Reading and Simple Machines

This lady’s been pestering me for weeks, leaving voice mails,… I had talked with her once and told her to go ahead and send me links, but no promises. Then, upon getting home from Ohio yesterday, there was another voice mail, and not remember the woman’s name or voice, I called back. Tired from a day canceled flights and re-routing, I said that I am not that interested in specific educational video games, or what’s increasing student achievement (which I take as code for test performance), nor what Arne Duncan says about what Planet 429 is doing for youngsters in Chicago — but send me the links to your videos again and I’ll see if I have time.

A screen shot from one of the videos. The aliens need help…

Well this morning, I looked and have to confess to being somewhat impressed with what are obviously promotional videos. I was especially taken by some of the phrases from the students, such as “This is education! — education on the edges of your seats.”


The basic plot is Worldsplorers, who have come to explore Planet 429, which is Earth. They’ve landed near a carnival and learners help them with the use of simple machines. The main purpose is reading comprehension, as learners must read messages, signs, and instructions in order to learn to fashion simple machines to help the aliens — using reading as a “working” skill.

It’s one of the themes I’m talking about a lot these days, students learning to use reading, writing, and grammar as working skills — not just something that you do for the teacher.

Again, I am impressed with what is obvious promotional materials.  More digging would be necessary if you want to explore this product.  But even though specific games still do not interest me that much, what I think would be interesting is how this sort of activity will be transferred into the real world. Do we plug our children into these virtual experiences and then unplug them and become satisfied when they score better on the government tests?

How do we transition from these purely virtual experiences into the game of life and authentic accomplishment?

On a similar note, AMD, the Sunnyvale semiconductor company, has awarded $115,000 grant to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. The plan is to implement Club Tech: Game Tech in a number of cities where members, boys and girls, will create video games for change. According to a MarketWatch article,

The grant supports AMD’s signature education initiative, AMD Changing the Game, a program that encourages teens to learn critical STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills and become more globally conscious citizens by developing digital games with social content. ((Greenlaw, Catherine. “AMD and Boys & Girls Clubs of America to Offer Game Technology Program to Hundreds of Youth Club Members.” 17 May 2010: n. pag. Web. 20 May 2010. <>.))

AMD is also providing $60,000 to install four technology centers at BGCA sites in Washington, D.C.; Orlando, Fla.; Bellevue, Wash.; and Sunnyvale, Ca.

This is the sort of thing that interests me, not just helping students to learn skills as working skills, but putting students to work unitizing those skills — from classroom pedagogy, to practical real-world practice.


4 thoughts on “Reading and Simple Machines”

  1. This is rather impressive. The classroom teacher obviously understands issues of student engagement and the connections between learning and fun. I also liked the fact that she referenced students transferring learning from the game to the classroom environment. I loved the student’s statement that playing that game made you think, and the teacher’s statement that students were taking their thinking to a new level. Critical thinking skills are such an important of teaching life skills, and have been missing in so much of education for some time now. I would argue that this type of technology is not only a qualified pedagogical approach, but the same for andragogy and the education of adults.

  2. Impressive indeed. I have read recently about the need to entertain and stimulate this generation of learners. It sounds like this instructor has done just that.

  3. I think the program sounds fascinating not to mention benefical for students. Kids are growing up with different forms of entertainment and their attention spands seems to be shorter, so maybe this game is the answer to combining education with real life learning skills. I think we should be offering kids a wide variety of learning methods if they are available. If the game is teaching them reading and writing skills should we with hold it because we are worried about other effects of the game? They are only specualtions.

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