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Testing Science

scienceWhen you are on the road, you can not avoid CNN. It’s in the Airport. CNN, and its ilk, comprise at least 80% of the TV channels in most hotels (trying to get you to resort to their $12 movies on demand).

The other day, I was working on a presentation in the airport when I overheard are report that ran something like this,

The Bush administration is now adding Science to the accountability standards for the No Child Left Behind legislation. Schools are already held accountable for the tested performance of students in reading and math, but schools will now risk punishment of their students do not perform to standards in science.

Now, that was a rough paraphrasing, but there are two things about this report that bother and worry me. Number one was the impression that including science was a recent idea of the Administration, when phasing in science has been a part of NCLB all along. But that’s petty.

The second part worries me. It worries me that schools are going to be held accountable for

how much science students learn,
and
not how much like scientists students learn to become.

Certainly, students need to be learning science. But in a time of rapid change and an information environment that is increasingly being dominated by blogs and other forms of less formally validated content, the scientific method should become a Basic Skills. Students must learn (relearn) to be curious, to inquire, to make hypotheses, to research, investigate, and test their ideas, and to act on what they learn and teach themselves.

Many states have worked higher order elements of reading and math into their NCLB mandated tests. But with continuing budget constraints (some of my readers will deny that the budget cuts exist), the trend will likely lean more toward recall style testing, leading to regimented, fact-based teaching.

I don’t think that this is the way to encourage more children to become scientists and engineers.

2¢ Worth

A Good Day in Tarrytown

Aside from traffic, I had a good day yesterday, working with superintendents and directors of technology from Westchester, Rockland, and Putnam Counties, New York. The group was very receptive with good questions peppered in. I had an hour and a half to deliver what is usually an hour long presentation. It’s amazing how a presentation seems to fill up what ever amount of time that you have to deliver it. It’s like furniture.

I worry, though, that what’s coming across are the stories that I tell during the presentation and not the larger picture — that we all need to be going out and telling stories. Many in the audience had already read The World is Flat, but there was interest in Richard Florida’s books and Got Game, by John Beck. Video gaming was a large part of the conversations after the session, and I think it is partly because these people have children at home who are playing video games (and IM’ing and have a presence on MySpace, etc.). People were especially intrigued by machinima.

I look forward to doing this session as a workshop, and having education leaders start sculpting their own stories that tie to the market place, deeply held values, and solutions we can point to.

2¢ Worth.

The Height of Video Gaming

This Spartan LifeAt the airport in Raleigh, yesterday, I received an e-mail from Steve Dembo, describing how he had read the April issue of WIRED Magazine on the train. He suggested that we hold a roundtable discussion about the influences of video games in education — but that we hold the meeting inside of Halo. He had read an article about a talk show, This Spartan Life, that is held inside of the Halo 2 video game environment. His production staff provides cross-fire to protect him and his guest from weapons-wielding players who happen to wander onto the set.

When I landed in Newark, I checked my mail again, with my phone, and saw another message from Steve. He’d written the second one to to acknowledge that I had probably already read the WIRED article, having seen yesterday’s 2¢ Worth. I must say that I am not interested in holding a meeting in Halo. I’ve tried it, and the only thing I can do, is fall down. ..and I don’t even do that gracefully. But what does interest me is a class of students in a Halo’esque classroom, with George Washington and Nelson Mandella, in seats with the students and joining in on a conversation about government. Or a similar classroom with a working atom in the room, demonstrating how it works.

What really interests me is that the atom may have been built by some of the students. Or that the entire classroom is designed and redesigned by students on an ongoing basis as part of the class.

Again, I’m not suggesting replacing the traditional classroom or even most traditional styles of teaching and learning. I’m talking about making education much richer than what can be done exclusively inside the confines of four walls and the two covers of a book.

I learn so much from blogging, from being a part of a huge, engaging, and valuable ongoing conversation. However, it come nowhere near matching how I am challenged to think and learn while having dinner with the likes of Steve Dembo, Will Richardson, and Rob Mancabelli. Face to face is the height of video gaming.

