Tag Archives: learn

Civics Games

judge's gavel

I was tipped off to iCivics games a few days ago and have finally had a chance to check them out.  iCivics is “a web-based education project designed to teach students civics and inspire them to be active participants in our democracy.”  There are several games on this site dealing with topics from Supreme Court decisions to immigration to being president for a term.

Each game has lots of information packed into it.  For example, in Argument Wars, in which famous Supreme Court decision are re-argued, players must read the case and then choose the appropriate supporting evidence for their side.  When the player chooses the evidence, the judge rules whether the argument is legally sound.  When the computer opponent submits evidence, the player can object to unsound arguments.  This requires not only more reading than your typical videogame, but a lot of critical thinking.  In fact, the level of reading required in these games would make it difficult for intermediate ESL students to play them alone.  The game does a good job of making the process a fun game by which students can learn more about the Supreme Court.

Will students put down their favorite commercial video games to pick these games up?  Probably not.  But highly motivated students (and citizens) might use them to learn more about the civics lessons they are learning (or learned long ago) in school.  Teachers could use these games with a whole class or have students use them individually or in pairs and report back in presentations, essays, or small group discussions.  More advanced students could look at these games critically and try to determine where they are accurate, where they are inaccurate, and where bias may be present.  Regardless of how they are used, these interactive texts are much richer than most civics texts and can serve as a useful supplement to them.

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Game-Based Mashups

love spelled in playing cards

I love a good boardgame and I love a good mashup.  So, when I read about the Boardgame Remix Kit on GeekDad, I had to write about it.  I don’t own the kit (which comes in ebook, book, card, and app form) yet, but I did take a check out the free Valentine’s Edition download, which looks like a lot of fun.

The first game, WLTM Humpty Dumpty is a kind of madlibs game in which players create personal adds based on Trivial Pursuit cards (WLTM = Would Like To Meet).  The second turns Monopoly into a game of Divorce! in which players use their money to pay lawyers to fight over property.  (I have to admit, my first reaction to this game was that it might be about as much fun as going through a real divorce, but after reading the rules, there is some strategy involved that could be fun to play.)  The other two games are based on Scrabble and Clue.

How can these games be used in a classroom?  Like other forms of media (books, movies, music, etc.), there are several ways in which these games can be used.  Students can play them and report back on their experience.  This could be as simple as Was it fun? and How do you play? to evaluating whether the game accurately simulated real life.  For example, was Divorce! similar to a real divorce?  Why or why not?  Students could also compare the original version of the game to the mashup version.  Finally, students could use these mashups as inspiration to seek out other versions of existing board games or even to create their own.  All of these could be fun ways to practice English on Valentine’s Day.

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Hey, You Guys!

light bulb

In the 1970s, The Electric Company was a kids television show made by the Children’s Television Workshop, the same folks that made Sesame Street,  but designed for a slightly older, getting-ready-to-read audience.  Fast-forward to 2009.  The Electric Company is being made again by what is now called Sesame Workshop.

Each half-hour show contains a main story featuring The Electric Company kids and their antagonist Prankster peers.  Vignettes interspersed between parts of the story focus on letters and sounds that relate to the vocabulary highlighted in each episode.  Most are catchy songs or games and contests played between the characters.  I’ve embedded several videos featuring silent e in this blog post.

The best thing about this show is that it does not baby it’s audience.  Scott Cameron, the Director of Education and Research for Sesame Workshop, has experience teaching ESL with music and games.  The focus of The Electric Company is on motivating children to read and this really can’t be done by talking down to an increasingly media-savvy audience.

In our house, Silent E is a Ninja (below) is a favorite that has achieved earworm status.  Try to watch it once or twice and tell me it’s not stuck in your head the rest of the day.  You’ve been warned.

The Electric Company has even brought back its classic silhouetted heads reading words together.  These are really effective demonstrations of learning to read by sounding out words.

Videos are available on the Electric Company YouTube Channel and on the Electric Company website (which includes a section for parents and educators).

Will these videos work with adult students?  It depends on the student.  These videos are fun and poppy and targeted to a younger audience.  But as a way to expose language learners to lots of fun, catchy, repeatable reinforcement, these really can’t be beat.  Do you know of other good videos?  Post a link in the Comments section.

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mLearning in ESL

ipod

Smartphones and iPods are ubiquitous among college students, but can students use them to help practice English? In this post, I will share how I adapted an existing application (“app”) for vocabulary practice as well as other apps that students may find interesting and helpful.  This post also serves as the handout for my poster session at Ohio TESOL 2010.

Music Quiz

Music Quiz is a fee app that I’ve written about before.  The app asks the user to guess a song’s title after listening to a 12-second clip of the song.  By recording audio files of definitions of vocabulary items as “songs,” Music Quiz can be used as a vocabulary quiz.

How to make a vocabulary quiz using music quiz:

1. Record the definitions of the vocabulary items.  Try to repeat the definition 2-3 times and keep files to 12 seconds – the limit of Music Quiz.  Save each recording as an .mp3 file with the vocabulary word or term as the song title, the category (Heart Idioms, Vocabulary book chapter 3, etc.) as the album title, and yourself or your school as the artist so that the files are easy to add.  A free audio recording application such as Audacity makes this easy.  Feel free to take a look at and use my 20 heart idioms as examples.

2. Upload the .mp3 files to an iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad with Music Quiz installed.

3. Open the Music Quiz app and use the Menu to configure the quiz with the following settings.

  • Choose From: Song Titles (title = vocabulary item)
  • Play At Beginning: ON (play from the beginning of the definition)
  • Custom Quiz: ON (allows user to select the “songs” to be quizzed on)

4. You can now use Music Quiz to quiz yourself on these vocabulary items.

Other Vocabulary Apps

There are many vocabulary apps available.  Just do a quick search using the word vocabulary.  Some are better than others, but most have a lite version that is a free demonstration with limited features or word lists.  The full version, which you can usually purchase for $0.99 to $9.99, will often include thousands of words.

