Viewing posts tagged brain

Games in the Classroom Part 4

Games as Expert Systems

It seems like common sense to assume that the best way to learn something is to work one-on-one with an expert. Unfortunately, many of these experts are busy using their expertise in important projects at the Louvre, saving lives, winning Nobel prizes, and putting out fires—and sometimes a great expert is not a great teacher!

Teachers have many specialties and interests, but are often not experienced with having been a physicist, psychiatrist, police officer, or an engineer. But they do have expertise in the developmental issues of children; they know how to build relationships, can motivate and engage, and know how to structure learning environments. These are key attributes if you are going to create a learning outcome with a stranger– unless you are paying them!

Many teachers believe that if they were able to work with just a few kids over a long period of time, they could create significant growth. Just imagine working with 32 students over a 55 minute period – how much time would you have with each student if they started and ended when the bell rang?

So what would happen if you to design a computer game based upon teachers’ knowledge of pedagogy and childhood development, with a designers ability to portray and depict complex ideas, a computer programmers ability to design a system, an assessment experts ability to create measure outcomes and performance, and that subject matter experts knowledge?

Perhaps you would have a game. . . A game that could work as an expert system to teach.

Here is one about the brain called Neuromatrix! A secret agent fixing brains. Sounds cool.

How about nano-technology?

Business Week just published a story related to their special report on gaming on theNanoScale game, which helps players visualize and understand thespatial relationships between objects at all scales, starting with a tiny blue hydrogen atom, shown here next to a buckyball (the name of amolecule of carbon atoms arranged in a pattern of hexagons andpentagons) and a colorful strand of DNA.

This is not the first serious game. Serious games and games in general, according to David Perry at Business Week:

Now games are a legitimate academic subject, with many university courses around the world offering degrees in video game design and development. And many game designers and researchers are seeing how games influence cognitive and other skills. This summer, the MacArthur Foundation board announced it will give a $1.1 million grant to fund the Institute of Play, a new middle/high school in New York City focused on making video games. Why? The foundation has found that games are an effective tool to teach information management and other critical skills.

So are we going to begin to make this happen in our own schools and universities? It seems odd that we would ignore this trend. Training and retaining people is the one of the most expensive things we do. In addition, when we lose young people in schools, it costs us more. So what can we do to retain our students?

It is my contention that many young people have checked out. Do they know what skills they will need for the work place? Maybe they see through our worksheets and have found us to be irrelevant, or are they tired of the point-and-talk teaching model that informs the work they do in their tidy rows of desks?

One of the current issues that may need to be addressed is how we bring in the new skills and interests to an older generation who do not know what a Super Monkey Ball is, or even Madden 2008.

In respect of this, I have begun to create a wiki resource for educators who would like to explore video games as a classroom topic. This wiki has been co-created by teachers who took the class “video games as learning tools”, taught at the University of Minnesota.

In this class, we are exploring games for use in the classroom. If you are interested in looking at the syllabus and the activities, as well as finding resources and student reflections on the readings, please go to

This wiki was created to be a resource for teachers to have structure in the course, but to also co-create the course. Included are the lesson/unit plans I used to create a 6 week unit for middle school and high school students at the Minneapolis Public Schools. The role of the wiki was to create a communal platform where students in the class could have choice in creating content, process, and outcomes in the course. They were course designers too. This co-creation is a powerful method for teaching, and wikis can support it.

The class itself was not a glorification of video games. It was a practical look at how games can be integrated into the classroom as tools as well and models for designing instruction. Since games are representations of ideas, worlds, concepts, and life, we can have them stand as metaphor to embody any process experientially.

Playing games may not be as rich an experience as taking the kids to the Grand Canyon, but, a game about the Grand Canyon can give you the chance to walk around a well-modeled representation, and maybe even give opportunities being there couldn’t. How about the possibility of flying above the canyon, and then landing and kayaking the Colorado River? All of this could be done with games and interactive story telling technology. You could definitely see it all faster in a game.

Also, games can supply us with efficacious design elements. How about this game I designed for developing performance reading? You become part of a music act and create your own image and work through Garage Band. Students take on the role of: the talent, the producer, the publicist, the manager, the designer and create their complete band package—including a MySpace page for networking and sharing your work. This game is simple role playing and use of readily available technology.

Many artists are being discovered through social networking tools. Why not have your students do it at their computer? Here is the slideshow that I presented at

Games structure interaction, they demand mastery, the performance is the assessment, and if they are well-designed, they are fun. Your lesson plans can be this way too. Why not offer work that is really fun and inspires play? It will change your teaching experience.

So this game is in the tradition of Guitar Hero & Karaoke. I call it found objects, because all the elements necessary come in many of the computers we currently purchase in schools. In this case, our school had imacs. Often as teachers, we do not have the resources to purchase some of the great games available, but we can use our eyes, ears, and creativity to use the design elements that some of the great games are built upon to build units that might be more fun, playful, and rewarding while building important competencies. I am hoping that teachers think about this and design units that allow them to participate rather than broadcast

The student basically designs a band franchise– producing an album using off the shelf Imacs and the iLife bundle of software. I looked around and Karaoke software can be just as effective if not more interesting for the fact that the lyrics can be created with it for performance and the creation of that lyric sheet represents an opportunity to think about how they might structure and format a song. We listen to a song to get the lyrics and discuss the qualities. These qualities are used to create a framework for voice and flow.

We have other mini-games in the unit like clapping academy, where we evaluate clapping and make a rubric. This act of co-creation instills buy-in and understanding by the students and is then extended when we co-create the rubrics for the songs and image elements.

The kids look for and create lyrics from poetry, prose, want ads– whatever—and read into garage band.

They record their chosen text, and then they comment on their performance reading. We use a fluency scale designed for continuous improvement that we co-create. It is meant as a model to create descriptions for different reading situations and what mastery may look, feel, and sound like with reading.

After they have talked about their track, they put music behind it, then reflecting upon why they mixed it the way they did.

This unit is intended to teach performance reading – beyond fluency, provide high interest activity, and integrate reflection on reading and emphasize comprehension through a discourse processing model and explore aspects like voice and other literary elements. The intention was to show that games that come prepackaged are great, but that teachers can design games that are effective and use existing technologies and software already available to teach traditional subjects that are relevant to current cultural values and interests.

Yes, it improved reading performance.

MIT Media Lab H2.0 webcasts online

Archived webcasts from the MIT Media Lab H2.0 symposium are available online. Under a theme of “new minds, new bodies, new identities,” the one-day event explored, “how today’s—and tomorrow’s—advances will seamlessly interact with humans, giving us a glimpse into a future where all humans will integrate with technology to heighten our cognition, emotional acuity, perception, and physical capabilities.”

Discussions from the morning session include:

  • Deb Roy, “Memory Augmentation: Extending our Sense of Self”
  • Rosalind W. Picard, “Technology-Sense and People-Sensibility”
  • Cynthia Breazeal, “The Next Best Thing to Being There. Increasing the Emotional Bandwidth of Mediated Communication Using Robotic Avatars”
  • Douglas H. Smith, “The Brain is the Client: Designing a Back Door into the Nervous System”
  • John Donoghue, “New Successes in Direct Brain/Neural Interface Design”

…and from the afternoon:

  • Hugh Herr, “New Horizons in Orthotics and Prosthetics: Merging Bodies and Machines”
  • Tod Machover, “Enabling Expression: Music as Ultimate Human Interface”