Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Online Gaming and Digital Citizenship

I have been thinking about this for some time.  I was planning to see if I could find articles about digital citizenship as it relates to gaming, but I never got around to it.  So I will just share what I think based on what I have heard from people, experienced, or connected to what I have read in James Paul Gee's book: What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy.  Yes I am being a bit lazy, but I'm okay with that.

Online Gaming is Not Safe for Children

One of the arguments against children and youth participating in online gaming I hear often, is that these are not a safe spaces, due in part, to the language and attitudes to which they can be exposed.  Anyone who has ever survived Barrens chat has experienced this pain and knows the truth of the above statement.  Lots of inappropriate, racist, and disgusting things can often be found written on in-game chat boxes.  And of course the same dangers in online gaming, as in any chat rooms. or social media exists: the risk of being approached by predators online pretending to be children.  The world of online gaming can be scary, and there are mean people out there who use the anonymity of the internet to behave in horrible ways.

However, I tend to look at the other side of the coin and suggest that if we don't model, discuss, and allow children to explore and apply what they have learned about navigating shared online spaces, they run the risk of learning online habits from the very players we want them to avoid.  One of the great things about the Multi-school Minecraft server that I am a part of is, that it is a safe place for students to learn, practice, fail and succeed in communicating, creating and coexisting in a virtual world.  There is griefing and other bad behaviour, but it is address, targeted and used as learning opportunities  The online gaming world can be scary, but there are some pretty great people out there too.  Some of the nicest people I know I have met because of an online role playing games.*

Also, learning how to deal with 'bad/scary' people online is important because: ignoring trolls does not make them disappear.

Parents are the Best Models

Everything I learned about playing video games offline and online, I did not learn at school. As I have mentioned in other posts, I grew up gaming, and my parents were always a part of my video gaming experiences.  My first lan party was with my family playing Age of Empires.  So, unlike most kids, I had adults, and some pretty responsible peers who shaped my online gaming identity.  Have I ever camped a body in WOW?  Sure, no one is perfect.  Yet, for the most part I treat others the way I want to be treated, I am fair, and I can express my opinions without the use of vulgar language, ignorant slurs or outright hate.  Having my identity as a gamer partially constructed with support from my parents who played with me, and who I watched play, made me a better online citizen.


While my blog tends to target educators, I do not believe educators work in isolation from the rest of the community. It is not the responsibility of the school system alone to teach children how to be digitally responsible.  All of us who are stakeholders in the lives of the children in our community have a part to play in supporting children as they learn to live in the real and virtual world. Gaming is one way that we can shape the attitudes children have when dealing with anonymous people in an unreal world.  Skills that children will, no doubt, need when they are working, or interacting with others in the real world right now, and later in life.  Trolls, bullies, grief-ers, and bad friends can be real or virtual.

During ECOO 2013, after our session, +Liam O'Donnell+Diana Maliszewski  and I went to find a place to respond questions that were tweeted to us, and debrief. We were joined by @mswu who had questions about Minecraft and we had a great talk.  Talking to people who are as passionate about gaming and digital literacy as I am, is the best part of ECOO.  During our time I suggested that it would be helpful to facilitate connections to parents by having a parent Minecraft server.   A place where parents who are adept at gaming could connect with parents who are less adept.  A place where knowledge, strategies and experiences could be shared, and as a place to foster partnership between parents and the school to support our students. I thought, and Diana agreed, that this was a brilliant idea.  As it turns out, this was not an original idea.  At least one educator in the States is running a parent Minecraft server already.  I don't really know anything more than the fact, that a parent server exists somewhere in the United States.  I tried to find it, with little success, but I would really like to know more about what impact this partnership has made.

I can construct lessons that cover expectations from a variety of the Ministry of Education for Ontario Curriculum documents.  Lessons that have outcomes that include students learning digital citizenship skills.  But what I do in class can be left at the door of the school at the end of the day.  Building a partnership that lead to a common understanding, language, and expectation for digital citizenship in more than one domain is what will have the biggest impact.  Gaming is more than just killing and 'Pwning N00bs'.  The attitudes that develop in gaming can help, or hinder a player and may have an impact in real life.  Monitoring online gaming may not be as 'easy' as monitoring digital social media, yet as messy as it can be, it can also be fun.

You haven't lived until you have raided in WOW with your parents.

