It seems like educational games are either lots of fun with very little educational value, or they are boring and school-ish. Very few game designers are able to successfully balance the two. One observation that stuck with me from last night is that although games are a little spotty as content-delivery mechanisms, they are a great way to build engagement, and teachers know that engagement is crucial for learning. One of the presenters, Dan Schwartz, showed some statistics to support that students are able to learn more when they first play a game related to the content they are studying.
In particular, I think the Portal 2 Puzzle Maker (video overview) might be an excellent tool to experiment with as an introduction to math and physics concepts.
I think many teachers might suggest that much our standardized test-taking culture is not particularly supportive to helping our students develop creativity. In fact, you talk about a survey where school superintendents rate “problem-solving” as the number one quality needed in employees today, while employers ranked it eighth and said that problem identification was number one. Do you have any suggestions on what we can do in the classroom to help our students develop this kind of creativity in the face of this challenge?
This is a huge question. Problem-solving remains an important skill. No doubt about it. But problem-finding is becoming just as important, if not more so. In purely pragmatic terms, if a customer knows exactly what its problem is, it can probably find the solution on its own. It doesnt need you. But where you’re enormously valuable is when the customer doesnt know what its problem is, or is wrong about its problem. There you can make a big difference — by identifying problems the customer doesnt realize that it has, surfacing latent problems, and looking down the road to anticipate problems that havent yet arrived.
So how do teachers teach “problem finding” in addition to “problem solving”? I’ve been messing around with design thinking over the past few years, and I’ve found that it’s a great way to teach “problem finding” in a variety of classroom and coaching contexts. Design thinking is a process to design a solution to a problem for a user or group of users while anticipating problems that could arise along the way. But rather than designing something for someone, which is typically how solutions are presented, you design something with someone. One design thinking credo is “fail early,” because when a designer fails early, by identifying problems with their design before they invest too much into it, they anticipate and avoid bigger problems down the road.
Design thinking is appealing in education because it is a formal methodology that enables students and teachers to practice empathy-building and problem-identification skills in real-world scenarios. If you’re an educator looking for a way to teach “problem finding” in a K12 environment, here are a few design thinking resources to get you started:
Just a few things I’ve learned from Moto Shop about routine motorcycle maintenance. Strong recommendation for their classes if you’re in the Bay area. The following checks should be completed every riding season, or every 3-4 months or so.
Check oil level and color. Let the bike sit for a few minutes until the oil settles before you pull the dip stick.
Check throttle free play. There should be very little free play, 2mm or so.
Check clutch free play. Should be 1/2 inch free-play on the clutch. If not, adjust at the handle first, then below the bike. If you have to adjust below, screw the handle adjustment all the way in before adjusting below so that there is room to adjust at the handle when the cable loosens over time. There should be a 2mm gap in the handle when you depress the clutch.
Check back brake free play. Free-play of back brake pedal should be about an inch.
Check front brake pads. For the first 100 miles after a brake change, brake frequently to allow the pads to conform to the grooves in the rotors. Brakes should last approximately 5k-12k miles.
Check back brake pads. On a drum brake, there are two small arrows, which allow you to check the wear without removing the brake cover. When these arrows align, it’s time to change the pads.
Check coolant reservoir. Fill with 50/50 if it’s not at max.
Check tires for wear (cracks, age, tread). At least once a month. An indicator (arrow) on the rim of the tire will show you where the bump is. When the tread of the tire is flush with bump, it’s time to change it. The date of manufacture is located inside of an oval on the tire (ex. “3809″=38th week of 2009). Replace tires if you see any cracking, or after 5-7 years on a cruiser, 3-4 years on a sport bike.
Check suspension. When you push down on the front forks, it shouldn’t bounce much when it comes back up. If you see oil on the forks, the fork seals are leaking.
Check battery. Make sure the screws are on tight and check for corrosion. Batteries should last 4-5 years. All motorcycle batteries are 12 volts. You can jump a battery from a car battery, but don’t turn the car on.
Check engine for oil leaks. The most common leaks are from the valve cover gasket and head gasket, but it leak anywhere that two pieces of metal are joined together.
