Discovering STEM together!

November 22, 2011 Leave a comment

Share What You Discover! Publishing Your Work | Reading Topics A-Z | Reading Rockets

Almost every week there is a news story about a new finding or discovery in science. These news stories are one of the exciting steps in the science world: sharing what you find! Helping kids share their own scientific findings will make them feel like part of the scientific community.

Categories: Uncategorized

A Failed Experiment

August 3, 2011 Leave a comment

Here’s what I glean from this article.  A total of 9% of a student’s academic achievement is the direct result of in-school factors.  Since the entire NCLB system is dedicated to altering in-school factors at the exclusion of all other factors, a single digit improvement in academic achievement is the pinnacle of what NCLB can deliver.  Maybe we should consider some other alternatives?

Standards, Testing, and Accountability: A Failed Experiment |

It seems as if Americans are constantly bombarded by reports of doom related to our educational system. A recent documentary, Waiting for Superman, has highlighted the disturbing and sad situations in our schools.

The documentary and most other commentaries on schools and schooling—as well as laws and funding—are based on the notion that somehow teachers are the root cause of the problems facing U.S. schools. The idea seems to be that we need to get rid of a whole bunch of lazy, incompetent teachers.

Categories: Accountablility, NCLB

Teacher Guide for Games in the Classroom

My most recent task was to create a guide for teachers to use a video game in the classroom that would advance instruction. This guide was designed to help get teachers excited about using commercially available games in the classroom, as well as provide a standards based lesson plan for its use.

Using The Settlers 7 in the Classroom

Categories: Uncategorized

Violence and Gender Roles in Video Games

April 29, 2011 Leave a comment

It would be incredibly hard to argue that video games are a powerful learning tool that address significant cognitive learning methodologies, and then to also pretend that excessive violence and gender stereotypes therein do not affect players. A study conducted by Smith, Lachlan, and Tamborini (2003) concluded that 68% of the popular games sampled included violence, even those rated “E” by the ratings board. This study suggests that even young children who play video games regularly will be presented with a significant amount of violence from those games. Dietz (1998) suggests that video games are becoming increasingly important in the social identities of children and that violence and gender roles will negatively impact the self-identification of children who grow up playing video games.

In my opinion, while the research is not conclusive, it comes down pretty heavily on the side that children watching and experiencing excessive violence through media are likely to find violence more acceptable. Gender roles are likely to have a similar effect. However, in the same way that a teacher must use care and planning when introducing a video game into the classroom, parents must use care and planning when introducing video games to their children. Helping children identify gratuitous violence and contextualize it, can go a long way toward helping children compartmentalize that violence. In this way children, and students, cease being passive viewers of violence and gender roles in video games, but become participants and critics of the portrayal of violence and gender roles in video games. As adults, we are capable of understanding that the roles we play in games are not necessarily intended to be emulated, and teaching that to our children is an increasingly vital part of parenting.


Dietz, T. L. (1998). An Examination of Violence and Gender Role Portrayals in Video Games: Implications for Gender Socialization and Aggressive Behavior. Retrieved April 2011, from

Smith, S. L., Lachlan, K., & Tamborini, R. (2003, March). Popular Video Games: Quantifying the Presentation of Violence and Its Context. Retrieved April 2011, from

Categories: Uncategorized

Games as constructivist learning

April 15, 2011 Leave a comment

When first contemplating the use of commercially available non-educational games into a classroom environment, it is reasonable to believe that the curriculum will have to be wrapped around the game. The idea that the game itself can actually move the understanding of the curriculum forward takes a little getting used to. However, from a constructivist point of view, using games in the classroom is not so great a leap.

Falance (2001) discusses how practitioners of constructivism believe in creating environments of learning through cognitive apprenticeships. Learners must interact with experts to experience how they think and solve problems. In many ways today’s commercial games follow this model. Gee (2003) argues that the underlying architecture of commercial games helps foster mastery of content by pushing players to the limits of their abilities, but always staying within those boundaries, creating a sense of both pleasure and frustration. In this way players gain new knowledge, and are motivated to continue to gain new knowledge.

Another aspect where game playing and constructivism coincide is in collaborative work. One of the most rapidly growing game genres is the massive multiplayer online role-playing game concept, like World of Warcraft. In these games, players are able to work on their own to learn and level up, but the game favors the use of team play. As social animals the act of sharing new information and learning experiences is important in contextualizing what we learn (Falance, 2001). These games provide us with an opportunity to not only learn from our immediate peers, but also to interact with players and students all over the world.

Games can therefore help to create a constructivist learning environment for students, and the teacher can become a facilitator of learning rather than a provider of non-contextual information. In order for appropriate learning to occur, the students must have an opportunity to reflect on what they have learned, and must be provided guidance to avoid missing the learning opportunity because they were too distracted by the game content (CitEd Research Center). Teachers must therefore provide guidance to students to understand how to apply the learning that occurred in the game back into the real world, and provide a safe classroom environment for students to explore these new concepts.
The rapid rise of new technologies actually creates greater opportunities for creating constructivist learning environments. The belief that the best way to learn something is through authentic interaction has always been hindered by the sometimes limited opportunities for interaction caused by socio-economic realities. However, the increasing availability of computers and the games that drive them creates new opportunities for authentic interaction for all students.

