DMAL & Gaming

One of the more inspiring threads of our collective inquiry on Teachers Teaching Teachers has been to explore how to bring gaming into our classrooms. (See some of our shows on gaming from the past 18 months.) We plan to add to that list of shows on Wednesday, May 25 at at 9:00pm Eastern / 6:00pm Pacific World Times, and we want to invite you to join us.

This week’s show began with a study group on gaming that teachers Janelle Quintans Bence and Joy Blackwell have been involved with in the North Star Writing Project (Texas). We first met Janelle in July 2007 in the National Writing Project’s Tech Matters workshops.

Janelle and her colleagues in Texas are filled with questions as they plan to bring gaming into their classrooms this fall. She sent me some of them. What better way to jump back into gaming than with a bunch of questions — the kind of questions teachers often ask when they consider adding games to their classes.

Here are the questions we’ve been brainstorming in our study group on gaming:

How did you all begin including gaming curriculum in your classrooms?
What are some of your biggest successes? Challenges?
How much game playing goes on in your classroom? Do students only play in social action games? What does that conversation look like? What norms are set prior to this?
I’m thinking about using the games students play on a regular basis as media for students to deconstruct and analyze in terms of influencing identity. Should I be playing all these games to get a better idea? Or will observing the students play suffice? What does a teacher do if he or she is not good at playing those video games?
Designing games really requires deep content knowledge. How much experience with game design did you have prior to letting the students explore that avenue?
Could you tell us about Scratch? What are the benefits of this program as compared to Game Star Mechanic?
What kind of evaluation do you use around gaming?
Is it all informal discourse based assessment, or do you do something more formal?
Has your game playing been limited to computer games or have you also used standalone consuls?
How much time did you have to dedicate to help students understand how to utilize the game design tool before they began designing? Do you feel that this time has been detrimental to fulfilling your ability to satisfy state standards?

Joining us to help us to explore these questions will be Samantha Adams, the Director of Communications, at the New Media Consortium (NMC). d Samantha is one of the writers of of the recently released Horizon Report: 2011 K12 Edition, which has a section on gaming:

Game-based learning has gained considerable traction since 2003, when James Gee began to describe the impact of game play on cognitive development. Since then, research and interest in the potential of gaming on learning has exploded, as has the diversity of games themselves, with the emergence of serious games as a genre, the proliferation of gaming platforms, and the evolution of games on mobile devices. Developers and researchers are working in every area of game-based learning, including games that are goal-oriented; social game environments; non-digital games that are easy to construct and play; games developed expressly for education; and commercial games that lend themselves to refining team and group skills. Role-playing, collaborative problem solving, and other forms of simulated experiences are recognized for having broad applicability across a wide range of disciplines.

As the lead writer at the NMC, Samantha Adams was deeply involved in the research and writing of the report. We can’t wait to see what she has to say about gaming and the other items in the report: Cloud Computing, Mobiles, Open Content, Learning Analytics, Personal Learning Environments.

Given the questions coming form the North Star Writing Project’s study group on gaming, we thought it would be a good idea to also invite Chad Sansing, from the Central Virginia Writing Project. This June, ISTE’s Unplugged, Chad plans to “take a closer look at student writing and multi-media compositions created in response to game-based learning on Digital Is, the National Writing Project’s new media archive and initiative.”

And that’s not all! Fortunately, we were smart enough to ask Chad who else he thought we might invite. Thanks to his connections, Janelle and her colleagues will get to hear about gaming from these three educators as well:
Joel Levin, a computer teacher at Manhattan’s Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School. Joel decided to start using the game Minecraft to teach an entire unit to his first- and second-grade students recently. (See an with Joel, “Educational building blocks: how Minecraft is used in classrooms,” by Andrew Webster | Published about a month ago in ars technica.)

Melanie McBride, who wrote back to Chad and my invitation with these insights:

Thanks for contacting me – flattered though I’m probably going to be too far out for this 🙂 my ideas are crazy and I should be kept away from the airwaves.

I’d recommend my partner, children’s author and elementary teacher, Liam O’Donnell over myself for this – he’s currently using Minecraft with a spec ed class and taking an interesting approach (I’m biased of course). In addition to his experience as a teacher, he’s been writing and advocating for games based learning for a very long time. As well he’s written extensively about reluctant readers, boys and learning and many of his graphic novels are aimed at those readers – high action, lower vocab.

As for myself: I’m currently on a leave of absence from high school teaching to write my book and research *situated* informal learning (the out of school
kind) of gaming and virtual worlds. While I still locate myself peripherally to the games based learning in schools/education, I quite intentionally chose to focus on “informal” and “situated” learning contexts rather than school examples. We’re studying Minecraft for use with early childhood educators (post secondary) with small children.
We invited Liam O’Donnell as well. Liam sent along this link:
“Here’s a post about my first week using Minecraft with my kids. It’ll give you a sense of my teaching style and philosophy.”
For me, it was the perfect vehicle to build the literacy skills of seven grade 5 and 6 students who come to me for reading and writing support three days a week. For these students, motivation to read and write is a big challenge. Previously, we had done a writing unit around their Nintendo DSi’s, specifically Pokemon, where they had drawn maps of the game areas, profiled their favourite Pokemon and written strategy guides for specific Pokemon fights. I knew they loved video games and after screening a few Minecraft videos on youtube, they were totally eager to play.
It should be a very interesting show! We think Janelle and Joy should get some questions answered, and maybe be inspired to ask a few new ones. Maybe you will be too!

Please join us tomorrow, Wednesday, May 25 at at 9:00pm Eastern / 6:00pm Pacific / World Times.

Paul Allison, Susan Ettenheim, and Chris Sloan


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