My Mom

*For example; my brother met my brother-in-law in EverQuest and later introduced him to my sister.  I think he's pretty alright.  (Thankfully, my brother-in-law does not read my blog.)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Digital Citizenship Parents and Teachers

This should be my ECOO reflection, but it's not.  I may still have that reflection coming though, and honestly much of this post comes from my favorite time in any conference: the discussions that happen in between talks.

Over the last week I have been thinking a bit about digital citizenship.  Earlier I jumped in a conversation Andrew Campbell was having about it.  My Twitter exp. is low and don't know yet how to say everything I want or mean in 140 characters or less -something anyone can see if the look at how long my blog posts are.

I think he is right.  We really do need to educate many parents on digital citizenship.  It was one think to let  children be raised by televisions, it is quite another to have them raised by computers and smart phones. (Not that I agree with child rearing by tv either).  There are a lot of parents who need to learn more about how they can support their children as they access the Internet at home.  Because even though they may have heard they their kids are 'digital natives,' they may not understand that the title does not mean that the have a a deep understanding of the space they move through.

However, I also believe there needs be a common language and understanding established about digital citizenship in the schools too.  There are a lot of educators with a vast depth and breadth of IT knowledge teaching about digital citizenship, and who are doing a lot to prepare our students for life in the cloud.  But right now I feel that knowledge is more of a niche thing than a common practice.  There are many educators who don't address digital literacy for many reasons, including; lack of interest, lack of professional development, the teacher librarian/computer teacher will do it.  All this and/or they don't feel they have the tech resources to get to the place where they are comfortable professionally to be able to incorporate it into their classes.  How are they expected to teach digital citizenship in a way that allows them to have students practice skills taught when access to technology is limited?

Special mention: The TDSB Teaching and Learning ICT department has developed a great resource, the ICT Standards, that addresses digital skills and gives examples of how to easily connect them to the curriculum.  They have also complied a database of teacher created lessons that connect with the ICT standards that other teachers can use in their class.   Every year teachers volunteer to be on TACIT and create detailed lesson plans from actual lessons they have used with their classes and share them with the TDSB.  It is a great resource for teachers learning about integrating ICT in their classroom and Learning about digital citizenship.

Back to parents; it is dangerous to think that teachers are the only holders of knowledge about digital citizenship.  There is an untapped market of parents who know a lot more than we give them credit for.  Adults who work in IT fields for example.  I know of one parent who has made a Minecraft server for his daughters.  He and his wife (who are also big MMO gamers) actively monitor and instruct their children on appropriate use and behavior of digital technology.  If their school were to host teacher-parent discussion (fireside chat) about digital literacy and citizenship they would be a wonderful resource for sharing what parents can do at home to make sure their children are safe and responsible.  I think we need to give parents a voice in this discussion.  We need to have an open dialog where we can learn from each other and construct solutions and strategies for supporting our students.  This kind of partnership would not only support our students but also strengthen our relationship with the parent community as a whole.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Losing Has Never Been So Much Fun!

My sister and brother-in-law have purchased the game Pandemic and all the expansion sets to go with it.  I have played it with them 4 or 5 times so far and we have not won yet., and I can't wait to play it again*. Pandemic, is a cooperative game of containing outbreaks and curing viruses/diseases.  Players are given their roles randomly and then have to coordinate their efforts with the other players to beat the game together.  The odds of winning are stacked against the players, and the gameplay can get quite tense as players try to manage outbreaks and get the research done needed to cure four different viruses.

For people like me, who enjoy role playing games and the cooperative nature of most fantasy/D&D styled games this is an instant win.  It is especially nice as it is not too complicated to follow; which is one of the biggest complaints I get from my friends when wanting to introduce them to my 'geek' games.  They often feel that the gameplay is too difficult to follow and that there is too much to remember.  (However, I actually believe that it is more of a problem with understanding the of semiotic domain of D&D, than the complexity of the rules and conditions.)  I have not played this game with my 'non-geek' friends yet, but I think this might be a good crossover game.  The premise is realistic with no spells, curses or Ogres to be seen anywhere, but has some of the flavour of a raiding party.  I'll let you know how that turns out