Check the tension of the chain (if applicable). About an inch of give. If the manual gives a range, go on the tighter side to give it room to stretch out over time. Spin the wheel and check the free play in several different spots. Spray the lubricant on the o-rings. The chain shouldn’t get stuck or have any give side-to-side or front-to-back. Sprockets should be nice and round and even. Chains last 15-20k miles.
The Pew Research Center reports that approximately 97% of teens play video games in their free time. Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subject-areas have used programming and game design to teach 21st Century skills, but what can an English class do to leverage the potential of game-based learning?
Return to Zork
I remember when my family brought home our first computer, a used Commodore 64. It came with three games: Zork 1, 2, and 3, which were text-based adventure games. Players had to read each screen in order to visualize the setting and they navigated the game by typing commands such as “go north” and “unlock door with key.” With the popularity of ‘retro’ games like MineCraft, I thought it would be interesting to go really ‘old-skool’ and create text-based adventure games with my 10th grade English class.
After analyzing several essays containing descriptive imagery and composing a short piece of writing about a favorite location in San Francisco, students honed their descriptive writing skills by creating text-based interactive fiction games using PlayFic.com and the Inform 7 programming language. Without the benefit of modern graphics, students had to rely on vivid sensory imagery in order to create engaging game-play environments.
Common Core » English Language Arts Standards » Writing » Grade 9-10
Text Types and Purposes
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3a Engage and orient the reader by setting out a problem, situation, or observation, establishing one or multiple point(s) of view, and introducing a narrator and/or characters; create a smooth progression of experiences or events.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3b Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, description, reflection, and multiple plot lines, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3c Use a variety of techniques to sequence events so that they build on one another to create a coherent whole.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3d Use precise words and phrases, telling details, and sensory language to convey a vivid picture of the experiences, events, setting, and/or characters.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3e Provide a conclusion that follows from and reflects on what is experienced, observed, or resolved over the course of the narrative.
What is interactive fiction? (5 min. flash-research) Do you consider this a literary genre?
Create a basic structure of rooms in your game. Tomorrow, we will add objects and other features, but first you will need a functional world to populate. Test to be sure that you are able to navigate to each room. Add sensory imagery so that your player can fully experience your world. Remember, we don’t have the benefit of graphics, so you will have to rely on 5 senses descriptions.
Game Design Workshop
Add at lease one object and one container to your IF game.
Revise the descriptions of your rooms
Add additional characters and objects if time allows.
Remember: Check with a classmate and/or check the IF guides before asking me for help. You learn by making mistakes and troubleshooting. Your brains stop working when I give you the answer! So THINK, THINK, THINK.
Leave feedback for at least one classmate as a reply to their post (What did you like about their game? What could they improve?) If you don’t have time during class, post your response before we meet on Friday.
On Saturday, February 9, four of my 10th grade students accompanied me to lead a workshop on “Interactive Fiction Game Design” at the California Association of Teachers of English (CATE) convention in Santa Clara, where they provided some background about the project, answered questions, and showcased videos of interviews they had filmed of their classmates.
During a student-led Q&A panel, a teacher asked how writing an interactive fiction story compares to writing a standard essay. One student acknowledged that because programming the game was difficult, some of his classmates might have preferred writing a standard essay, but he added, “I actually thought it was more interesting doing it this way. It was like a ‘3-D essay.’”
Another student agreed that programming an interactive fiction game can be challenging. “I had a piñata in my game, and I needed a baseball bat to whack it. I spent all night figuring out how to have the player pick up the baseball bat and use it as a key to unlock the piñata, before I realized that the game wasn’t recognizing the accent mark.”
At the end of the session, the students coached the teachers as they designed their own interactive fiction games.
The largest disruptions resulting from digital media will occur in place and form. From the functionalist perspective, assuming that our 19th-century model of education was intended to prepare workers for the factory (see How to Break Free of Our 19th-Century Factory-Model Education System), then it makes sense that digital media will disrupt education in ways that are increasingly representative of the organizational structure of 21st-century workplaces: decentralized students, collaborative projects, flexible schedules.
