Book Report: “What Video Games Have to Teach us about Learning and Literacy”

I was first up in presenting my book talk, which I did Monday of this week.  The book I was discussing was Gee’s What Video Games Have to Teach us about Learning and Literacy. A one page summary of my thoughts on the book can be found in my book talk paper, located in this link here: 20150221BookTalkPaperGuler-CarrasquilloCv3.

Starting off my book talk, I had my cohort write down practices involved in doing science and practices involved in playing video games.

A co-constructed list of practices utilized in science and in video games.
A co-constructed list of practices utilized in science and in video games.

I then asked what are common themes between both lists and one that stuck out was that both science and gaming are collaborative endeavors. Some members of the cohort mentioned that most of the elements of both lists are interchangeable.

I then went on to show a short video about education and video games made by a team of game developers interested in taking a critical eye towards games and their future potential.  The topic of the video was that students desire instantaneous feedback that allows them to eventually solve the problem on their own terms, rather than being forced to give the right answer without the opportunity to revise.

While my cohort watched the video above, I asked them to write down interesting ideas and questions/concerns the video inspired in them. I have compiled some of the interesting ideas in a list:

  • Designing educational experiences as a way to improve upon their knowledge vs. assessing if students possess that knowledge
  • Innovation requires “failure as an opportunity to learn” mindset
  • 21st century jobs require finding answers to new problems
  • Rapid feedback->Response->Innovation
  • “Do you know how to solve this?” vs. “What is the solution?”

I also compiled the list of concerns/questions and I will try to address them to the best of my ability. The video is only four minutes long, but there is a series of videos Extra Credits has on education and video games which elaborates a little more on their points and even providing practical applications of the notions they are espousing here.

What counts as a game?

I would define a game as a form of play, guided by a goal. The element of play allows for opportunities to how approaches the goal and the act of having the goal provides direction for the play. This direction occurs with negative feedback when an approach is taking one away from the goal and positive feedback when an approach is getting  one closer to the goal.  There is has been some controversy over whether or not video games without “lose states” (ex. game over, death) are actually games, because otherwise there is no negative feedback that stimulates a change in tactics. I would definitely say that an authentic inquiry-based learning opportunity has all the elements that a game has. There is problem solving, revision of previous approaches and ideas, collaboration between players, consequences in response to actions, and more.

How do we use games to do this?

You can utilize game design when deciding how to run your classroom. For example, in many role playing games the player character gains experience points after performing different acts such as defeating an enemy or reading a book. A certain level of experience points leads to the player leveling up, at they gain new skills/abilities at higher levels. Teachers can implement this in their grading system, where traditionally students start with an A+ and have no where to go but down. By instead making the system about gaining points, there is positive reinforcement that leads students not to worry about failing, but instead trying because each learning opportunity is a chance to gain more points. Also, you can include the skill system by explicitly stating when a student has shown proficiency in a certain skill such as “data analysis”. In this way, you make learning much more transparent to each student.

Do all jobs really require innovation or is it up to the employee?

I am not sure if innovation is required, but certainly having the ability to implement creative solutions is a useful skill in any field and should be a desired trait in an employee.  Also, as a reform-minded science teacher who wants to ensure that their students leave the classroom being more scientifically literate than when they came in, it is my hope that I better prepared them to be able to be innovative in any challenge they may face in the future.

Really, use games in the classroom is the answer? W/o thinking about the strategies used in the game; its just playing a game, not learning.

As I have defined games earlier in this section, I would say that yes, games are an answer. In the way that I defined a game, much of the stuff we have been learning through the GRS program has been aligned with gaming principles. I would also push back on the statement that playing a game doesn’t incorporate learning when strategy isn’t being thought about. In a well designed game, the problems posed to the player require them to think critically about what went wrong and how they can account for that when they try again. There is identity development work at play, where the player is invested in the in-game goals of their avatar to the point where they set goals for themselves as well (ex. get better at making this jump in Mario). The sense of progression the player feels from where they started to where they ended up in quite clear in a game, especially in RPG’s where you can view your character’s stats. This information helps to display how far the player has come since the beginning of the game. When a player beats a game once and then replays it, they often times can blast through the earlier parts of the game because they learned more nuanced approaches later on when the game became more difficult. This all requires learning and many games implicitly give players the feedback that they indeed did learn how to get better at the game. Now if true learning requires the learner to be cognizant of the process, then that is where the teacher comes in. In the video, games didn’t replace the teacher, they helped free up the teacher’s time to provide that instantaneous feedback. We could replace “games” with “differentiated inquiry lesson” and I would see little difference between the two.

Video games, to me, are a powerful media that have great potential that needs to be tapped into. There are a wealth of learning experiences that many students have had through gaming and that prior knowledge could be used in a multitude of rich and meaningful ways. But this post has already gone long enough. Overall, I would highly suggest giving Gee’s book a read, his perspective is of an outsider that has only recently entered into the domain of video gaming, but it is nonetheless an interesting one. I find his more recent work on his blog to be a little more up to date. A link to his blog can be found here. See ya here next week!


Nature of Science Resources

During this week in GRS class, we furthered discussed nature of science. The focus was based around the application of nature of science in classrooms, making these connections explicit to students. The goal of doing this being students conception of science as an ongoing process they can participate in rather than a body of “facts” that they are required to memorize. To support this work, I will be linking a few resources revolving around teaching nature of science.

ENSI/SENSI Nature of Science Lessons

The Nature of Scientific Thinking: Lessons Designed to Develop Understanding of the Nature of Science and Modeling

Science Online: Nature of Science Teaching Activities

“What if…?” and “Why…?”