CitEd Research Center. (n.d.). Learning with Computer Games and Simulations. Retrieved April 15, 2011, from
Falance, T. (2001). Constructivism. In K. L. Medsker, & K. A. Holdsworth (Eds.), Models and Strategies for Training Design (pp. 213-234). Silver Spring: International Society for Performance Improvement.
Gee, J. P. (2003, May). High Score Education. Retrieved April 2011, from

Using games in education

April 15, 2011 Leave a comment

When I first returned to education as a teacher rather than a learner, I was in Europe in a country still recovering from 50 years of communist rule. Technology was still overpriced, and internet access was limited and relatively slow. Strikingly, what I found when I entered a classroom of young elementary students was a driving desire for more technologically driven lessons, and vastly more access to technologically based content.

On returning to the US, I entered public education with a strong belief that education had changed dramatically since I was a student. I expected computer based learning, student research and discovery through the internet, and computer savvy instruction. Unfortunately, what I found, at least in the urban school district in which I work, was a drive to teach students how to pass tests, computers too old to function, and teachers with no understanding of how to integrate technology in their classrooms. As Prensky (2001) points out, today’s teachers and learners are from different worlds. Every day in my classroom, I struggle to engage students in paper and pencil, competing for their attention with the console games they have been playing at home. To today’s students, 3D virtual worlds with a constant level of excitement and activity are a minimum expectation for their attention.

As I have been playing games and trying to view them both as a gamer and as an educator, I have given extensive thought to how to capture that excitement. I have thought about using games at both extremes, from completely immersive classrooms to trying to build an environment without games that is somehow competitive. Obviously when looking at this question, the instinct is to push to the middle, and try to find a way to use games to capture attention, and then bring the students back to a more traditional form of learning. Since the ultimate goal of this course is to design instructions for teachers on how to use a particular game in the classroom, I starting thinking about how I would build a lesson plan. I began thinking back to a lesson I had taught this year, and about one of the games I have played for this course, Settlers 7. One lesson I taught in Social Studies this year was about community interdependence. My students, who are all from low-income families, have, in large part, never left their communities, and had difficulty comprehending this global subject. One of the most engaging aspects of this game to me was the need to manage the interdependence of the conquered communities in this game. Each community has specific resources that can only be properly utilized in combination with other resources. Communities must trade and share to survive. We worked on this concept for a week, with varying levels of success, and I wonder if I might have had better success with a day spent on this game. The game has a very effective tutorial that would have been sufficient for most students to gain a rudimentary understanding of the game details. As Carvin (2008) points out, games need to strike a balance between pushing the skill level of a student, without being too difficult. Given that new background knowledge, it might have been easier to scaffold the real world implications for the students to understand it more deeply.

Carvin, A. (2008, March). Should Video Games Replace Classroom Learning? Retrieved April 2011, from
Prensky, M. (2001). The Digital Game-Based Learning Revolution. Retrieved April 2011, from

Categories: Learning Games

Game Review from an educator perspective

April 10, 2011 Leave a comment

When I first began playing World of Warcraft, I was trying to imagine how I might use this in a classroom. I started out, as I imagine everyone does, with a weak character and no knowledge of my surroundings. Unfortunately, I immediately forgot why I was playing and set out to improve my character and learn about the world I now inhabited. I believe this is the challenge we face as educators. If these games are this immersive and engaging, how exactly to we either steal that attention, or borrow it for our own purposes.
Fortunately, when the headphones came off, I began to think about how engaged I had been, and began running through the various cognitive skills I had been using during the game. I began to think back and I remembered, that since I was trying to experience as much as I could as fast as I could I ran off and got myself killed very quickly. After that, I began thinking a little more strategically. Which monsters can I beat easily, and which ones will provide me with the greatest risk-benefit ratio. Soon I was challenging my character to the limits, but shying away from battles that I knew I could not win. Instead of dying quickly, I now found myself leveling up, and gathering loot. This found me in my next dilemma, as my carrying capacity was soon used up, and I needed to sell to make some space. I found my way to a village and began selling what I had. I soon found that some of the loot I had collected was very valuable, and some of it was virtually worthless. This knowledge would later help me strategically collect the best items on my quests, in order to be able to carry as much as possible.

While in the village, I found my first quest and set out. Along the way, I encountered increasingly powerful creatures wanting to kill me. While I was not interested in socializing during this gaming research, I did find that a limited amount of cooperation with the people around me was demonstrably helpful. A few shared combat experiences, and I was feeling more and more a part of a greater community. Given a stronger desire to befriend those around me, I might have communicated more, or even been a more effective quester.
Finishing the quest, I left the game behind, and put back on my educator’s helmet for a while. What had I learned from the experience? As a professional adult educator, I had learned lessons in cost-benefit ratios, strategic thinking, economics, and social dynamics. Many of these same lessons, I have already learned in real life, but many students have never had the opportunity. I began to see areas toward which I could direct students. I began to think of ways to bring groups together for guided team building, and strategic planning. I started to image a chance to excite students productively with something that already excites them.

Gee (2003) points out that video games tend to focus on building toward mastery at each level, only to have that mastery taken away or challenged at the next level. I realized that, except for my initial foray into excessive violence, the game had presented me with a world that became increasingly difficult as I progressed. With each level I gained, there were new stronger monsters that challenged my new strength, but also offered greater rewards. Traditional schooling on the other hand appears to be moving in exactly the opposite direction. Classroom under incredible pressure to produce test scores at any cost, are more often teaching to the middle creating mastery for none.
In my final reflections, I find that World of Warcraft is a dangerously engaging game. With immersive 3D graphics, and exciting game play, I truly forgot my mission as an educator. Trying to compete against that level of interactive fun seems a lost cause. Finding ways to borrow some of the built in engagement that students already have, and tap into that excitement with games like World of Warcraft appears to be a necessity, not an option.

Gee, J. P. (2003, May). High Score Education. Retrieved April 2011, from