In The Qualified Student: A History of Selective College Admission in America, Wechsler says that in lieu of an institutionalized secondary system, early colleges established their own preparatory academies. Right now the pioneers in K12 online instruction are universities: Stanford, Bringham Young University, and the University of Missouri (For a good overview of this trend, see the NYT article “Online High Schools Attracting Elite Names“).
From the conflict perspective, Stanford University’s decision to back Stanford Online High School can be viewed as a mark of legitimacy (and exclusivity) for online instruction. Right now, Stanford Online High School charges $15k a year in tuition (pretty exclusive by my standards).
In lieu of a big name like “Stanford,” online instruction, and public education generally, will continue to be heavily scripted and assessed, and so I think that we will see the least disruption via digital media in regards to governance and content. In the short term, rather than displacing K12 curriculum generally, it’s much more likely that we will see digital media displacing target non-core areas, such as credit-recovery, AP, world languages, as cost-saving measures in schools.
“I had three rules for my players: No profanity. Don’t criticize a teammate. Never be late.” John Wooden
Learn in context as you work towards a goal. Don’t waste time learning things you might need to know.
Ask people questions about themselves and be a good listener. Focus on making other people comfortable. Listen more than you talk. Make eye contact and smile. On your way to an event, consider who will be there and come up with a few topics of conversation. Never exhibit anger, impatience, or excitement. Don’t interrupt, “one-up” (conversations are cooperative, not competitive), or “overshare”.
Minimize incoming industry news.I’ve reduced all incoming edTech news to the weekly EdSurge newsletter, 403x at Stanford, and 10 Twitter users.
Stop reading nonfiction books. This used to be my favorite genre, but now I search for the book title and “cheat sheet” or “summary” and learn 80% of what I would’ve learned from reading the whole thing.
Use the Pomodoro Technique to maintain concentration. Set a timer for 25 minutes, work only on the task at hand, then take a 3-5 minute break. I do this when I’m reading, and for a break, I take a 5 minute walk.
Apply the Pareto principle to master any subject. 20% of the effort generates 80% of the results. Type up “one-pagers” to keep track of the essentials.
If you can’t make a decision, you don’t have enough information. Never search for advice online. It always leaves me with more questions than answers. It’s better to do further research or seek out advice from a few select experts. Don’t make a decision until it feels right.
Make your bed.
Say, “Yes, and…” instead of, “Yes, but…” This applies to brainstorming as well as difficult personal conversations.
Today, though, “learning a bunch of stuff because you may use it later is a pretty risky bet in a world where things are changing very quickly,” Ito says. The power of pull inverts that approach: “You come up with an idea, you pull the resources and learn what you need, and then you build it, and then you raise the money.”
The best way to prepare students to thrive in this new environment, says Ito, is to emphasize project-oriented and interest-driven learning over the traditional academic approach of accumulating knowledge that one may (or may not) use later: “It’s ‘I want to do this. What do I need to learn in order to do that?’ rather than ‘I’ve just learned this. What do I do now?’” He sees the Media Lab as a prototype for such a shift and thinks degrees should be a by-product of education, not the focus.
I love this line: “I want to do this. What do I need to learn in order to do that?” Rule of thumb: if you can’t articulate an immediate need for what you’re learning, don’t learn it. Applying something as you learn it is a much more effective way to retain information than learning something out of context.
Thus Mazur begins a class with a student-sourced question, then asks students to think the problem through and commit to an answer, which each records using a handheld device (smartphones work fine), and which a central computer statistically compiles, without displaying the overall tally. If between 30 and 70 percent of the class gets the correct answer (Mazur seeks controversy), he moves on to peer instruction. Students find a neighbor with a different answer and make a case for their own response. Each tries to convince the other. During the ensuing chaos, Mazur circulates through the room, eavesdropping on the conversations. He listens especially to incorrect reasoning, so “I can re-sensitize myself to the difficulties beginning learners face.” After two or three minutes, the students vote again, and typically the percentage of correct answers dramatically improves. Then the cycle repeats.
This caught my attention because it seems like an active way for students to learn. Students pose the question and teach each other It frees up the teacher to move around the room to get a better sense of how students are thinking.