Saturday, October 4, 2014

Article #3: This Class is Fun!

Gershenfeld, A. (2014). MIND GAMES. Scientific American, 310(2), 54-59

In the article, Mind Games, Alan Gershenfeld writes about the current and future use of video games in education. He talks about the overall perspective on video games, and how parents and teachers have been fearful of the violence they see in many video games. Mortal Kombat is a game Gershenfeld mentions that has so much violence that, “Congress held hearings about the game and its influence on youth.” He says that the flashy action games seem to get all the attention, and they are mostly violent. However, he writes about another genre of video games that are “...adventure, strategy, simulation and puzzle games.” These are the games that “fascinate” him. Civilization is a game he uses as an example. And while it seemed that after the fear in the mid-nineties seemed to relax, the Columbine massacre bought it all back once it was learned that the perpetrators of the crime were “avid fans of this genre, video games were again vilified.”

Gershenfeld writes that our students are preparing for “jobs that don’t currently exist.” Elements of video games are creeping into more and more of our everyday life, and we may not even realize it. Gershenfeld calls this “‘gamification’ -- applying the principles of game design to solve real-world challenges.” One problem, he says, is that schools are unprepared to train students for this new future. He writes that game designers, teachers, business leaders, and government agencies need to come together “ an effort to figure out how to use video games to improve education. We are learning that it will take a good deal of R&D to get this right.”

Gershenfeld thinks that video games are just the right tool to move forward in education. He explains how games can be “bounded” - students can complete a game in a short amount of time, and they will be geared toward an educational purpose or goal. “[Video games] enable players to advance at their own pace and to fail in a safe environment. Most significant, they give players agency -- the ability to make a difference in both virtual and real-world environments.” He writes about current games that have been used in education including: Civilization, SimCity, and especially Minecraft, which is a model for how future educational video games can motivate students, enhance cultural storytelling, and promote social change. Teachers need to be trained in the use of these ideas of video gaming in the classroom.

Finally, Gershenfeld talks about balance. Many parents and teachers think our students spend too much time wired up online. Gershenfeld writes that a balance needs to be struck between online time and offline time.

I am a big proponent of using games in education. I do it with my Spanish class. We paly a game called iAy Carumba! where we count in Spanish beginning at number one and each student following announces the next number. Whenever there is a seven or eleven, or a multiple of seven or eleven that student has to say iAy Carumba! It is easy and it works. My students also use to learn and remember their Spanish vocabulary. But it isn't really complex thinking. Video games have the potential to create more and more complex problems that students need to use higher level thinking. Games can be made to proceed at a students own level and pace. Different games can be created that approach the same problem from different ways for students whose gaming interests are different. I would like to see more video gaming technology used in the classroom.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Article #2: Coding the Future

Pierce, M. (2013). 21st Century Curriculum: Coding for Middle Schoolers. T.H.E. Journal, 40(5), 20-23.

In the article, 21st Century Curriculum: Coding for Middle Schoolers, Pierce talks about how computer program coding can help students learn, create, and become fluent in the 21st Century. She writes about the 1960s, “At the time, highly trained programmers still worked in inaccessible languages that mainly processed numbers.” Early computers and coding were not for the average person. In 1967 a programming language was developed by MIT Professor Seymour Papert for fourth graders to use to control a robot called the turtle. Pierce writes that, ““For the first time, kids got instant feedback and a physical response to their commands…” However, due to lack of computer access at the time Logo didn’t take off.

Pierce introduces Mitch Resnick, the LEGO Papert Professor of Learning Research at MIT, who goes on to explain that coding is needed to be considered fluent in today’s tech-focused society. Resnick compares coding to reading and writing, “In the same way that learning to read opens up opportunities for many other things, and learning to write gives you a new way to express yourself and seeing the world, we see that coding is the same." Pierce agrees that coding is as important today as reading and writing.

But she see a resistance to application in schools. Pierce explains that a lack of qualified teachers is one reason we don’t see more coding programs in schools. But, not only are many teachers not understanding the importance of learning to code, there is a resistance among many adults who think coding looks like the kids are just having fun, and that isn’t how school is supposed to be.

Pierce counters that argument by explaining how coding helps students. She writes that “Papert also contends that people learn better when they're engaged in creating something that is personally meaningful to them.” Programming languages need to be less complex. Unlike Java and C++, some of these new languages are graphical like MicroWorlds, Scratch, and Alice. Scratch and Alice were remedies for Logo and use “drag-and-drop” and “building-block” technology, which allows students to experiment plugging the coded blocks into a program.

Pierce explains that that schools need to introduce coding programs. She has seen many different programs popping up in after-school programs and expanding smaller programs into more developed intensive classes. These programs use coding to help students learn. In these programs students are collaborating with each other. Pierce writes that in Resnick’s class students are using their coding as a tool for cross-curricular learning. Students are coding presentations of topics from their other classes, like social studies.

I agree that coding looks like fun. It sounds like fun for kids to code and see what their commands have created. As someone who thinks he is savvy with technology, I really have limited knowledge of coding and how it operates computers and programs. Not only do school need to embrace new devices for students to use in their classes and for their school work, I see that schools need to offer coding as a means to literacy for our modern technological age.