Game On

Next week I will be returning to Liberty University for my second intensive class. These classes run for five days with some pre and post course work for three hours of credit. Based on my experience last summer intensive is the proper term for this experience. Yet, these are fun because I get to meet and work with new people in a traditional classroom setting. The class I am taking next week is Technology Practice for Instructional Improvement, which should be an interesting one for me.

One of the pre-course assignments is to select a team for a literature review based on the following topics: augmented reality, game-based learning, mobile devices and apps, and personal learning environments. While Personal Learning Environments looked interesting, I selected Game-based Learning because the topic intrigued me since I first heard about it a few years back. I was told games, especially electronic ones, have certain characteristics. One, a player must learn a new skill or demonstrate a skill to progress to a new level. Achieving new levels take practice and critical thinking skills we desire in our classrooms. Two, players naturally collaborate in working towards new levels. One experienced player passes on skills to other players or multiple players work together to solve the problem needed to progress. Again, another desired trait we wish all students showed in the classroom. The best part is players (usually their parents) pay for this engagement and do it willingly.

When I was in the army we used computerized battle simulations for the Bradley Fighting Vehicle to great success. We also played role-playing games which helped in teaching various tactics needed on the battlefield. I casually observed my son playing video games over the last few years I noticed how he had to problem solve and collaborate to enjoy his games. When we played the Nintendo DS game Animal Crossing together I got to see first hand how he wanted to collaborate with me so I could learn what I needed to succeed so I would have fun playing with him. I also noticed how he could channel his creativity to enhance his game-play experience.

While not every lesson should become a game, there could be benefits to Incorporating both traditional card or board games or electronic games on a computer or massive multiplayer online (MMO) games into some lessons for potential maximization of engagement. It is going to be about two to three years before game-based learning achieves any real potential as their quality begins to match consumer-oriented games. The idea of game-based learning should not be rejected as unrealistic either. I am looking forward to learning how game-based learning can help students become better learners. Stay tuned.

Curriculum Neutrality

'.neutrality.' photo (c) 2010, amish.patel - license: am starting a Theories and Research in Educational Psychology class and one of the first assignments is to discuss whether there can be curriculum neutrality in education. The idea of curriculum neutrality is when the teacher attempts to not to place any of his or her personal, political, religious, or moral beliefs when developing curriculum for their classes. This poses two interesting questions:

1. Is curriculum neutrality possible?

2. If curriculum neutrality is possible, is it desirable? 

Personally, I say no to the first question. Curriculum will always reflect the values of the teacher, school, and community. Watch what happens whenever mentions teaching sex education at a school board or PTO meeting and you get my meaning. On the second question, if the teacher does not go overboard then yes. I have always tried to be a moral compass for my students so they would have an example to follow. All of the teachers i know always want their students to do the right thing. Sometimes it is the teacher who is the only one to provide that moral grounding and that is unfortunate.

How would you answer these two questions? Discuss!

New Course Questions

I have spent just about everyday of my so-called summer vacation working or at least thinking about how our school's new Computer Tech 7, the seventh grade course, is going to look (at least for the first semester). Last year we decided to put Computer Tech 7 on the back burner and just teach Computer Tech 6, the course for sixth graders. The reasons for this move were:

    •    It allowed us to develop one course at a time.
    •    All students had a course of basics from which to start with and grow from there.
    •    Gave us a chance to see what technology would and would not work in relation to computers and the district network.
    •    I really wanted to procrastinate on the Computer Tech 7 subject.

The principal was reluctant at first but I was able to win him over and bought myself some time which I wisely used tweaking the Computer Tech 6 course. When summer came I knew I had to stop procrasinating and get to work on Computer Tech 7 and I have. So far the course is going to be split into four main areas of concentration: Cybersafety, Online Media and Presentations, Web Presence, and Computer and Application Programing. Another piece of the puzzle is animation and I will get to that shortly. As i have been jotting notes down and evaluating various applications I wish to use, there are many questions that still need answering. Here are my main ones:

    •    What should I do about email addresses? Most of the applications I wish students to use in Computer Tech 7 require email addresses to sign-up for accounts. While most of my students already have an email address there are those few who have not signed up for one. Should I make having an email address a prerequiesite for the course? Should students have to go outside of school to obtain either a Gmail or Yahoo account. Should students sign-up for application accounts outside of school because sometimes checking email is required and something students cannot do. Is there a service that could help me circumvent this dilema and not get me fired?
    •    Should Computer Tech 7 (and even Computer Tech 6) become flipped classes? Last year I taught a couple of sections blogging via some videos I created out of necessity. Little did I know I had flipped my classroom. As I was watching what was happening at ISTE 2011 on Twitter, I kept seeing mentions of Flipped Classes. This new way of education has the teacher automating or videoing mundane tasks such as lectures. Students are expected to watch these videos at home and take notes on what they saw. Application practice and homework would actually be done in the classroom where the teacher can give more individualized attention to those students who need it since time is not taken doing a lecture. it is an interesting concept but i wonder how well this can work in reality. When I did the blogging lesson it worked surprisingly well. I am willing to give it a try this year but I have another teacher to think about who might not be so willing to try flipping his class. Will he be able to pull it off?
    •    What should students use to blog? My students will be continuing to research and write. That will never change as long as I have a say in the matter. It is the method of delivery that I am thinking about. Should I continue using Kidblog which is more like a traditional blog or should I just have students write in Edmodo. The reason this is becoming an issue is I found out Kidblog is not the independent blogging platform I thought it would be. Students blogs have to be organized into classes and while the blogs can be transffered it is not an easy task. Especially when talking about 240 students and some of the students were not in my class last year. Students should remember their Edmodo logins (yeah right, good luck with that one). All is needed is the new student code. Also, do students really need to learn to use a Word Press engine blog?
    •    What web presence should students create for themselves? Right now most of the students have a Edmodo account but is a learning social network enough? I believe students should have a central location they can have links to their work so they have an online digital portfolio that can be shared when needed. I have tried Wikispaces in the past but there were problems because students accidentally did edits on other pages. This was quickly taken care of but it took away instructional time. Google Sites looks interesting but again I am running into the email problem. Other options is PBWorks but email requirements will be a problem too. I am still looking for other solutions.

I am sure other questions an problems will come up during the first semester Computer Tech 7 is taught but like Computer Tech 6, they will be addressed in the second semester. If any of you readers have any suggestions, especially about the email problem, I am all ears.