The reason I love this game is the same reason I enjoy so many of the games I play: the challenge.  I have not won yet, and I will not give up playing until I do!  And should I (we) actually beat the game, we can 'level up' by dialing up the intensity of the basic game, or add the expansions.  No one strategy that you tried the game before will necessarily help you win the next game, because the game is always changing.  There are a lot of elements you cannot control that will change they way you play.  For example, how many players you have changes what you can do, and not being able to pick your role, but getting it randomly handed to you changes the strategy you use too.  I have only ever played the same character twice, which was great, except all the other characters on the board were different.  The most random aspect of the game is where and when outbreaks happen.  You can only predict outbreaks to a certain degree, so you have to be flexible in your planning; two cards turned over could mean that you have to completely rethink the next 4 moves.  It takes a lot of game play (or some research) to really beat the game.

For my teacher peeps out there:  I think it would be interesting to play this game with my grade 5 students during our human body unit.  I wonder if losing would make them want to try again or give up.  I hope they try again.  But there are problems to overcome if I were to bring this to class like: where would I find the time for my students to play a game that could take up to an hour to play? What would the rest of my class be doing?  what if it is too complicated for them to follow?  I think I would be able to get some interesting reflections on how it feels to fail, and perhaps some -loose- connections to how stressful and challenging it must be to work in the various fields that deal with medical outbreaks.  I could even connect it with social justice issues in regards to access of medication and health education in developing countries (and perhaps developed countries too).  Who knows, I may be able to talk a few students into playing the game during a holiday party as a test run. (My class parties tend to be game based).

*The last couple of games nights have been devoted to Lords of Waterdeep and Drizzt.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Beyblade Observations

When I started teaching 11 years ago I remember having to learn how to spell Beyblade because it was the subject of most of my grade 1 and 2 male students journal entries.  I remember complaining about how obsessed they were with the toys and taking solace in the belief that 'this too shall pass.'  This new vocabulary along with the Pokemon vocab. I had to learn was quite vexing for me.  I am not a great speller to begin with and these strange new words didn't help.  However, if present me had been able to talk to past me I might have been able to tell myself to take advantage of this obsession and use it to engage my students in Language and Mathematics.  But at the time, as a first year teacher, I was more concerned with trying to cover everything in the curriculum while working on my classroom management, and knew very little about inquiry or about the power of play.  Opportunity missed.

I have just finished my last day of teaching summer school with the inner city program in Toronto. It was a short, but packed program. which.  It was a shame that it was so short since the students from the 6+ schools that make up the summer school program have really started to connect and develop a summer school identity.  One of my students confessed this morning that the only reason she is going to finish off summer school this week instead of taking the last day off as many students do, is because she wants to be with her friends on the bus.  Maybe not the best reason for continuing to go to summer school, but it's a reason.  However was not the bus drive that is the strongest thing that has united the students here.  No, the biggest thing that students have bonded, the boys at least, was over is Beyblade.  It started off with a couple of students in grade 2 bringing their Beyblades to school.  By the beginning of the second week one student started bringing his stadium to school to play with, and the crowds grew.  By the last week of summer school there were 3 different students bringing in stadiums to school and at recess and before school students would huddle together in large groups playing.

A few students playing as they wait for their bus.  The recess groups were usually 10+ players
I never learned how to play with beyblades so, and when was outside I would watch them play.  It was a constant stream of beyblades being released and quickly retrieved or caught as they got knocked over, in or out of the stadium. I was having trouble understanding the rules of the game and asked the students how they know who the winner is. The players stopped for a brief moment to tell me -in slightly annoyed voices:"there are no winners, we are just playing."  They looked at me like I had missed the whole point of the game entirely.  Which I guess I had*.

Every day I made a point of watching one of the groups for a few minutes to try and understand the appeal of the game.  While they played some students maintained a running commentary of the action as well as engaging in a bit 'smack talk' along the likes of: "mine just owned!" and "mine destroys!"  But they did not keep track of any kind of score.  Before and after they played the would compare their toys; size, colour, and when or where they bought them and making plans for the next day.  I asked some of the students huddled together what grade they are in, and in one group the range of grades was from grade one to grade five.  It is a rare thing to see a group with that big of an age difference happily playing together at recess.

 After watching the boys play for a while I realized they were more interested in how their bayblades functioned and less about engaging others in their play beyond commenting on how awesome their own beyblade is.  Their play looked more like parallel play, than cooperative or competitive play.  It was like watching toddlers in a sandbox; they shared the same space and would talk, but not really engage in conversation beyond the narrative they were creating around their own toys.  There was a lot of general shouting, but little actual dialogue between players beyond: "don't touch mine!"

