Yesterday afternoon, I attended an MEGA (Middle Educators Global Activities) meeting. Sponsored by North Carolina State University, META holds meetings regular late afternoon meetings that are attended by educators from Wake and surrounding counties. The expressed focus is science instruction in the middle grades, but the scope ranges far beyond that.
Yesterday’s presenters were Matt Friedrick, with the NC Center for International Understanding (NCCIU), and Len Annetta, of the NC State College of Education, and director of HI FIVES (Highly Interactive Fun Internet Virtual Environments in Science). I took notes directly in my blog yesterday afternoon, uploading it periodically — mostly because I thought that was a cool thing to do.
I have just a couple of reflections. I have already written a bit about the international connections program in a comment that I just posted to the original entry, in response to some observations by Ewan McIntosh. I hope that I interpreted Ewan’s statement accurately. Besides that, I believe that, in order to get teachers and school in North Carolina, across the U.S., and in other countries to want to participate, the NCCIU needs to offer something that they need. I suggested, during the presentation, that they collect best practices. I’m not sure Matt saw where I was going, and there was not a way that I could explain it succinctly. But if they could collect something, as a result of the interactions that are already taking place, and publish that information on the Web in a way that would draw other classrooms in and make them want to be a part of this, then that may be a useful strategy for accomplishing their goals. I don’t know what information that is or how it might be posted, but they certainly have access to more powerful imaginations out there than mine.
Len gave a fun presentation. He is a talented speaker, and, being a game player, knows how to have fun (hmmm, may be something there). However, I am a bit skeptical about teachers having the ability to develop video games that compete with Halo and Roller Coaster Tycoon. Many of our students, after-all, are connoisseurs.
What I find intriguing about the way that my son plays video games with his friends is that the tire easily of the games that are designed into the gaming environments, and start to make up their own games. Most of them are versions of what we used to call “tag”. But given the adaptiveness of these gaming environments, they can create some pretty compelling fun.
During one of Len’s demos, it occurred to me that if you just created a space, with carefully configured rules of physical behavior (mass, gravity, attraction, etc.) stuck some interesting objects out there, and then asked teams of students to create their own games, they might discover, through their interactions, some important knowledge about physics, chemistry, social dynamics and governance, and much more. Or perhaps create a world and invite students there to interact. But have some game masters or deities controlling the game, and creating situations that force the students to react, through research, logic, collaboration, and action.
One of my all time favorite books is Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card. In it, the students of the orbiting battle school play video games on their computers, but the teachers interact in the back ground by changing the conditions of the game, to teach their students resourcefulness.
Perhaps the highlight of the afternoon was a tour of the Friday Institute. I’m not sure how they characterize the place, but it appears to be an education research center, that is providing a powerful magnifying glass between researchers at NCSU and the teachers and learners of Centennial Middle School, directly connected to the center. I recorded the tour, and hope to podcast it in the near future.