In this blog post: A conversation with Will Richardson, Majora Carter, and kids making video games
I spent Saturday in my own time zone. It was wonderful, New York City, and I had a wonderful, if strenuous, evening with my youngest brother, who lives there. We started at the Hilton where the conference was, walked up to and across Central Park. Then down to his apartment in Chelsae, and then down into Greenwich Village for an meal of (hot) Indian Cuisine. Then I walked the fifty some blocks back up the the Hilton.
I thought that the conference was great, the parts of it that I was able to enjoy. I was interviewed by Channel 21, one of New York’s Public Broadcasting stations, and had to be made up before had. I looked real good. My hair did not move for at least two and a half hours. My presentation was supported by what seemed to be a full studio of sound and video technicians, not to mention a stage manager and assistant stage manager. That was fun.
One of the best parts of the conference, to me, was having breakfast with Will Richardson. He brought me down — talking about some of the sessions he’d seen the day before, and the incredible disconnect between the message delivered by the presenters and the realities of the in-the-trenches educators who were asking questions. Quite frankly, I think that it is probably more accurate to say, “the realities expressed by the presenters, and the fantasies imposed on in-the-trenches educators.” You can read more about Will’s take on the conference at his blog. At least I didn’t order sausage for breakfast. Read the sixth paragraph in his post, and know that I agree with him. Meat is incredibly expensive to the environment. I do eat meat, but only when I’m on the road where it is difficult to impossible to control my diet.
The second “best” part of the conference was getting to see Majora Carter.
Majora Carter is connecting poverty alleviation with environmentalism by demonstrating solutions for urban public health problems and global climate concerns. Carter lives and works in the South Bronx, and founded Sustainable South Bronx in 2001 to fight for environmental justice through innovative, economically sustainable projects that are informed by community needs.
You can read more of her bio here and here. It was an amazing talk from someone who has an amazing stage presence. She has spoken at TED as well, and here is a link to her talk there — which appears to be disabled at this moment. It isn’t everyday that you get to see a real hero!
The third best thing that I learned at the celebration was a real surprise. While dashing through the exhibitor’s area, I caught site of a booth from Homeland Security. Well the hairs stood up, a bit, on my back, and I ambled over to learn what they were doing here and to, perhaps, pick on them a bit. The man there was probably around my age, though much more fit/slim, and dressed quite casually. I asked about their presence at an education conference, and he started talking about video games. He first gave a rather rehersed sounding speech about how video games are being used to train emergency workers.
But he quickly fell into a more comfortable topic, that of teaching students to develop their own video games. He showed me Scratch, a video game building platform, developed at MIT. My new acquantance was a full time teacher and he works part time at MIT. He explained that they had been trying to align the instructional benefits of having kids program games to state standards, but weren’t getting any where with that. So they are now promoting it as an after school activity. I think that this says a lot about the abysmal place that U.S. education is in.
Why are our standards a reason NOT to teach something?
Anyway, I came home yesterday and downloaded Scratch, and in only a few hours, taught myself the fundamentals of the language, which is object oriented. Your programming elements are graphical objects that you drag out of bins and then attach to your programs/scripts in logical positions. To the right is the program script that controls the ghost in the game I made below.
I’m thinking of all kinds of math and logical process thinking that this sort of activity can promote. It really shouldn’t be so hard to make a case for student’s programming as a learning activity, but it is and it has been for a very long time.
Perhaps part of the problem is that it’s not about teaching. It’s about learning. When students are learning about angles and measures by directing a sprite (or a turtle) around on the screen, based on outside influences, they are learning these concepts and practices, not being taught them.
Well, I had fun playing with it. Here’s a game called Ghost Trap that I put together yesterday and uploaded to the Scratch site this morning.