The only exclusions to the groups that I saw, was that no girls joined. I asked about this and the boys said that the girls just didn't want to play.  I then asked if they would allow girls to play and got some mixed responses of yes and no.  They did tell me that one girl (in grade 2 or 3) had brought a beyblade to school, but she didn't play with them, she just let them use it.  One of the boys lead me to the girl and I asked her about it.  She said it (the beyblade) was her brothers' and she wanted to show it to them (the boys) and let them play but she didn't want to play herself.  I couldn't ask her more because recess was over and because I was afraid my questions might be a bit leading.  Perhaps if I knew her better I would be able to find out more.

I had know idea that beyblades could have such a long life, nor did I realize how much knowledge students had around them or the way that it could help establish a connection across grades and schools.  It was really interesting to talk to the boys playing and having them share their enthusiasm for what they were playing.  Beyblades are not popular in my school any more, but is was obvious from my time at summer school that the fad is long from dead.  I am sure if they do not remember anything they were taught this month, they will at least remember the fun they had at recess playing beyblade with other kids from different neighbourhoods.

*I looked up the game, and according to Wikipedia the last top spinning is the winner.  But these students kept picking up their tops and relaunching them, so that there was never a 'last man standing' situation.  So I was right, there should have been a winner, but they had obviously change the game play to suit themselves.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Geekuality For All!

I just saw this video, and thought I would share it.  'Cause, feeling like you have to justify your 'geekness' to other geeks is dumb.  And really, since when has being a geek become an exclusive club you have to fight in order to get in?  

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Play is a four letter word

At some point in childhood 'play*' becomes a baby word.  In its' place older children/teens say things like: 'I'm going to hang out with...'  They no longer 'play at the park'; instead they 'hang out at the park.'  Unless of course they are referring to a sport in which case 'playing' is allowed.**  But even then they are often just: 'shooting some hoops' instead of 'playing basketball.'  This year if I asked my grade 4's what they did at lunch they would tell me about who they played with, and what they played.  By the end of the year my grade 6 students would tell me they hung out with their friends at lunch, and would less frequently talk about playing.  Thankfully, even my most jaded grade 6 would still occasionally talk about how she and her friends played tag.  I can't articulate why I feel this way yet, but somehow I think that it is important to hold on to 'play'.

I remember the summer between grade 6 and 7 when I was 12 years old.  A new girl had moved in 2 doors down from me.  My mom had told me her dad was looking for kids her age to meet her so I -bravely- walked up to her front door and knocked. When her father answered the door I asked "Can Anne come out to play?"  He gave me a funny look and I instantly realised that 'play' wasn't the word kids my age used anymore.  I am sure I turned bright red on the spot.  Anne's father looked at me to see if I was just trying to be funny or if I was really being serious.  After what seemed like a lifetime, he went in and got Anne to come to the door.  I really didn't know how else to phrase what I said in a way that sounded more teenagery, and felt like an idiot for not being 'cooler'.  I knew that 'play' wasn't the word I should be using as a preteen, but didn't know why, or what word I should have used instead.  It was like I was learning English as a second language, even though I could speak it fluently.

Last month I discovered that 'play' definitely becomes a questionable word when you are an adult if you are not talking about what children do.

This past Wednesday at my staff dinner I had to give the farewell speech to my friend +Liam O'Donnell, wishing him well at his new school.  Which I admitted during my speech, I felt silly doing since I knew that I would still be seeing him in the future and playing with him.  I quickly realized I said the wrong thing.  This time however, instead of strange looks, I heard giggling coming from many of my colleagues.  I literally meant I would be playing with Liam, online in Minecraft or maybe even in Neverwinter, but the word 'play' was interpreted completely differently by many of the other adults present.  It became an off coloured joke.  I scolded my colleagues calling them 'children,'  and continued speaking.  Looking back, calling them children seems like the wrong label to have given them since I'm pretty sure children too, would have understood what I meant.  The kindergarten teachers were the only ones who did not laugh.  They understood what I meant and were confused by the giggling.  I love kindergarten teachers.

