Tag Archives: Language Arts

What’s Your Platform?

Continuing with the 3D GameLab teacher camp, I’ve been looking at more styles of games and how they would best fit in my classroom.  I already introduced a couple of my classes to the text-based games like Zork — and more of them enjoyed it than I thought!  I originally gave them some time during class to play from a list of pre-selected games.  The only requirement, I said, was that they had to dedicate the first ten minutes of class to playing Zork.  When I told them their ten minutes was up, nearly 80% of them kept playing!  Awesome response!  I’m definitely thinking of taking this to the next level and having one of my other classes use this in conjunction with some reading, writing, and problem-solving activities.  I’ve been thinking of requiring them to create a map and develop a walk-through guide based on their playing experience.

Today I had the chance to play some online platform games — flash-based versions of Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog.  While I enjoyed dusting off some old favorites, I didn’t see much of an application to the classroom for these two games.  However, as part of the quest submission, I had to find an example of a platform game on my own and share it.  The game I found — and could definitely see using in class — was called Invertion.

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This platform definitely had more problem-solving skills involved than simply jumping on a Koopa Troopa’s head.  There were levels where you had to split yourself in half and control both sides — with the understanding that your other half would be controlled using the same commands, only backwards.  Take that a step further when you’ve got players moving forward, backward, and upside-down on the ceiling!  I really enjoyed this game and saw how this could offer a challenge to my students beyond what I saw as being readily evident in Sonic and Mario.  Don’t get me wrong — I love those games!  I just don’t see them as passing the “would I be able to vigorously defend the use of these games in my curriculum?” test.

I like the way these games foster creative thinking and problem solving — I found myself thinking through all of the possible solutions to each level as I played through Invertion.  As I relate these games back to the learning going on in my classroom, I can see comparing the type of problem-solving that happens here with the way a character in a novel works through their own internal and external conflicts.

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Action-Adventure Games: Legend of Zelda

When I saw that one of the requirements for a quest in my 3D GameLab camp was to play an online version of Zelda, I started humming the music in my head.  I loved that game as a kid! Compared with some of the other games we’ve been exposed to — or reminded of — in 3DGL, I think Zelda would be a good game option for students who struggle with reading.  I picture a hierarchy of games for students based on their literacy of skills that starts with something like “Zelda,” progresses to “Peasant’s Quest,” and culminates in having the advanced students try their hand at “Zork.”

As “Zelda” is less text-based than the others, I could see using that with ESL students as a way of having them follow the story without having to rely completely on text.  Much like the others, it also requires some problem-solving and a need to follow along with the story to understand why Link is on this quest.  Students would have the opportunity to write about the journey and steps necessary to complete his quest, as well as make predictions regarding the story — or even go beyond the game and write their own sequel (even though there have been a multitude of them by now).

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Game On!

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For the Spring Teacher Camp I’m attending through 3D GameLab, I was reintroduced to one of my old favorite computer games from when I was a kid — “Zork!”  Thinking about the kind of games I play now (mostly Words With Friends, Angry Birds, etc.), it was fun to think about the early days of these computer games when Zork was really all we had!  Until I started playing it again, I had forgotten how much fun it was to explore and wonder what was around the next corner, or what objects I could grab to help me get through that stupid forest.  If I never see another grue again, it will be too soon!

I also had the opportunity to play “Peasant’s Quest,” created by the guys responsible for Homestar Runner — moving on into the college favorites with the Strong Bad Emails.  It’s a game that pokes fun at the early graphic/text adventure games.  (I admit, I never remember needing to “deploy baby” and “take meatball sub” as one of the commands in Zork.)  Even though the requirement for the class was to play for a minimum of 20 minutes, I played through the entire game.

I could definitely see using something like “Peasant’s Quest” and “Zork” in my Language Arts classes.  By virtue of being text-based games and having a story with choices that need to be made by the player to advance that story, this would blend perfectly into lessons and units that I have taught before related to reading strategies and problem solving.  While I would definitely offer some help to the students — there are times where the game-play could be overly frustrating for a modern gamer, I feel — this would be a fun and valuable way to have the students struggle through a problem until they find a solution.

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I’m certainly looking forward to whatever games 3D GameLab has for me next.  I never played World of Warcraft, but thanks to this Teacher Camp, I’ve downloaded and started getting into the free starter version.  I can see how that would be used as part of the Language Arts curriculum too, which I know is already being done through the “WoW in School” project by Lucas Gillispie.

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A new direction

I’ve decided to take this blog — and my classroom — in a new direction.

There’s been a nagging feeling for some time now that my classroom was not as it should be.  For the last few years, I’ve felt like I was losing touch with the reasons why I wanted to be a teacher, and losing control of being able to guide the atmosphere of my classroom into being one that encouraged students to enjoy their time at school while they learn.

Of course, my first year and a half as a teacher probably focused more on the enjoyment aspect rather than the learning.  Yes, students liked being in my class, but it was because of the digressions we had during class discussions, or the multimedia projects that probably focused more on how “cool” the students’ videos looked rather than how much they actually learned doing them.  To counter-act that, I’ve felt as though the last few years in my classroom have been swinging too far the other way.  I’ve graded more harshly, I’ve spent less time really getting to know my students… everything was their fault if they didn’t have the intrinsic motivation to learn.

I’ve been reading, tweeting, but most of all rethinking everything I’ve come to view as the norm in my classroom.  It’s not enough and it’s certainly not the best way for the students under my care to learn.  I’ve been too much of a lecturer and the resident expert on everything.  I’ve taken away their freedom and assigned them writing prompts that may hold no interest for them whatsoever.

This year, that all changes.

Overnight?  Of course not.  This will be a daunting year.  My wife and I are expecting a baby in October.  I have a student teacher coming in January.  I’m a week away from the start of the school year and some of these ideas are still just swirling around in my head, yet to take on a coherent shape.

Here’s my ideal: No grades. No homework. Develop in them a deep desire for exploration.  I want my students to learn and love learning.

I’ve been reading the newspaper all summer, seeing the steps being taken by our government to “improve” the education system.  Instead, all I see is the federal government killing teachers’ desire to help students learn and eviscerating students’ natural inclination to learn about the world around them by replacing learning with testing.  The way this whole system is being run is wrong.  And no one at the top has any clue about what it will take to fix it.

That’s where we come in.  I’m trying to transform my classroom this year into a place where every student has every opportunity to learn and to make the necessary mistakes to get to that learning.  Will it be pretty?  No.  I readily expect this to be a messy year.  I expect to make a lot of mistakes myself.  I expect to feel exhausted at the end of every day (or more than usual, I guess).  I expect to try to reach every student and still be disappointed by a handful that never connect with what we’re doing.  Maybe my expectations going into this will be enough to keep up morale when the going gets tough.

So what about this blog?  I’ve been a bad blogger.  I don’t write regularly and I’m not anticipating that changing for this school year.  But now this blog also has a focus to it that I really never had before.  I want this place to chronicle the steps I take this year.  I want it to be a list of my failures and blunders, as well as my successes and discoveries.  I want to be an example for others… whether it is an example of how to make this transition or how not to make it, only time will tell.

The tagline for this blog is Yoda’s line from The Empire Strikes Back: “You must unlearn what you have learned.”

Amen.  Let’s get to it.

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