Video Game’s Impact

April WIRED MagazineIn the April issue of WIRED Magazine, Will Wright, the inventor of The SIMS, heads off an interesting series of pieces on the impact and direction of video games. In his introductory article, Dream Machines, Wright says,

Just watch a kid with a new videogame. The last thing they do is read the manual. Instead, they pick up the controller and start mashing buttons to see what happens. This isn’t a random process; it’s the essence of the scientific method. Through trial and error, players build a model of the underlying game based on empirical evidence collected through play. As the players refine this model, they begin to master the game world. It’s a rapid cycle of hypothesis, experiment, and analysis. And it’s a fundamentally different take on problem-solving than the linear, read-the-manual-first approach of their parents.

In an era of structured education and standardized testing, this generational difference might not yet be evident. But the gamers’ mindset – the fact that they are learning in a totally new way – means they’ll treat the world as a place for creation, not consumption. This is the true impact videogames will have on our culture. (Wright 110-112)

So many stories here. We live in a rapidly changing world. Who has time to write it all down, edit it, publish and print enough textbooks that can only be read — when learning in a dynamic world requires interacting with that world and playing with it’s information.

or

Living in a world that is so dependent on so much good information, it becomes just as important for children to learn to be good producers of content as it is to become good consumers of content.

or

Did you know that we are preparing our children for jobs that haven’t even been invented yet? Will they be better prepared by taking a test at the end of their high school, or by playing video games that they invent themselves?

When they were young, my children were very different kinds of learners. Like myself, my daughter has A.D.D, though she’s making much better grades in college than I did. Still, she spent several years in gifted classes, and she worked very hard, and we worked very hard with her. Once, one of her English teachers required her to learn the ten types of nouns (might have been five). I only know of two types and that was important, because one you capitalized and the other you didn’t. But she was learning about abstract nouns, concrete nouns, and others. I don’t remember.

Anyway, we struggled for a week to help her learn to identify in a sentence, the types of nouns.

Meanwhile, my son, two years younger, and able to learn his spelling words at a glance while playing a video game, was in his room, playing video games. Back then, he played hand-me-down video game systems that came from my parents, as they would upgrade to the newest Nintendo, or whatever. We would rent games for him from Blockbuster, and they almost never came with a manual. This was fine, because he would go into the game, figure out what the goal of the game was, what the rules were, and then figure out how to use the rules to accomplish the goals.

My question is, “Which endeavor was better preparing my children for their future, memorizing and distinguishing types of nouns, or reasoning out how to master video games.”

To be fair, there was, I believe, much value in reasoning out the types of nouns, which is my daughter’s way of learning, using logic and reason. But my son was learning to enter new information environments, to find or establish a goal, learn what the rules and constraints were, and learn to use those rules and constraints to accomplish the goal. They’ll both be doing that the rest of their lives.

I say, “Hack the system.” Turn our classrooms into learning engines. That’s what games are.


Wright, Will. “Dream Machine.” WIRED Magazine April 2006: 110-112.

Conference 2.0 — Ten Tips for Extending your Education Conference

.0001% of the exhibitors areaI have worked at several conferences over the past couple of months, that have attempted to extend their services into the blogosphere and other planes of Read/Write web activity. I know of several others who will be attempting to implement web 2.0 features in the near future.

So here are some of the things that I’ve seen, that seemed to work — and a couple of ideas that I’ve thought up by myself. For the sake of this discussion, we’ll refer to the Our State Technology in Education Conference, or OSTEC:

  1. Communication: The conference should have a web page linked from the front page of the site. It might be called something like OSTEC Extended. This page could link to online handouts and other standard resources, but also include information about Web 2.0 features such as suggested tags, links to and information about the conference blog, links to conference wikis, and an aggregation of conference related blogs and pictures. You might also include a search box that will search conference blogs for key words.

    Also, consider sending out e-mail and snail-mail notices of your Web 2.0 features — especially to presenters. A conference blog is an excellent place for speakers to promote their sessions.

  2. Tagging: Suggesting a tag for conference bloggers and photographers makes it easy to aggregate the discussion into a single page and into attendees (and lurker’s) aggregatores. There are three essential rules for establishing a conference tag. It should be simple, simple, and simple. The simplest tag is ostec (or fetc or whatever). Many conferences, though, are adding the year, asking bloggers and photographers to tag their material with ostec2006. It is probably wise to aggregate both tags.
  3. Conference blog: Several conferences I have worked in the past couple of weeks have offered a conference blog. This is easy to do with Blogger. Post the e-mail address of the owner of the conference blog, usually the communications officer of the association. People who want to blog, send the e-mail request, and the blog owner:
    1. logs into blogger,
    2. clicks the “Settings” tab, and
    3. then “Members”.
    4. Then paste in the return address of the person requesting to blog, and click “Save Settings”.