What does the various ways this word is used say about how we value (or don't value) play?  Is it difficult to imagine adults playing without it being something dirty or infantile?  Is play only something reserved for children?

* When I say play I am talking about playing: free play, or playing a game, not playing on an organized sport team
**Just in case you didn't already know: this blog is mostly about my opinions and I can't back up my observations with actual studies on the speech patterns and/or sign/signifiers that are often used by children and youth.  But if you have them, I would gladly read them.

Monday, June 17, 2013

To Game or not to Game?

Lately, when I have been talking to other teachers about how I and other educators in the TDSB, namely Liam and Diana, have been using Minecraft in our classes.  I hear a lot of people say: "I would love to do that, but I'm not a gamer."  What I felt they really meant was: "I am not a stereotypical video gamer who has bad hygiene and few interpersonal relation skills beyond the fantasy world of a video game, be it FPS, MMORPG, or arcade game."  Which, admittedly is a mouthful.  Then after after some sober second thoughts (thank in part to Melanie), I thought that I might be judging others to quickly.  Maybe they just don't know they are gamers yet.  Either way though, I believe that if you play games you are a gamer.

Perhaps the issue here really is how avid a person has to be in order feel comfortable or justified in calling themselves a gamer.

For insitance, when I was a teacher librarian it use to drive me crazy when people would announce to be that they are not readers.  Can you read?  Do you surf the internet?  Like comics/magazines/newspapers/blogs...? Play any video games? I would ask. If the answer was yes to any of these questions, then yes friend, you  indeed, are a reader.  The problem here being that many people believe that if they aren't reading the latest top selling book, or up on the classics then they are not really a reader, and if they are not an avid reader (read: always with their nose in a book) then they have no right to call themselves a reader.

I believe the same is true in gaming: If you built a farm on Facebook, or play Crush Candy, or Words with Friends, then you're a gamer.  If you have ever play Plants vs. Zombies, 4 Pictures 1 Word, you're a gamer.  If you enjoy the occasional game of Monopoly, Scategories, cards or chess... etc then, -you guessed it-, you are a gamer.  Being a 'gamer' shouldn't be an exclusive club for a select group of players.

Playing games in the class should not be a scary, or intimidating thing either.  If you truly do not enjoy games, then fine, I get it.  I won't shame you or think you are 'less than' because you don't want to play.  But, if the fear is that, you cannot introduce games to students unless you yourself are an expert at the game being taught, then I say this: relax.  Half the fun of gaming is discovering something new.  And what better way to allow students to be leaders, develop inquiry skills, class community, and build teacher/student relationships,  than to explore the unknown together?

For example, I may have a long computer gaming history, but I really only know how to accomplish a fraction of what is possible in Minecraft.  I know the basics of the game, and I introduced the bare minimum to students and then we played.  Students share knowledge freely, get excited when they discover something new, or solve a problem, and they especially love it when they can teach others what they have now become experts in.

(Incidentally, this is also how I feel about teaching using web 2.0 tools.  I teach the basics of Prezi or Google docs, or whatever tool would work well with what we are learning in class, and challenge my students to see where, and how far they can take it.  The age of the 'Sage on the stage' is ending (or over), and while I still often play that role in content areas I don't have the energy, or time to be the expert in everything, and I don't have to be.)

And really, when you know everything there is to know about a game, isn't that when you stop playing it?  If there is no challenge or mystery left then 'The Thrill is Gone.'

To sum up:

  • to game you don't have to be an expert, you just need to like playing games. 
  • expert knowledge is not required to play
  • have as much fun as you can

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Centres in a Junior Class = an Opportunity to Play

Heads up, this is a bit of a longer post than I normally put up.

This has been one of the most challenging years for me as a teacher.  I have had the privilege of teaching the  first class at the TDSB Girls Leadership Academy.  This is one of the programs of choice created by the TDSB; others include the Boys Leadership, Music, Sports and Wellness, and Africentric academies.  The challenge I speak of is not teaching 25 girls -while there are challenges there too.  No, my challenge is covering 3 grades and include time for play and discovery.  You read correctly, I teach a grade 4/5/6 split grade class, and yes I believe there should be time for play.  I am not the only teacher to teach 3 grades in one class.  It is possible, just challenging.  I have been fortunate to have support from a morning resource teacher for at least one period a day, great student teachers and Instructional Leaders.  But I digress, The point of this post is not to talk about the challenges of teaching 3 grades at once, but how I was able to use centres to get to target some small group instruction, useful class production, and play at the same time.  It only took 7 months.

