not spend $2.00 to purchase a learning widget that will help his son review for the test the next day? Most parents would allow their children, who may not have their own smart phone, to use their smart phone to review for the test. Since the student would be using a cool device to learn math the studying becomes a little more bearable. Of course, it's even better if the content is presented in a game format.

Multiplication of polynomials is one test in one course of algebra. Consider how many similar mobile apps publishers could sell designed to help students prepare for tests the next day in school. This development would be relatively easy and inexpensive because publishers already have the content. It's in their textbooks and online resources. Now it just has to be sourced for mobile.

What do you think?