• Can Games be Used to Teach? Published 2006-08-23

    Did you get a chance to offer your thoughts on the question "Can games be used to teach?" from ISTE earlier this month? I was on vacation so I did not get a chance to read the point/counterpoint style article until yesterday. My take on the issue is the safe "it depends" type of answer. I have great respect for David Thornburg. But I think he has it wrong in this case. He admits that there are some games (e.g. simulations) that he thinks can be used in teaching. On this I agree.

    He takes issue on the quiz show style games which he feels may contribute to short-term memorization but does not contribute to real knowledge gain. I have seen many games that contribute to the educational process when incorporated into the curriculum by a savvy teacher. Games are not dissimilar to workbooks associated with texts. There are some that are bad and the good ones are only as effective as the teacher assigning work in them.

    I am tired of discussions about the pros and cons of education technology that ignore the teacher factor. Good technology will not make a bad teacher good, but good technology will aid in making a good teacher better. (And a good teacher will not use bad technology.)

    A side note: as I write this, I looked over at my wife who is on her computer. My wife who hates computer games is playing an online word game. She admits that this type of game is a challenge and it does expose her to new vocab.

  • What I did on Summer Vacation Published 8/23/2006 09:17:00 AM

    I have just returned from a wonderful family vacation which included many firsts. We spent the time with friends in Park City, UT, one of my favorite places. While it was not the first time my wife and I vacationed in Park City, it was my daughter's first "road trip". We were very apprehensive of the usual 10 1/2 hour drive from California to Park City. Between my wife and I, we have probably made the trip a hundred times. But this time we were traveling with a 19 month ball of energy.

    Lesson #1 - Adaptability

    Being the tech wizard of the family, I downloaded to my laptop around 15 hours of television shows from the new child's network, Noggin, using Tivo. My wife, being the book wiz, found several new picture and activity books form our little girl. Packed with many snacks and our arsenal of entertainment, we left Pasadena at 5:30am. To our amazement, the trip went extremely well. We stopped twice to let our girl run, once at a fast food chain's play area and once at a local elementary school's playground. In the end, we did use the recorded TV shows (my daughter loves Pinky Dinky Doo) and the activity books, but certainly not as much as we thought. The trick was novelty. Guess what? A 19 month old does not have a very long attention span! :-) By switching from singing songs, peek-a-boo, the intro to "Jack's Big Music Show", and sticker books we had a relatively nice trip.

    I offer this not as a guide to taking a road trip with a 19 month'er, nor to announce that kids have short attention spans. The true lesson is in adaptability. I have been thinking about how we had to read the situation during this trip and adapt to our child's needs. This is the same skill that successful teachers use in the classroom. I am amazed at teachers who can deliver the exact same lesson to three different sections of the same course. While the content may be the same, shouldn't the delivery, discussion, and activity differ depending on the students? It is easy to offer the same lecture over and over, but the real skill (and where the real teaching occurs) is with the teacher who adapts the lesson to the students, the day, and even the hour.

    Lesson #2 - Bullies

    While in Park City, I took my 19 month daughter to a playground, one with an elaborate "jungle gym", you know, one of those with lots of catwalks, bridges, tunnels and slides. A local summer camp (read day care) uses the same playground which was a real bonus for my little girl who loves playing with (or at least around) other kids. I watched as my daughter chased after other kids who were oblivious to this much younger outsider. However, one little girl (who we will call Bully) took interest in my child. Bully, with her blank expression on her face, decided that she would stand in front of my girl and prevent her from moving forward. On the bridge, Bully would move right and the left in reaction to her target's attempts to get by. In the tunnel, she would move forward and then aft preventing my girl from escaping. Unlike my wife who would have came to our daughter's rescue, I just watched - with amazement! My little girl never got upset, never cried, never frustrated. She reacted to Bully's actions by laughing in her face which totally flustered the little girl.

    I am not sure what the lesson is except that humor has a way of thwarting the nefarious ways of others. I was so proud of my little girl who I would never have thought would be teaching me a lesson on patience. BTW - Bully got her just reward when, as she tried to block my girl from sliding down the slide, Bully slipped and fell down the slide in what appear to be a very uncomfortable way.