At my last placement, my CT was researching student driven questioning. He was evaluating the kinds of questions students construct, their perspectives on the question-making process, and how they compared the thinking necessary for different kinds of questions. His interest in students’ questions definitely rubbed off on me and I integrated that interest into my practice. In my last post, First Week at Second Placement, I mentioned an activity where I had my students develop their own questions involving the unit (gravity and planetary motion). My last CT’s influence was very strong in the design of that assignment. Students worked pretty hard to create questions that would give them answers that they wanted to know (see below).

Student constructed questions around the topic of gravity, planets, and how they move.

Pulling out a few key examples, I would like to do a short evaluation on the strength of inquiry involved in these questions. Now my former CT placed questions into one  of three categories/levels and I believe that they were based on Costa’s level of inquiry.

“What” questions would commonly be placed in the first level as they usually involve limited thinking and tend not to be very open ended. “Can gravity kill you?”, “Could we live without gravity?”, “What makes planets orbit around the sun?”, “Does gravity happen in other parts of space?” are all examples of this first level questioning. They only require a single response to answer, but there is a depth that can be found through retooling. “Could we live without gravity?” is a question that could be answered with a simple “No”, but there is a wealth of depth that you could tease out through the building of a context to frame it in. “What is meant by ‘we’, humans or all life?” “Do you mean if gravity stopped or if it never existed?” Usually, when students ask these sorts of questions it may mean that they have just started wrestling with the topic. Students who have a stronger foundation of prior knowledge can construct stronger questions because they have a better context of the topic leading them to construct a single higher level question that answers multiple level 1 questions.

2nd level questions usually involve “How”. They tend to include observations or other data and ask about the process that is causing that phenomena. “How does gravity affect your weight?” “How does gravity work?” “Does gravity affect the air we breathe, and if so, how?” These questions are very analytic in nature and show that the student is making meaning of what they have seen/read/experienced. At this point, they are trying to put the parts together. The answer to these kinds of questions can be quite variable and can grow over time (similar to modeling).

The last kind of question (level 3) are the “Why” and What if” questions. “Why does gravity pull things down?” “What would happen if gravity were to stop?” “Why” questions look to deduce the cause of that leads to the how, while “What if”s denote the transfer of one understanding to a new situation. “What if” questions are quite powerful because if a student is utilizing this mode of questioning it means that they have a strong grasp of the material and are looking to test the limit of the predictive model in their head. “Will this situation give me a different result than this last one and if it does/doesn’t what does that mean?” The responses that can be made for these kinds of questions could be extremely variable and long. Personally, I love “What if” questions because of they way that grasp at curiosity and generate argumentation.

First Week at Second Placement

Friday, Friday, gonna get down on Friday! Besides being the gateway to the weekend, weekend, this Friday marks the end of my first week of teaching at my second placement. It has been an interesting time as this placement is quite different from my last one. Besides teaching students that are at least 2 years  younger, the school I am placed at has a expeditionary learning model that extends from kindergarten to 12th grade. The idea is that the students are taught through inquiry-based practice, through participating in authentic experiences. Each year students undergo two “expeditions” where they attempt to answer an engaging question by talking with experts, visiting locations of interest, and performing their own research. While I have not personally been a part of any expeditions as of yet, they’ve sounded quite a bit like STARS. Anyway, I have really enjoyed my placement so far and the kids are a joy to work with.

I started teaching a unit on gravity and planetary motion and, in the spirit of collaboration, I will share them. With you, the people. My first day, I made it an introductory event where the Do Now asked students to tell me a bit about them. I also shared a bit of myself and my expectations through a few PowerPoint slides. The Do Now can be downloaded by clicking the following: Day 1 Do Now.

The major meat of the lesson was having the students think about what they already knew about gravity and list it out. I then tasked them with reflecting on their knowledge and create a question based on what they didn’t know and wanted to know. Finally, they came up with a list of ways of how they could figure it out. After they finished all that, there were large posters on the walls that they wrote this information on. I called this assignment, Collaborative Investigation Design. Through listing what they knew, I broadly assessed their prior knowledge and pull out misconceptions and experiences to connect back to. I used the questions they developed as the essential question in future lessons (Muhahahaha!!!). And the list of activities would give me possible ideas for things later on. The coolest part though is that the students will see the impact that their input had as the unit progresses.  I’m thinking that bi-weekly I will pull out the question poster and they can cross out questions that have been answered.

The next day, I pulled out one of the best questions: “What would happen if gravity stopped?” I based around a reasoning lesson where I demonstrated the planet Earth in orbit around the Sun (What if Gravity Stopped). Gravity suddenly stops and the Earth is flying straight through space. By answering a series of questions, the students were able to discern how important gravity is by how much devastation would be caused by its disappearance.

Student feedback on the ticket out the door indicated that the students wanted a more hands on experience. I synthesized the question, “What factors influence gravity?” from questions like “Why is gravity weaker on the moon?” and “Why does the Earth orbit the sun and not fall into it?” I tried to construct an experience where the students could “see” gravity in action outside of the context of “things falling to the ground”. Using the attractive force of magnets to model the “pull” of gravity, students looked at how magnets of different masses interacted as well as how distance between magnets impacted the force between them (Magnet Gravity Model Lab of Science).

Next week, I think I need to have the students play around with how the force of gravity can change in strength as they have only begun to play around with it in their heads. Also, they have started getting tired of talking about planets, so I may need to expand to other celestial objects…