No student every needs to dissect anything, ever

Image originally from www.digitalfrog.com

Image originally from www.digitalfrog.com

My blood was a’ boiling this morning after reading an article on  edweek about an investigation done by the College Board:

… can a student get the same level of experience from a virtual dissection online, without actually smelling the formaldehyde or making a cut?

In recent years, the College Board, which authorizes AP classes and offers college-level material to high school students, has been trying to determine whether simulated labs in some science courses can take the place of real-world experiments. It’s a debate that online science providers and hands-on teachers are grappling with as well.

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Posted in research, Science | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The trouble with games in schools

Parents start to disengage with their childrens learning at adolescence

Do parents start to disengage with their children's learning at adolescence?

At the EdubloggerCon Unconference this year, I ran into a woman who had a great insight for me.  I told her a little bit about what I did (produce  core science games for middle schoolers) and my ambitions for the conference (thinking about design consideration that will ease game implementation in the classroom, and she quickly said,  “Parents. You have to get it to the parents, make them put pressure on the schools.  That is the only way it is going to happen.”

It’s a compelling point and it made me reflect on some of the awards Operation: Resilient Planet Game was up for this year, awards we ultimately  didn’t win.  Many of our fellow finalists, and the ultimate winners, were targeted toward elementary school math and reading.  The games were designed to give parent’s progress reports, thus demonstrating a core understanding of a certain thriving market.

So these winners kind of figured some stuff out.  Parents have the tenacity and desire to get their kids playing games in order to learn.  And perhaps, as these types of efforts gain popularity among involved parents, schools receive pressure to bring these technologies into schools.

But what about those of us who are making games aimed for older kids?  Games with core, but challenging content?  Will we ever capture parents?  Will parents ever sign on to learn how their kids are doing on acquiring science content?  Tweens start to get a little scary for parents.  Parents back off.  Parents are less involved with their kids learning.  And besides, science is still seen as being periphery to skills like math and reading.  Will we even accomplish the first step towards getting parents to think about games for kids out of elementary school?

This is still a nascent field, but it was certainly odd to find our game about trophic models and ecological population counting methods going toe-to-toe with games where fairies and cowboys hold your hand as you master short and long “a” sounds.

At any rate, I think the unconference-goer I mentioned at the start of this post is on to something, and I think I see her poignant observation playing out with younger students.  I just really hope that despite my hunch, parents do remain interested advocates of their kid’s education beyond  2nd grade. It may not be the only way to get quality educational games into the classroom, but it is certainly vital.

Posted in educational reform, game design, Video games | 3 Comments

Brainstorming about geology

With our energy games mostly planned, I’ve been turning my attention towards thinking about the geology unit we will be starting o n this summer and trying to find some game idea inspirations for that topic.  To do this, I’ve been poking around the web to see what is out there.   Here are a few websites I uncovered in my exploration:

1) Wild, Wild Climate

It isn’t quite geology but it does what I do love about it is its page on “Junk Science Detection” and a great explanation about the role of peer review. There is a real intellectual crisis when it comes to evaluating data, especially scientific data and having it laid out in such a straightforward manner is welcome and necessary.  Too often, we take political opinion as fact.

(from http://wildwildclimate.com)

2) The Interactive RockCycle

I’ve never formally studied geology (along with meteorology it is the only science I’ve really neglected) so I loved how crisp, clear, straightforward and well illustrated this particular interactive was.  It is a very elegant piece.

3) Annenberg Media

Now found at learner.org, these are free, on demand, and impeccably produced videos.  I cannot believe how readily accessible these gems are.  I’m using them to get a crash course in geology.

4) School Yard Geology

This project was apparently inspired by a scientist who taught inmates in a California prison field geology.  There are several great ideas for activities, especially for younger grades.

You can see that my approach is to examine a smattering of media.  I need video game ideas, but so far I’ve gotten a lot out of movies, interactives, lesson plans, and presentations.  Merging ideas from all of these helps me eventually hone in on a game idea.  If you have any other geology resources, of know of anything that could make a great geology game, send me a tweet @mchmiel

Posted in Science, Video games | Tagged , , , | 17 Comments