Vocab Lab Lite – SAT-level flashcards and quiz

Wordlist Lite – 10 vocabulary lists with definitions; words categorizable by difficulty

My Prep Pal: SAT Reading – video lessons, flash cards and quiz

Make Your Own Apps

Web-based – The easiest way to get content on mobile devices.  Post content on a website, then view it using your mobile device.

Platform Specific –  Apple and Google (makers of Droid smartphones) and other companies make it easy to make your own apps.  Of course, easy is a relative term.

Tool based – Platforms exist to assist with the creation of apps and games.  ARIS is one platform for creating mobile games that I’ve written about before.  ARIS was used to create the game Mentira, which is described below.

The Cutting Edge

Apps are being developed that require the use of a mobile device to play.  Mentira is an example of a location-aware mystery that students solve on location in the target language.  In this case, students in a Spanish class take on new identities and to solve a crime that occured in a New Mexico neighborhood in the 1920s.  Students must move through the neighborhood to unlock clues while playing the entire game in the target language.

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Jane McGonigal @ OSU

dice

I got to meet Dr. Jane McGonigal yesterday and hear her speak on her work on making games for good.  I’m still processing a lot of the ideas she talked about, but wanted to share some of my notes.  It’s a bit of a brain dump, but I’m sure more of what was covered will come up in future posts.  These are not only things she said, but also my reflections and interpretations of them.

Narrowly defined games are not fun.  This could be why many educational games are not very good.  That and the fact that so much less money goes into making them than other games that are designed to entertain.

Off-the-shelf games can be a good option for educators and the classroom.  Ask students what they are playing, go from there.  Older versions of popular games can be cheap and online games are often free.

Augmented reality brings games into real world.  But beware of gamification — adding game-like elements (points, badges) to something that is not a game. For example, see Foursquare.

Almost every game that exists has a wiki (the World of Warcraft wiki is the world’s largest after Wikipedia).  This may be an opportunity for ESL students to interact with language by reading or even writing about a game they like.  Gamers often use the scientific method to approach finding solutions in games.  Teachers can ask students, “Is there an undocumented way to win?” which requires reading the wiki and then critical thinking.

Gamers have very few nightmares and a high rate of lucid dreams — dreams in which they take control — perhaps because they practice doing this in games.

Among the top ten emotions gamers want to feel when playing a game is love.  Specifically the kind of love one feels when one teaches another how to play a game and be successful.  Parents feel this kind of love for their children all the time.  But children feel this love when they teach a parent to play a favorite game.

Edit (11/11/10): The rise of gaming coincides with the overscheduling of the millennial generation and changes to education such as No Child Left Behind.  When kids are spoon-fed in school and by their parents, one of the only outlets they have to express self-motivated mastery is through games.

I hope to provide some examples of these games in future posts.  To learn more, visit Avant Game.com, Gameful.org, or @avantgame on Twitter.

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The Good Old Days

meccano close-up

My four-year-old and I have been regularly tuning in to James May’s Toy Stories on BBC America.  Truth be told, I watched all of the episodes myself and now we have been watching the reruns together.  She loves Thomas the Train so we started with the episode on model trains and have since made it a weekly ritual.

Each week, James May, of Top Gear fame, takes a different toy that was popular before the advent of video games and reintroduces it to the British public through a large scale stunt.  Examples include building a full-scale house out of Lego, a 3-mile-long slot-car track following one of Britain’s first racetracks, and a 10-mile-long model train track following an old seaside rail route.

A Meccano bridge.

A bridge made of Meccano.

Most recently, we watched the episode on Meccano, a toy construction set made of metal strips, nuts and bolts, and assorted gears.  I had a set as a kid and it was a real challenge.  To be honest, I was more into Lego, but later became much more interested in Meccano-like nuts and bolts.

One of the Meccano aficionados that May talks to points out several reasons that the toy is no longer as popular as it was around the world wars when, perhaps not coincidentally, the world looked much more like Meccano.  I have paraphrased them, if not quoted them directly, below:

  • Mecanno is metal.  Today’s medium is plastic.
  • Mecanno is angular.  Today’s things are compound curves.
  • You can repair it by changing out one of the bits.  Today we replace whole units, which are designed to be disposable.
  • He concludes, “It is out of kilter with modern life.”

As an educator who likes to adapt technology to my needs and the needs of my students, I am a bit discouraged by the fact that most technology has evolved along these lines.  Not long ago, machines and even computers were designed so that the user could repair them if necessary.  Now things are designed so that they are easy to use, but we are discouraged from “looking under the hood.”  Even computer games, programmed by the user a generation ago, are now typically very difficult to adapt and modify.

What are we losing by not tinkering with things and learning how to repair them ourselves?  What are the implications for our students if we tell them, “Just use it, don’t worry about how it works?”

May crossing the Meccano bridge.

May crossing the Meccano bridge.

One of the saddest parts of the Meccano episode, at least to me, was when May visits the new Meccano factory to reveal how their new toys incorporate remote-controlled cars and robots to which Meccano pieces can be attached.  In fact, one of the Meccano designers argues that today’s kids need to have simpler toys.

Clearly, I’m a person who likes to make things.  I’m not saying everyone should make their own houses, cars, and food (though I like to).  But by conceding that we can not or should not, what are we losing?  And by relaying this message to our children and our students, in what ways are we limiting them and their curiosity?

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