I have been toying with centres in the junior grades for years (in the library, working with classroom teachers as a teacher librarian), but I have never really got the right balance of activities to ensure that the time is used effectively, but I think I got it, or that I am at least approaching a balance.  My concern was making the centres both engaging and purposeful.  I still think there are things that need to be tweaked, but for a first attempt it went far better than I had expected.


In our class we have 4 groups of six students with one student sitting alone (her choice).  One group is all grade 5 students, and the other groups are made up of four grade 4 students and two grade 6 students.  We have a 30 computers, and that means that this year we have one computer per students, plus 4 on standby.  Next year, we won't have that luxury, but for this year it is a pretty nice setup.  Computers can be used at all the centres, but only really needed at one.


Here is the centre breakdown: Writers Workshop, Silent-ish reading, Research and Minecraft.  At almost every centre students had the choice to work on or offline.  Each table started where they were and then rotated to the other centres, logging off at each centre before rotating, except at the Minecraft centre where they stayed logged into their Minecraft accounts.  This was done to minimize laptop movement, and to make transition in and out of the Minecraft centre smoother.  Most students choose to use the computers, and in the research centre, students used a mixture of books and computers.  I was actually surprised that many students wanted to use the computers over books at  silent reading centre, but it gave me the opportunity to show students some of the ebook resource the TDSB has to offer, mostly Follett Shelf, but others wanted to read articles too.  In the next couple of weeks I will be spending more time at the reading centre to help facilitate online reading choices -one of the problems was that some students were choosing ebooks that were either far to easy.


The Minecraft centre was the centre where I had to give almost no support.  The girls helped each other for the most part, giving advice, and help to each other.  The only time I was called upon, was when someone got stuck in a hole, or if there was a message for me from one of the teachers playing on the server in another school.  I had one student opt out of playing, but by the end of the class she seemed to be open to trying it out if given another opportunity.   I think the main reason behind that change is that one of her peers was very happy to be able to play and was excited to see their mutual friend from another school (Highland Heights) online at the same time, and it gave her the chance to have sanctioned chat time in class.  Little did she know, I was happy with her chatting, as she is a reluctant writer and anything that gets her writing is a step in the right direction.  I look forward to their future chats, and am interested to see if their chatting leads to play.  I have already talked to the teachers at Highland Heights to see if we could plan to be on at the same time again.  I also want to see what students will create, how will they play -one student has already made it clear that she wants to play separately- and how/if I should make them report on their time.

Some of my students have been asking if we could construct villages in Minecraft to represent the societies we have been studying (Midieval, Early and First Nations).  I am inclined to do this, but I really want it to be from them more than from me.  In Math, as a culminating task for area and perimeter we designed our dream home -on poster board not Minecraft, and I think that maybe I will let them know that if want to design a village they need to first show me their plans and then find them time to construct their villages.  I will see how this flies this week.


All of these centre, with the exception on the Minecraft centre have been a part of the regular class program, but instead of having students work a full 50 minutes on their current research/inquiry project, or writing piece they want to workshop, students have 15 minutes to get to work then move on.  There was also a couple of minutes transition time between centres that was not included in the 15 minutes.  I wanted the centres to change every 20 minutes, but we had a later start than I hoped.  Next time we should be able to be able to do it that way.  The feedback at the end of the period was mostly positive, with the only negatives being; that there wasn't enough time at each centre, and it was difficult to work with Follett Shelf.  The second complaint I took with a grain of salt, because I hadn't really planned to introduce Follett Shelf, except that students were choosing to read ebooks off other sites that were not very challenging and I intervened with a brief intro to Follett, and they really didn't have a very long time to practice using it before they had to rotate. So, all in all, it was a positive experience.  Depending on how things go I may even split the centres over two days, but that's a challenge for future me.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

How Do You Fit Play in the Junior Classroom?

