A Video Game Idea

I’d thought about this early this summer while my daughter was in the hospital. In amongst catching up with a back-log of professional reading, building out and refining her personal learning network, fleshing out lesson ideas, and concept mapping her teaching strategies – and getting well – she ran a restaurant. It was on her iPad, periodically beckoning her reading or browsing because it was time to open up the store, put the soup on, come up with discounts, and post signage, all to enjoy a successful mock revenue generating establishment, Restaurant Story.

I was imagining a similar style of game, but with a different focus — all brought back to mind when school administration guru, Scott McLeod posted a question on his blog, “How would you Revise Principal Preparation?” At present, he has 33 comments that are well worth the time reading, including some rather outlandish ideas from me.

But the game idea came back, a CMS style video game that challenges you to build out and maintain a school. You might start with a one room school house, adding on as you earn credit — adding a library, gym, laboratories, wings of classrooms, etc. The player would also manage a budget, allocate funds, add courses, and hire staff.

The goal of this game IS NOT generating the best test scores. No! No!

The goal of your school is to graduate the next Winton Marsellas, a team of biologists who cure cancer, the next Kurt Vontegut or the staff of an award winning trend-zine.

Would a game like this, that might become popular, serve to change the conversation about schooling?  I’m just dreaming!


Games and Rules

When I was young I played baseball and football (wasn’t fast enough for basketball and couldn’t jump with a flip). Soccer hadn’t arrived in small town America yet, and rugby was just another word for football, we thought — and we didn’t even know that football was just another word for soccer. But I digress.

I played these two sports. I knew their rules and developed skills based on those rules — and played them for years. We also played Checkers, Go Fish, and hours and hours of Monopoly. We learned the rules and played the same rules for the duration of our childhoods. The rules didn’t change.

Fast forward to my children, the millennials. My son was telling me about a brand new video game he’s purchased. It is another immersive world game with its own set of rules, goals and game dynamics. This particular game is a sequel to another game whose rules he can only deduce since he’s never played it.

My point is this. I and my generation grew up playing a highly defined and culture-defining set of games, whose rules stayed constant and stayed with us. My children’s generation is growing up constantly learning new games, learning new rules, and achieving new goals. If this observation is correct, what are the implications. Does this contribute to some of the uniquenesses of this generation, both good and bad.

And I wonder if having to constantly cultivate new leaning schemes and communities to adjust to new information environments is exactly the kind of childhood necessary for inheriting a rapidly changing world.

Minecraft in Pender

Most of this blog post was written several days ago

Lucas is explaining how fifth graders are using Minecraft to develop writing skills

This morning, the first info-bit to really start my motors was this Twitter post from

@dwarlick Please elaborate about Pender County and Minecraft. I’d love to hear your opinion on this.

..which resulted from a tweet that I posted from the MEGA meeting at the Friday Institute yesterday.

Pender County’s using Minecraft with 5th graders. Why am I not surprised? #ncsu_mega

Pender County is one of the quieter, flatter, more humid and scarcely populated counties in North Carolina. It consists of seven towns, none of which have you heard of, including two beach communities on the Onslow Bay. But they’ve got some interesting things going on in their schools. I’ve written about Lucas Gillispie before. He’s a young educator and a gamer — and one of a handful of teachers who have been, for the past couple of years, asking, “Might I use this video game experience to reach some of the harder-to-reach students in my school?” Teaming up with New Yorker, Peggy Sheehy, and now others, Gillispie is exploring the potentials of using multiplayer role-playing video games to help learners develop problem solving, collaboration and reflection skills, and to become story tellers.

Markus Persson (cc) by Navaboo

So, at yesterday’s MEGA meeting, he had a booth set up demonstrating Minecraft, and talking about fifth graders who are using this tamer (my supposition) video game to develop some of the same skills. For those who are not in the know, and I learned this from my son, Minecraft is currently being developed by Markus (Notch) Persson, a Swedish game developer who left gainful employment to work independently. With proceeds from the hundreds of thousands of paying Minecraft players, he has formed the company, Mojang.

The game is a 3D sandbox-style game where you mine for materials or resources and use them to build stuff. More recent versions of the game involve health points and other game dynamics, but it remains, essentially, a sandbox.

I asked Lucas where this gaming activity belongs in an elementary school, and after giving some really good answers from a rethinking how we do schools perspective, he finally said, language arts. They have only started this with 5th graders, but their plan is to have students play, build, experience the adventures and then write to audiences about those experiences.


Pano of one room of exhibits at MEGA Mtg – May 4, 2011

Also, this is my first test of Blogsy, a blog editing app for the iPad. I like it!

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. <http://bit.ly/8XHC8r>.))

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.


A Ramble about Getting Reminded…

Flickr Photo by Sharyn Morrow

I keep getting reminded that many of the people in my audiences are not of my generation, though I suspect that this is more true of those who read my blog or follow me on Twitter than those who sit politely in front of me.  I was reminded of a generational gap over the past few days as I have conducted a Twitter poll using polldaddy.  The question…

Do you typically read the packaged instructions before you start playing video games?

86% indicated that they do not read the instructions but simply start playing the game, learning along the way.  This was out of 117 respondents.  I asked my son if he reads the instructions and he said, “No!” and that he didn’t know anyone his age who did.  If you think about it, ask your students how many of them play their game only after reading the instructions, or if they just start playing.  Comment here if you have time.

Of course the respondents of my survey were probably not a good cross sampling as they were Twitter users, who follow me — a suspect group from the start.  But still, when I am presenting to a school district, it is a far more representative audience.  Often someone asks the attendees to identify their generation, and a vast majority, typically about 80%, will stand up as Boomers.

