Tag Archives: university

Paper-based Games for ESL Students

dice

At the inaugural Playful Learning Summit at Ohio University, I shared a couple of games that I developed for use with ESL students at Ohio State. These are both paper-based games, which stood out in a room full of computer games and an Oculus Rift connected to a Kinect. This last project — an immersive, gesture-controlled, virtual reality interface — was really cool, but isn’t something I know how to develop (yet).  But, fortunately, everyone gets paper.  I hope these two games serve as an inspiration for anyone who doesn’t think she can design a game for her students.

Football Simulation – I’ve posted about this one before, but it still stands as an easy-to-prepare, easy-to-play simulation that can help international students to understand the game of American football.  The focus, when I use the game in the classroom, is to understand what down and distance are as well as the importance of basic offensive and defensive strategies.  All that is required is one six-sided die and a printout of the document with the offense and defense  cards cut out.

Orientation to Campus Game – This is a board game I developed based on the Madeline board game.  Players travel around the campus map / board uncovering tokens when they land next to them.  If the player uncovers one of the 5 buckeye symbols, she keeps it.  If the player uncovers the name of a building, she must move to that space immediately.  The best things about this game are that it is very easy to play and that students really focus and pay attention to the most important buildings on the map.  There are no dice and you can use almost anything for player tokens.  I also really like the mechanic of moving to the place listed on the token because this changes every time the game is played.  On the down side, it is a kids game, so it doesn’t hold adults’ attention for very long.  And if the students have been on campus for even a couple of weeks, they are already familiar with most of the buildings in the game.  Still, this game could be useful for students to play while waiting for our orientation program to start because it might help them to discover buildings that they do not yet know.

So, don’t be afraid of developing games on paper if, like me, you don’t have a wide array of programming skills.  Any game that is prototyped and play-tested on paper could later be converted to a computer version.  But, by working out the kinks on paper, you can develop your game to its final version without even picking up your keyboard.

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Genetics for Kids

test tubes

Over the past ten or twenty years, the news media has become saturated with stories about genetics.  But do you really understand how genes interact?  A new genetics simulation being developed at Ohio State can help.

The simulation begins with a series of cartoon faces from which the user can choose to populate the gene pool for the next generation.  (The term “parents” is used, but more than two can be selected.)  This process can be repeated several times to create successive generations of cartoon faces.

Over 50 “genes” are incorporated into the faces (affecting everything from the dimensions of the head and other features to how asymmetrical the face is and whether the eyes follow your mouse or not) and the genes of the “parents” interact to produce the subsequent generation.  You can also adjust the amount of mutation, which leads to a wider (or narrower) variety of offspring.

Another interesting feature is the ability to view genotypes.  This allows you to view a graph under each offspring representing which genes come from which parent.  You can also choose two faces and drag them to the Gene Exam Room to view to what degree each gene is represented in each face.  This also allows you to see the effect of each individual gene.  You can even increase or decrease the representation of each gene to see how it changes each face.

What can you (or your students) do with this simulation?  Imagine the faces are puppies and you want to develop a new breed that is cute (or whatever other trait you’re interested in.)  This simulation clearly demonstrates how breeders (of animals, plants, etc.) select for certain traits and refine them over generations.

Or imagine the choices you  make in the simulation are not choices, but represent the effects of the environment.  For example, say the Sun grows dim giving people with big eyes that can see in low light an advantage over people with small eyes.  This advantage results in a higher percentage of offspring surviving and a wider representation in the gene pool.  What effect would this have after several generations?

Think of how much richer students’ discussions of designer pets and natural disasters will be after they have “experienced” the process instead of just reading about it.  In addition to genetics, this simulation can also stimulate interest in probability (how likely are offspring to have certain characteristics), design (ideas behind evolutionary design were the impetus for the interface), as well as all of the social issues behind decisions we are now able to make regarding genetics.

In terms of ESL teaching, I think giving students something interesting to do and then having them talk or write about it is a great way to get them to practice English.  This genetics simulation is simple but interesting enough that it could generate lots of interesting ideas for students to talk about.

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YouTube for Good

old movie camera

I saw this post on Mashable the other day about the top 5 YouTube projects that are doing social good.  These are all interesting projects that involve someone personally documenting a specific social problem or issue.  Because YouTube can link the content creators to the content viewers, these projects offer an unvarnished connection to people struggling with these issues.  These three are topics that can be very difficult to explain to ESL students (and native speakers, too.)  I wouldn’t necessarily just begin showing the videos in a classroom, but they can be a very good resource for anyone exploring any of these topics.

1. Homosexuality & Bullying – It Gets Better

Homosexuality can be a challenging topic, but it is often particularly difficult for international students to discuss.  Given the recent suicide of a student at Rutgers, cyberbullying is very topical right now.  This project aims to address this problem by reaching out to teens who feel like there is no end to the bullying they may be facing.  I chose the above video because it challenges some stereotypical perceptions that some of my students have had.

2. HIV & AIDS – I Talk Because

Like the first topic, HIV and AIDS can carry lots of different stigmas, particularly for international students.  The goal of this project is raising awareness, with people from many different backgrounds talking about this issue in very frank and forthright ways.

3. Homelessness – InvisiblePeople.tv

Invisible People TV posts interview with people who are homeless, such as Cotton in North Carolina, above.  These videos are honest and raw and offer a wide range of perspectives and attitudes.  Homelessness can be a very strange concept to people from outside North America.  These videos don’t explain it, but they do personalize it.

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Virtual Lectures

lecture hall

Occasionally, students in our program ask if they can take regular university classes in addition to our full-time intensive ESL program.  In a very few cases, we have arranged informal course audits through which students may sit in on courses as a way to supplement their learning.  In addition to the language input, this arrangement can be a good way to introduce international students to American academic culture.

Recently a student approached me about his interests in sitting in on a few lectures.  His primary interest was in becoming familiar with the English vocabulary in his field of study.  He was already comfortable with the content in his own language, but was nervous about learning all new terminology in English.  In the end, actually sitting in on a class was not a good option for this particular student.  Fortunately, there are a couple of good online alternatives that I could recommend: YouTube’s EDU site and iTunesU.

YouTube.com/edu hosts thousands of lectures from institutions across the U.S.  Not all of them are lectures — and it’s easy to get sucked in to videos of marching bands and football games — but there are lots of options available.  Search for “physics lecture” and you’ll get over 4000 videos.

iTunesU.com takes a similar approach, but it is tied in to Apple’s iTunes music store.  This means it is very easy to put videos on your iDevice (iPhone, iPod, iPad, etc.) to watch on the go.  The bad news is that you need to install the iTunes application to access them.

Both locations offer hours of free content from some of the most prestigious institutions in the country.  Of course, many of the videos are just recordings of lectures, which may be somewhat dull.  And sadly, that may be very good preparation for American academic culture.  But, if high level students are looking for content rich input, these sources will provide a wealth of options.

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