Game: I wanna play forever

30 06 2010
Kids hard at learning.Image: sean dreilinger (Creative Commons)

Play-based learning is used in the Early Years to provide children with an intuitive learning environment suited to activities that little kids do best – playing around with stuff.

This tends to be phased out around the end of year 3, as we move into constructive activities and even, ‘oh noes’, direct instruction. This is something one the children I look after lamented now he is in a year 3/4 class at his new school, “We never play anymore”. Boo hoo, little Johnny, boo hoo. You don’t think I don’t not want to not play games too, yeah?

With gaming returning to an acceptable past time for adults – just listen to Kevin Butler¹ at this year’s E3 – shouldn’t this be reflected in our schools and curriculum? Many of the kids I taught respond to questions like “What’s your hobby?” or “What do you do in your spare time?” with some form of console or another. Many child care centres, and even libraries, these days have consoles available for visitors to use. And if you want to get into economics, I’m sure you can go and find your own figures on just how much this industry is worth.

Games in the classroom do present some problems, mostly to do with moral panic. Firstly just about “games” in general – with some of the students I’ve worked with not allowed to complete teacher-set homework on Mathletics at home because carers won’t let them². Others more serious and understandable moral panics about inadequate classification, excess violence, and depictions of sexual and criminal activities. The ethics and other social issues surround video gaming culture and industry is probably enough to design a unit (or three) all on your own – but what I am interested at the moment is what recreational video games are out there that could provide the stimulus material for an entire trans-disciplinary unit on there own.

As this Dueling Analogs strip illustrates games today are becoming more and more complex – not only in gameplay and graphics – but in background stories, character development, dialogue, and even the style or genre of storytelling themselves (also known as interactive fiction). These components should make it easier to take a single game and safely stretch it into multiple learning areas.

Below the fold are just some ideas:

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Thinking mathematically: Man vs. Machine

11 10 2009

My first mathematics assignment was an essay on the role of calculators as teaching tools (not just a computing device) in middle years classrooms. From this, I have been able to adapt a few of the techniques I researched into lessons and activities for my year 8s.

Man vs. Machine is a lesson I adapted from an activity from Creative Mathematics Teaching with Calculators (Amazon). Essentially a flashcard quiz, students have to solve the problems as quickly as possible. Some problems require a calculator, some can probably done faster in their heads.

I created a fancy-pants activity sheet for this lesson*. I think activity sheets appear to work very well to scaffold students in this age group. There are still several students who take a long time to write stuff down and draw up charts – this is from either lack of ability and tools, or a need to make it look pretty and perfect. That said, there are some problems with activity sheets that I might mention in another post.

For the lesson summary click through.

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Women need to apply more to achieve representation in MSTE

3 06 2009

Women just aren’t applying enough to get senior faculty and tenure track positions in maths, science, technology and engineering (MSTE). Perhaps I should rephrase, the report suggests that underrepresentation may be a result of women not applying for positions in the first place. Ha! not nearly as mysoginistic as you thought.

The congressionally mandated study, Gender Differences at Critical Transitions in the Careers of Science, Engineering and Mathematics Faculty, concluded that women are hired in similar proportions to that they are interviewed. For example in maths, women made up 20% of applicants, 28% of intervewees and 32% of job offers. That doesn’t seem to smell of discrimination against women in science technology, does it?

Th problem is that first figure is low. More than 20% of doctorates in math are awarded to women. So why aren’t women applying for the jobs?

The press release I read doesn’t identify any particular reason for this difference. It notes “most institutional strategies to try to increase the proportion of women in the applicant pool … did not show significant effectiveness [except] Having a female chair of the search committee and a high number of women on the committee were associated with a higher number of women in the applicant pool”. Suggesting lack of prominent role models might be factor. The comitte rests on the ubiquitous phrase “[more] Research is needed to investigate why more women are not applying for these jobs”.