While you may not actually learn everything you need to know in Kindergarten you do learn a lot.  One of the best things about kindergarten is that much of the learning is play based.  Students go thought the inquiry process and a variety of ways.  Much of the inquiry is not coming from the direct teacher instruction, but from the students themselves.  This inquiry is not about achieving levels or getting stickers, but more about the interests and curiosity of the children in the class.  Student lead play that goes to both places that teacher can see coming, and to surprising places of discovery that no ever expected.  I know my friend who has been teaching kindergarten for 20 years never expected her building blocks to inspire an inquiry on how to create a better Beyblade and Beyblade stadium, and yet there was a lot to learn, many experiments, written plans, and class discussions on the topic.  A rich topic that came from the students and linked with many curriculum expectations.

I know there is value in play based learning, I'm just not sure where to fit it into a junior class.  With 6 curriculum documents (not including French), CASI, assemblies, and other interruptions to learning, it is hard to find a way to fit play into the classroom.  I have had my students play Minecraft in the class, but the only free play they have had is during class party time.  Otherwise the 'play' has been task oriented.  Which isn't a bad thing; I am confident that the bridges my students built in game were at least 10 times better than anything they could have come up with using Popsicle sticks and glue.  But I don't think all that is enough.  I am trying my best to incorporate inquiry into the classroom, but how do I balance play too?

Is play still important in grade 4, 5 and 6?  When does play become unimportant?  Does play ever become unimportant to education?  I believe the answer to the last question is: play never becomes unimportant, but is that really true or just idealistic?  As an educator in a junior classroom how can I justify 'play' to my colleagues, Principal and parents?  So much of the education field is driven by data.  What data do I collect about play?  How do I balance play with everything else that I need to do in any given day?  I know there is a lot that my students can learn from playing: social skills, communication, science, connections to social studies, art, music... but without knowing what exact expectations they will met how much time can I invest in 'free play'?   These are things I wrestle with more and more these days.

I guess I will have to play with these problems myself for a while and see where my inquiries takes me.  If anyone out there has any articles or experiences they have had with play in the junior grades please feel free to share.  I will share too.  (I learned that in kindergarten.)

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Bridges over the River Lava

Just under two weeks ago the TDSB opened a port allowing students from Highland Heights, Agnes Macphail, and the Girls Leadership Academy (GLA) to access the multi-school Minecraft server house at Ryerson University's Edge Lab.  Liam, Diana and I went on to the server and set up our class meeting areas, Liam set up a central square with ports to our different school areas so we can go between playing among ourselves or together.  The fun has just started!

My grade 5 students (GLA) had a task to design a model bridge that was suppose to span 30cms and be able to have 2 cars travel across at the same time in opposite directions.  Since the server was up and running I decided to give the task a bit of a tweak.  I told my students that their task would now be to build a bridge that spans approximately 20m (in Minecraft one block equals 1m squared) and go over a river of lava.

What surprised me was how seriously -most- of the students considered the materials they would use, the height they would have to make the bridge (so that people would not be effected by the heat from the lava), and the dangers of travel in Minecraft (zombies, skeletons, creepers and endermen).  Before students entered the space they made detailed sketches of dimensions and materials they would need.  One of my students even went back to her drawings after starting to build to update them with changes she had made to her structure after actually being in the space because her original drawing did not match the terrain of the actual lava river.  Another student, continually went back to add new features and more detailed dimensions to her plans.

The problems solving, communication, and the sense that their construction actually mattered was incredible.  There were problems that were connected to the task: "How do I make an arch?" and problems that were more social: "You're building too close!"  These problems led to conversations, conflict and compromise and both type of problems led to great learning opportunities.  The students are still working on the finishing touches to their structures, but I included a video (below) of what they have done so far.

 I plan on writing up a lesson plan for the task and posting it on www.gamingedus.org

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Gamer Girl vs Girl Gamer is Fail or How Late to the Party Am I?

As I was washing some dishes this morning (read: avoiding working on report cards) and I started thinking about the gamer girl vs. girl gamer argument that has been going on a for while.  I know I am late to the party, and I may not be totally informed on all the current relevant points in the debate, but I do know this for sure: people who are arguing about this are missing the point.  The point being, that even suggesting that all women fit into either one of two gamer'categories' (one of which that has very little to do with actual gaming) is -to put it mildly- incredibly insulting.

I mean, think about it, would you ever hear a man refer to themselves as a boy gamer?  It would not even occur to them to think this way.  Why do -some- women allow others to label them that way, or willingly choose to label themselves as such?  Sure I have been guilty of having the conversation with my friend Louise and my sister about being a 'serious' female gamer as opposed to being 'gamer girl' but I felt so stupid using those terms, and at the time I wasn't sure why.  I guess know why now, and its all thanks to dishes and report cards.

