Thursday, September 20, 2007

Kid Nation

Last night I watched the TV show "Kid Nation" on CBS. The concept of the show is that 30 some odd kids ranging from 8 years old to 14 years old were sent to an old west ghost town and give the task of creating a viable town. Now believe me I am not a huge fan of reality TV by any means but this one might be a bit different. One interesting difference between this show and others is that no one is voted off; they have to ask to leave at the town meeting. They have competitions for jobs/pay. They also have to deal with real issues such as those who don't pull their own weight, bullies, bossy kids, cooking, etc. Watching them work together is an interesting site, as there is no one age group that is stepping up and taking charge yet they all want someone in charge. There is a town council who makes decisions such as who is on what team, who gets the golden star at the end of the week, and what prize do we get for winning the challenge. This last one was interesting and sort of re-establishes my believe in kid kind, as they had to choose between more out-houses and TV (those chose the outhouses). One thing I find interesting is how involved the kids are in wanting to make this town work. Looking at it from a teaching standpoint I see all spectrums of Phil Schlechty's patterns of student engagement (Shaking up the School House, Schlechty 2001) from rebellion to authentic engagement. For the most part I would say that the kids were in the ritual engagement arena.

What brought me to write this entry was thinking back to my first teaching assignment in a Microsociety school ( Even though it was a tough teaching assignment as a first year teacher I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge posed. I see a lot of similarities between Kid Nation and the Microsociety program especially in the arena of engagement but also in the arena of real life experiences. I see kids working in actual jobs just like adults do in the real word. I see kids tackling tough issue such as bullying, speeding, inequality, and many others just as we adults do. In the school I was at my responsibility was to help run the small businesses. Students in this area were responsible for creating and maintaining their own small manufacturing or service type business. Watching this 3rd through 5th graders work on their projects and maintain checking accounts, etc. was interesting to say the least. I wouldn't want to work for some of them as they were strict task masters. The one thing I was able to observe of the whole school was how seriously students took their jobs; they really got into their jobs and took them very seriously (which I am beginning to see in Kid Nation as well). This kind of harkens back to the elementary school teacher philosophy of student jobs (row leader, calendar monitor, etc). These "jobs" were used as more a management tool to help teach responsibility but wouldn't it be interesting to see what the impact these "jobs" had on student performance. It would be even more interesting to see what sort of an impact "jobs" would have on a higher level as well.

One of the things I look for in my tech classes are real work community service projects my students can apply technology to. One year I had students work on running a food/coin drive for the local food bank one spring. Another year I had students work on writing PSA's (public service announcements) on RSI's (repetitive strain injury) for their peers. This year I am toying with the idea of having my students tackle the task of planning of our response to a lahar (volcanic mud flow) drill in our district. I have only just mentioned to my students that I am thinking of doing this and I can see the excitement in their eyes at taking on this real world task. Just seeing the excitement in their eyes helps me to realize why I love this job so much. J

Friday, September 7, 2007

Games in Education: Opening Pandora’s box or meeting students on their level?

As a middle school technology teacher I get the same question from students every year, "Are we going to get to play games?" My pat answer is "no". This usually gets some grumpy faces and less than positive comments from some of my older students. Although as I reflect back on this question of my students I find myself wondering why not allow them to play games? I wonder to myself (and the occasional colleague) why are we as teachers so against the use of video games in the classroom? Is it because we are conditioned this way by our teacher education programs, our colleagues, or is it a philosophical decision? I have as yet to find a decent educational reason why. In talking about this with some colleagues and friends the discussion turns to the topics of role playing and how that was seen as a great evil back in the mid to late 80's (think Dungeon and Dragons). I was told many a time I was doomed because I engaged in role playing with my friends. However, we use role playing quite extensively in education at all levels and subject areas. Board games are making their way into the classroom as well. In my administrative classes we played a board/role playing game based on the introduction of a new form of professional development in our district. Board games are also used as both reward time and academic enrichment in elementary classrooms. Can it be that time just needs to go by before video game playing is accepted in the educational field?

I pose the question here, why don't we use video games in education? I have been playing video games for almost 20 years now and have seen all different types of games. I find them to be relaxing after a long hard day at work, I find them to be a great way to relate to my students, and I also find them to be a great source of education as well. Now I fully agree that sitting down in front of a monitor for hours at a time is not good for kids of any age (young and old alike). However, I believe there is some merit to introducing them into education as well. I am sure that most of us have heard in the news about the various studies on video game use by adults. One such study by the JAMA, looked at how playing video games impacted a surgeon's laparoscopic surgery skills ( ). It was found that in those surgeons and residents who played video games performed better on a laparoscopic training simulator than those who didn't. There have also been studies on how playing video games help the elderly avoid dementia as well as keeping their brains sharp. In most of the studies and articles I have read both the pros and cons of video games are discussed ( ). I whole hearted agree that time on games and/or on the computer should be limited but I also think it is time for our profession to look more into the use of video games as a tool.

I have talked with one of my fellow classmates who has used video games with some of his high school social studies kids. In the few years he has been using a simulation type game like Age of Mythology (Microsoft) he has seen an improvement in test scores as well as an understanding of the principles of economics. There are a ton of these simulation type games out there that are applicable to any subject area. Games like Roller Coaster Tycoon (Atari) for science, Flight simulator (Microsoft) for pilots, and as mentioned earlier Age of Mythology or Age of Empires (Microsoft) for social studies. There are also a number of games out there that can be used to work with young students on hand eye coordination, fine motor skills, shape recognition, basic problem solving, typing, the list goes on and on. I believe it is time we start to explore more into the uses of video games in education. What are your thoughts on this issue?