PLAYBACK: Playing with Education, Or: Using the Digital World to Make Sense of the Real World
7.15.11 | One of the ways to determine if a revolution is happening in education is if things that were thought to be the antithesis of good pedagogy are actually becoming the most dynamic way to teach. Welcome to this week’s Playback, which features the instructional power of everything from “Angry Birds” to virtual worlds.
The Physics of Angry Birds: Liz Dwyer at GOOD magazine points to how teachers are using the ubiquitous, addictive, not-so-simple-after-all “Angry Birds” game to teach the nature of the physical universe:
“What are the laws of physics in the Angry Birds world?” John Burk, a ninth-grade physics teacher at the private Westminster Schools in Atlanta, put that question to his students and gave them the chance to “be among the first to find the answer.” Burk became interested in using Angry Birds in the classroom last winter, and began blogging about teaching with it. Given that the birds are catapulted into the sky, it was the perfect tool for teaching students the laws of projectile motion. In about 30 minutes, the teens were able to thoroughly understand, as Burk wrote on his blog, “the two big ideas of projectile motion: the horizontal component of motion is constant velocity, while the vertical component is constant acceleration.”
And Burk isn’t the only one. Kotaku editor Brian Crecente has a great round-up of how physicists from all around the country, at all levels of education, use the game. And the Action-Reaction blog (gotta love that name) outlines a step-by-step “Angry Birds” physics lesson, complete with video examples, that was originally shared by Michael Magnuson of the Western New York State Physics Teachers’ Alliance.
Ironically, for a game that become immensely popular on mobile platforms, it was the recent ability to play the game in a desktop Google Chrome browser that seems to have made it a popular possibility for the classroom.
Back to Life, Back to Reality: If “Angry Birds” is the most unlikely educational tool, online virtual communities might be a close second. But over at MediaShift, Audrey Watters reveals that, if parents and teachers are smart about it, virtual worlds can be a great way for kids to “bridge” the often difficult transition into a more mature, adult reality:
Virtual worlds are often dismissed as merely games, and most do not claim to be educational websites. But there are plenty of informal learning opportunities for kids in these environments, particularly as these are often their first experiences with online communities. Participating in a virtual world can help kids learn how to communicate and behave online.
They can also be utilized to help bridge online and offline ethics. One virtual world, MiniMonos, for example, has an environmental theme and tries to make sustainability lessons clear to its users. If you don’t keep up with the recycling around your avatar’s treehouse, there are in-world consequences. The virtual world also ties this to the real world, rewarding users for various environmental actions they take in their own communities.
While cyberbullies and online predators are oft-cited concerns, the best virtual world sites build in many safeguards, such as “logging chats and flagging questionable content and suspicious accounts.” The intense commercialization of many of the virtual worlds—which can require buying virtual goods or spending a good amount of time dressing up or decorating a home—is a thornier issue to navigate, Watters acknowledges.
She ultimately links to a post by Tina Barseghian at the MindShift blog that outlines five virtual worlds that have had success with kids in the classroom.
Games, Education and Public Policy: Speaking of games and education, Michael Levine, executive director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, thinks we have enough evidence of the power of game-based learning to start making it a key part of our larger, national debates about what are the “foundational literacy skills” in the 21th century:
The transition to a digital age that aligns with the 21st century knowledge-based economy defines our children’s future job prospects. But our learning approaches are stuck in a time warp. Video games are emerging as the modern learning tool with significant potential.
Pop Goes “Fair Use”: Along with games, integrating pop culture in the classroom has also become a great way to engage students and teach the skills of digital/media literacy. And with the following video from the Center for Social Media at American University—which explains in clear terms its new Code of Best Practices for Fair Use in Media Literacy Education—teachers no longer have to wonder about the legality of that video or other piece of copyrighted culture they want to use for educational purposes.
Join the Party, Old Sport: Since this post is focused on making education fun, the readers of the Playback deserve a few “games” of their own. If you haven’t yet played “The Great Gatsby Game,” a quite accurate and addictive old-style video game based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel, make your way over to the party (and try to survive it!).
In its novel form, “The Great Gatsby” has sparked some controversy recently, as Roger Ebert, among others, criticized a recent publication of a “dumbed down” version of the novel for “intermediate level readers.” That controversy led John Jones over at DMLcentral to contemplate “digital illiteracy”—and how our culture often only sees social media, and other digital tools, through a “dumbed down” lens—instead of trying to approach it in its full complexity.
Plus: Speaking of the complexity of social media, a recent New York Times Op-Art by Teddy Wayne, Mike Sacks and Thomas Ng imagines what would happen if America had a Facebook page. While funny and insightful, the graphic illustrates how what seems simple in social media (a like, tag, or quick message) actually is part of a rather complex narrative we are all constructing. The NYT’s Learning Network invites kids’ suggestions.
Finally, if “The Great Gatsby Game” didn’t satiate your video game nostalgia, make your way to the Flickr group “Growing Up in Arcades: 1979-1989,” which collects more than 400 throwback images of classic video arcades. For those of us who grew up in malls, your head will be nodding, or shaking. (Hat tip: Avoision.com)
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