The best corollary I can think of for my gen is board games, and you simply could not play most board games without having read the instructions.  So what’s the difference?  There are probably those who believe that it’s because these kids are not capable of sustained reading for deep understanding.  I think it’s because playing a video game is more like a conversation.  Each decision you make and action you take is responded to by the game and you learn the goals and rules of the game through that conversation.

Of course, I do not play video games.  But admittedly, when I attack a new piece of software, it is in the same way that my son approaches a video game — I just start playing with it.  I try something, and if it does what I expected, then I’ve learned something about the tool.  If it doesn’t do what I expected — then I’ve learned something about the tool.

Added later: I guess my question is can teachers who demand instructions (step 1, step 2, step 3) teach experiential learners?

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Games for Change Festival

Since I could’t seem to be able to upload any of my photos, this is something from Flickr contributed by Dusk Cao
“Lunch Time at Games for Change Festival”
This is the photo I was not able to upload yesterday at the conference.

I am at the Games for Change conference (festival) in New York.  I’m not sure if I’m uptown or downtown.  It’s on 12th street, just east of 5th avenue, at The New School of Design.  It’s a small/compact conference with lots of people who care.  Games for Learning is about designing and using video games as a force for social change.  It’s an area that I know little about, except conceptually, since I don’t really play video games.  I’m here to learn, and the opening keynote certainly offered lots of opportunities for that.

Nicholas Kristof, a columnist for The New York Times, has writing extensively about social change, apparently focusing most recently on Darfur.  He made some interesting points about communication, that Toothpaste companies do a better job of selling ideas than most humanitarians.  He said that large numbers simply do not do the job, that the human brain isn’t wired to handle large numbers.  As we evolved, we were seldom surrounded by anything exceeding a dozen in quantity.  “Six people starving is a tragedy.  A million people starving is a statistic.”

He told about a middle school in the Bronx, where the plight of Darfur had become an integral part of the culture of the school — because of the video game, Darfur is Dying.  Incidentally, two of the developers of the game were in the audience.  He said that they school sent him an invitation to come and speak by sending him to a web page URL: dearmrkristof.com.

He said that the struggle that defined the 19th century was irradicating slavery.  Of the 20th century, it was defeating totalitarianism.  He suggests that gender inequity in the developing world will define the 21st century.

The next session was about Pew’s recent report on teenagers, video games, and civic involvement.  Joseph Kahne listed five myths about video games:

  • Video games are violent.  There are violent video games, but teenagers, in truth, are playing all kinds of video games.
  • Many boys play only violent games. In truth, most youth play many genres of games, especially boys.
  • Game Play isolates you. 65% reported that they play in the presence of others and 27% reported that they play online, collaboratively with others.
  • The Game defines the experience.  Not true.  Many games offer huge opportunities for differentiation of the game experience.  My son got bored with Halo in a couple of weeks.  So he and his friends started inventing their own games to play in the Halo environment.
  • There is a huge digital divide when it comes to different groups’ video game play.  Again, nearly 100% of teens play video games across all demongraphics.

What I found interesting was the notion that the digital divide is more about the divide between classrooms that are making authentic, productive, empowering use of digital technologies, and classrooms that are using it to drill and kill (my wording).

The second speaker of that session was Ian Rowe, who works for the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation.  He is currently focused on college completion.  He reported that only 70% of U.S. teens finish high school.  But only 50% of entering college students graduate with a degree.  Part of the problem is that only half of the graduating high school students are prepared for college (1/3 of all high school students).

It’s time to bring this entry to a close, except to share one thing that Jim Gee said in a later session on assessment and video games.  He said, “Looking at the choices that people make in solving problems is a good predictor of knowledge they have gained. But measuring knowledge does not predict problem solving ability.”

Choice vs Knowledge

Your Game Puppet

Flickr Photo by Mark CoffeeGeek from Vancouver

Tweeted yesterday that during a pilot project in Portugal involving 8 and 9 year olds setting up virtual businesses in Active Worlds, they were encouraged to call their avatars, their “toys.”

I just discovered a Tweet-reply from VWassessments (Kathy Landerson).

Interesting -in SL -“avatar”, in WoW players call them “toons” & have main & alts, in Muxlim Pal -it’s ur “pal”, in Spore ur “creature” (Landerson)

I wonder how your term for your game puppet affects your relationship with the player identity and/or the player’s relationship with the game?  I’m sure somebody’s researching that.

For that matter, how does the students relationship with a end product affect his or her relationship with what’s being learned — or how well it’s being learned?

I always preferred being the race car.

Landerson, Kathy. 11 Apr 2009. Online Posting. Twitter. Web: 13 Apr 2009.

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200 Virtual Worlds for Kids

Club Timemachine [click image to enlarge]

I am still working on this article on virtual worlds in education, an ran across this report from January 26, 2009.  According to Virtual Worlds Management, more than 200 youth-oriented worlds are currently live or in development.  This is an increase from 150 known youth-oriented virtual worlds in August of 2008.

I pulled the listing into a spread sheet and did a little inquiry.  Here are some of the things I found:

  • 38 of the virtual worlds products are explicitely intended for children six and younger.
  • Two are being developed in Australia, 2 in Belgium, 8 in Canada, 2 in China, 3 in Denmark, 4 in Finland, 2 in France, 4 in Germany, 3 in Israel, 5 in Japan, 4 in Korea, 2 in Spain, 2 in Sweden, 14 in the UK, and 126 in the U.S.
  • One is in Alpha, 10 are in closed beta, 36 are in open beta, 7 are in concept, and 26 are under development.  Most of the rest are live.

“200+ Youth-Oriented Worlds Live or Developing.” Virtual Worlds Management. 2 Feb 2009. Show Initiative, LLC. 26 Jan 2009 <http://www.virtualworldsmanagement.com/2009/youth-01-26-2009.html>.

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