    An e-mail goes to the person with a link that will click them in as a user. If they are not already a member of Blogger, they will have to establish an account.

  4. Photos: Include, in the conference extension page, instructions for tagging photos uploaded to flickr with the conference tag. Also include instructions for creating a flickr e-mail address, for people with mobile phones that can e-mail pictures. Designate someone with a mobile phone to take regular pictures at the conference for e-mailing to flickr.
  5. Wiki Notes (advanced): Establish a conference wiki and set up a page for each presentation. Then set up a way that attendees can add their notes to the wiki for their presentation. I have done this with my presentations, with varying degrees of success. When it works, it is a great service.
  6. Session blogs: Ask presenters to establish tags for their sessions, encouraging attendees to blog about the session, including their insights.
  7. Infrastructure: Hands-down, this is a necessity. Have wireless Internet in every session room. It should be robust and dependable. If there is a password required, it should be posted on the wall in every room.
  8. Blog Reporters. Establish conference blog-o-reporters. Also establish a team of podcasters, who go around recording interviews with attendees and with selected presenters. Reporters and podcasters might be pre-service education students.
  9. Podcasts & Webcasts: Podcast (or Webcast) selected sessions. Be careful about seeking permission to podcast sessions, especially from people who make a living by delivering presentations. They may be reluctant to grant permission, or they may be eager to.
  10. Training: Consider offering a pre-conference (day-before or early morning) session on Web 2.0 and the conference, helping participants to establish a blog, set up an aggregator, or other applications that will enable a more productive conference and to help them to contribute more ideas to the conference.

These are just 10 tips. Please add by commenting on this blog entry.

Classroom as Video Game

[Originally posted on the Technology & Learning Blog -- March 20, 2006]

One of the most interesting topics being discussed at education technology conferences today is the instructional potential of video games. Much of this has come from talks and writings by Marc Prensky (Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants), but many others from MIT, Harvard School of Education, and other people and places. So what is it about video games that compel students to learn, and might we leaverage it in our classrooms?

Guitaroo Man Video GameI wrote recently about cultivating classrooms into learning engines, and it occurred to me, that there may be some correlations between this notion of a classroom as learning engine and the game engines that drive video games. So upon discovering a vocabulary list of video game terms in the Januar 2006 issue of MacAddict, and with the permission the magazine’s publisher, Bernie Lanigan, I am including that glossary here, with some comments on how these terms might apply to a well crafted classroom learning environment.

The Gamer’s Glossary*

Boss — A unique, especially difficult enemy that typically appears at the end of a level. Look for an obvious, terrible flaw destined to be its undoing, such as an exposed, flashing heart.

So when students see someone acting like the boss, do they see guidance or do they see a barrier? I suspect that teachers should try not to be the boss, and instead, as John Beck says **“..be the strategy guide.” The strategy guide is a booklet that game players for the shortcuts and cheats. If we can devise a place that students want to get to or something that they want to be, then teachers can become the strategy guide with the shortcuts for getting there — the shortcuts being the curriculum.

BOT — A character normally controlled by a human that is instead controlled by the game’s AI. Usually found in an online First Person Shooter.

Of course, there is no artificial intelligence in the classroom. However, there are characters from history, and perhaps even made up entities, who can be inserted, talked about, and even dressed in circumstances that will help students learn what they are supposed to learn. We teach by example, and the bot, is that example. But the example must be rich and lifelike. It must be more than a story or a spoken description. It must come from life-giving media-rich sources.

Engine — The fundamental algorithms and routines that serve as a game’s technical backbone. Particularly robust engines are often licensed by other game developers to save time.

These are the practices and procedures of the classroom. The game engine enables and empowers activities that are compelling and empowering to the player. How might we adapt what we expect students to do, that empowers them…puts the game controller of learning into their hands. The engine both empowers, and it sets limits. In the game environment, even the limits are designed to excite and challenge.

HP — Hit points. How much damage a game character can take before dying.