I would love, LOVE it, if someone hung out outside of 401 Games (tabletop game store in Toronto) or any Gamestop or EB Games location and asked men as they are leaving if they are gamer boys, or boy gamers. (I checked YouTube and have found no such video, but I found pages of videos about gamer girls and girl gamers).  I bet the reactions would range from confused to amused about that ridiculous question.  Yet, apparently if 'the internet' is right, any female gamer who knows anything will respond with: "I'm a girl gamer".  Hmmmmm actually, I wounder if that's true.  Man I wish (for just a moment) I had the kind of presence on the internet where I could say: "Hey internet I want a video comparing men and women responding to the question: Are you a gamer girl/boy or a girl/.boy gamer?" and within days/hours there would be tonnes of videos posted.

I bet Wil Wheaton could make it happen.  That would be so cool.

What's my gamer identity you ask?  Okay you didn't ask, but I'm gonna tell you anyway.  I prefer computer games to consul, and RPG's to FPS's. I am a causal gamer that loves MMO's, and who really digs sandbox games (yeah I said that), and also enjoys variety of tabletop games like; Betrayal on Hill House, Chez Geek, and Descent.  That's the kind of gamer I am.

Anyways, these report cards aren't gonna write themselves.


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Holiday Class Party 2012

As you may already know, I'm a teacher.  I teacher a grade 4/5/6 split of 23 (female) students.  It is unusual, but we make it work.  We are in an open concept area that has 4 classes; which has kinda spoiled us, since we are 25 (including teachers) in 4 rooms.  One room is ours, one is for French, one is our daily physical activity room, with a t.v. and wii, and the last is unused right now.

We have started the tradition of class parties being centred around gaming.  For our holiday party we had three gaming areas: the DPA room was for students wanting to play wii, the main classroom was for students wanting to game on -teacher approved- gaming websites, and the French room was reserved for Minecraft*.  We celebrated in the afternoon after we exchanged our library books -reading over the holidays is important after all   I felt very much like a kindergarten teacher, asking each student where they were planning to start their gaming.  Students were free to move between areas as they wanted, but since there was a cap on the amount of students who could play Minecraft, (I only have 9 accounts) I wanted to make sure we didn't have an issues straight off.

My principal stopped by in the middle of our gaming party and was pretty stunned to see how focused all the students were at there areas.  In the last hours of school, before a break, one seldom expects to see a class not bouncing off the walls.  From someone looking in it looked like a very relaxed, boring, class party, but my students loved it.  I wish I had taken pictures of how they organized themselves in each area because they were are slightly different.  In the wii area, the girls made a semi circle around the ones who's turn it was to handle the controller, and they all participated together; they even kept the volume down to a respectful level.  There was only one conflict and it was resolved amicably before I could even get there. The Minecraft group sat together around one of the French room tables to help each other, and random game players lounged on the carpet area of the main classroom in a group, where they could still talk to each other.  A couple of students choose to play apart from the large groups, but they would go in and out, maintaining some social interaction.  I occasionally wandered the different areas to check in, but the Minecraft area needed the most attention since they were all n00bs.

I found it really interesting to see and hear students at the different areas.  On a whole they didn't get very loud, even at the wii Just Dance area.  The girls were are very focused on what they were playing, and most of the talk was centred around the task they were doing.  Sure I had a couple of girls who got a bit silly, but on the whole, it was pretty amazing to see the focused determination that they had while playing.  And if you asked any one of the students, they would tell you they had a great time.  I wish I could see them that focused and engaged in everything we do.

The first gaming party we had was to celebrate Halloween, and I wasn't sure how it would go over, but I now see that this will probably be the pattern of every class party for the rest of the year.  I love it, not just because need for classroom management was very low, but also because whether they knew it or not, they were actually learning and practicing many skills too.  From communication and problem solving skills, to dance, to Mathematics skills, they were all doing something I could at least make an anecdotal comment on, and if I had thought about it, I might have been able to create a simple skills checklist to see if they apply skills taught in class while playing.  But it was a party, so I was more concerned about playing with my students than assessing them.  Maybe next time.

*At our first gaming party there was a board game centre as well but there was no interest in tabletop gaming this time.