We don’t want anyone to die. But, traditionally, students start with zero, and they try to work their way to 100%. Why not start at a place of value and pride, and allow them to build on it, but also lose from it, Hit Points. But the hits do not embarrass. Instead, they challenge the student.

Level — 1: A subsection of a game, often with a distinct graphical theme (a jungle, for example, or cave), that has a definite beginning and end. 2: A numeric indicator of your power, often increased as you accumulate experience points. When your level increases by one, this is called “leveling up.”

The idea of levels is not new to education. However, ones level has more to do with their age than their achievement in the game. Why not figure out a way to institute levels within a classroom, making level positions highly mobile, almost daily.

Mana — Generic term for your supply of magic power, which is usually depleted as you cast spells or use special abilities.

This might be the most difficult aspect of game play to relate to classrooms. It may also be the most interesting. So what is the magic that takes place in the classroom. What is the mana. Some possibilities are information, questions, access to information technology, access to specific software, access to team members, time in the library, time in a workshop. What empowers students?

MOB — A monster, usually in an MMORPG (Massively multiplayer online role-playing game). Short for mobile, a term used in early online text RPGs to describe a creature that had the then-astounding ability to move from room to room.

A monster than can surprise you? This one is easy — the pop-quiz. However, perhaps we can rethink the way that we apply the pop-quiz, so that it is more of a challenge that students have to get through, in order to achieve their goal.

NPC — Non-player character. Any enemy, ally, townsperson, or other entity that a human player does not control.

This is a context for learning. What is the world in which these things are true and why it is important to know them. The difference is in the richness. NPCs in a video game are difficult to distinguish from human controlled players. They are visual, colorful, they move and interact with the environment. They are nearly real. How do we present context to our students in a way that is nearly real? By making it rich and something that we can interact with.

PC — Player character. Any character in a game that is countrolled by you or another human.

Classmates are player characters. However, a PC is only relevant if we can interact with them and see their interactions with the game world. If students, as part of the classroom practices and procedures, are interacting with each other, in a way that results in learning and building of ideas, then they become more active themselves — more active learners. It is also important to note that many game environments are economies, where power and currency are traded. Think about it.

Power-Up — an item (like Mario’s mushroom) that increases your power when collected, usually until you die or a timer expires.

In what kind of assignment might a book, web site, piece of software, manipulative, or other instructional material be seen as increasing the learners power. The key is not in the object, it’s in the environment that responds to the object, that responds to knowledge and skill.

XP — Experience points. Earned by defeating enemies; used to permanently increase your powers and abilities.

This one is easy. It’s grades. But XPs “…increase your powers and abilities.” Grades merely symbolize them. What are the powers and abilities that might bestow themselves onto students, as a result of defeating the barriers of learning.

This certainly is not a full treatment of how a classroom might facilitate better learning by acting like a video game. It may be a ridiculous notion. But we are discovering that students do learn in video games, and they learn valuable higher order thinking skills. I believe that we need to be looking for the crossover between video games and our classrooms, and paying attention to those who are engaged in this task.

Here are some search resources that might help:


* Molloy, Sean. “The Gamer’s Glossary.” MacAddict Jan 2006: 38-39.

** Beck, John. Personal interview. 15 2005.

I Have Learned This

[Moblogged]

I’m in Denton, Texas, with my son, who is, at this moment, auditioning for the UNT school of music. I’ve found an interesting coffee house that also offers exotic blends of commercial cerials for student patrons. The coffee is great and they also offer free WiFi.

I’m on my phone though, and thinking about a recital we saw last night performed by a Junior class euphonium player. The performance was exceptional and a bit intimidating for my son.

It was also exciting, because it was learning. It occured to me that it was at the moment that the performer completed the recital that he could say, “I have learned this.”

He could say that, because what he learned, the act of learning it, necessarily involed performing his acomplishment in front of two dozen other students who volunteered their Friday evening to listen.

In closing — as my thumbs are getting tired — learning is about doing, regardless of your le&rning style. It means doing it. Doing to it. And doing with it..

We need to just relax and just do it.

If this doesn’t make any sense, just tag is as the thoughts of an anxious father.

2 cents worth.

Conference Sandwich

I slipped out from the NCAECT Conference in Charlotte yesterday, so that I could spend a day (and evening) at FETC in Orlando. I’ve gotten to spend some time with old friends, meet some new friends, and today, I’ll be presenting a Web 2.0 presentation. This is a world class conference, so I’m hoping for a handful of participants. Will Richardson has promised to come. Would you be nervous talking about the Read/Write Web in front of Will Richardson?

Anyway, the main reason for this blog post is to have something to post on my blog during my presentation. So I best not waste any more of your time.

After my session, I’ll fly back up to Charlotte for the rest of the NCAECT conference.

2¢ Worth

Fear & Freedom

I am finishing up Frank McCourt’s (author of Angela’s Ashes) new book Teacher Man. It’s not exactly what I was expecting, and I’m mixed on whether I should recommend that my daughter (who’s studying to be a high school teacher right now) read the book. It is not about the motivating and exciting adventures of an eccentric young teacher that The Water is Wide (Pat Conroy) was, a book that made me want to be a teacher.

Teacher Man is about the thirty year struggles of being a teacher. It is an honest story of failings as a teacher. We are, none of us, perfect. Yet a teacher is supposed to be. But after many years of random stumblings on to techniques that are personal, eccentric, and almost zen’esque, he begins to feel success, even amongst continuing failures.

It’s not the kind of book that’s going to make you want to become a teacher. However, it does help us to understand teachers.

My point here is something that McCourt says in the end of the book, as he explains how he grades his high school writing students. He says that he writes to the far left of his page a capital “F”, and to the far right, another capital “F”. He asks his students to mark the degree to which they have moved from “Fear” to “Freedom”. This seems quite perfect, to me. In all endeavors of education, isn’t this what we are trying to do? To move our students from fear to freedom, from a fear of their world and its experience to a freedom to experience the world.

I will close this blog entry with one editorial note, that any education system that instills fear in its children and teachers, is doing the wrong thing.

2¢ Worth!

At FETC Learning about Podcasting

[This is a mobile blog (moblog). Please forgive the grammar, word usage, and sentence structure]

Tim Wilson talking to an excited group of educators  about PoscastingPopular podcaster, Tim Wilson, is talking to a great (and raucous) group of educators about podcasting. It’s a lot of beginner stuff, but he has said several times that podcasting is a professional development endeavor. I thing that this is absolutely true and very important, and one of the best things about teachers listening to podcasting.

I landed around 4:00 PM in Orlando, and Will Richardson and I drove in to the convention center area where we met up with one of his colleagues and finally with Steve Dembo. We had dinner in The Rosen Centre Hotel and we are now at the Podcast Palooza.

Tim just introduced us to the Podcave, his podcasting equipment. Here is his blog where he introduced the world to the Podcave.

Most communities, even isolated rural towns, have some sort of museum. How cool would it be to have students do the research, write the scripts, and record the audio guides that people can check out at the information desk and understand better the exhibits. (too cool)

Over the head shot at podcast session
Over the head shot at the podcast session

Izzy Video, is a video podcast that Tim recommends. Looks interesting. So Tim is demonstrating and talking about screen cast, podcasts that he does for his teachers, for professional development, while I’m taking pictures with my phone, uploading them to flickr, linking them into this blog, that I’m typing while he’s talking, and I’m updating the blog every five minutes or so. Is this to passe’ for me to be this excited about. I just have a weakness for all of this connection.

Ok, so David somebody is demonstrating GarageBand and podcasting. I have an ongoing conversation with a number of people concerning making Podcasting too easy. I’ve resisted looking at GarageBand 3, because I want my podcasting to be a little clunky. Clunky, I think, enables more innovation. But I’m sitting here, watching GarageBand 3. I have no choice. I can’t look away. Ok, so there is now a podcast button on the opening screen. Now we have a Garageband with a male voice track, a female voice track, jingles and radio sounds tracks. Oh, and some group participating loops. Oh Oh, iPhoto plugs in, so I can include some visuals for an enhanced podcast. That easy? Hmmm

Oh Oh Oh, share to iWeb? What is iWeb? Web editing software, and my podcasted is automatically embedded into a web page? My podcast is done. To easy, to quick, to simple. To much time left over to work with my content. Hmmmmm

Got to give this some thought.

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Photo taken by Ewan McIntosh in a Taxi in Shanghai

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