Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Do I Have a Right?

One game that I might have students  play at home for autonomous learning and to reinforce what they are doing in school would be the Bill of Rights game “Do I Have a Right?” which I found on the  GameChange website.  This game would be categorized as a serious game. Serious Games are computer and video games that are intended to not only entertain users, but have additional purposes such as education and training.  I think that this game reinforces and teaches about the bill of rights and constitutional law.  I played this game about three or four times and really felt that it helped teach what rights are contained in the Bill of Rights and other constitutional amendments.  

 In the game, students manage a law firm staffed with lawyers who specialize in constitutional law and must decide whether each visiting client “has a right” after reading about the client's problem or issue.   If so, students match the client with a lawyer who specializes in the relevant constitutional amendment. 

 Students grow their law  firms over a series of 8-hour “days”. Their successes increase the lawyers’ number of specializations and earn them points to hire more lawyers and buy a variety of amenities to keep waiting clients happy

But the clock is ticking, and students have to learn their amendments fast if they want to keep winning cases and stop clients from walking out.   

 As additional learning features, the game allows students to click on relevant information in the client descriptions and awards points when the students find information that is relevant to the problem.

Also, at the end of each day (or round), a newspaper appears that summarizes the successes and failures of the day.  This provides additional reinforcement of what students are learning and practicing while playing the game.

The learning objectives for this game would be:

  • The students will be able to distinguish which issues are rights and which are not based on a written description.
  • The students will be able to identify which part of the bill of rights gives them that right.  

 This could be assessed with a teacher created quiz based on the scenarios in the game or a matching quiz.  The game also has a feature whereby if the students are signed in to the game, they can see a final score breakdown.  From there, students can view and print a detailed report that will let the teacher determine how students performed on each specific amendment.

One of the nice things about the game is that  although students with some background and familiarity with constitutional rights may find it easier to play, "Do I Have a Right?", it also teaches the constitutional amendments, so even those who don't know much about the Bill of Rights can play and learn!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Video Games in the Classroom: A Very Time-Consuming Endeavor

According to a wiki at gamification.org, “gamification typically involves applying game design thinking to non-game applications to make them more fun and engaging”.  In other words, gamification is making a game out of something that normally is not thought of as a game to make it more interesting and engaging for the learner or user. 

 For some time I have thought that making something into a game, electronic or otherwise,  can be an excellent tool for motivating students.  I have often played games or converted classroom activities and more traditional 'worksheet' activities into games when I was teaching.   For video games, the instant feedback and rewards for mastery as well as the automatic increase of the level of challenge are an important element of video games which, if able to be incorporated into a game where students were learning the language, could make for an engaging and valuable learning experience. Several of the articles and videos from this week seem to suggest this as well. 
I would love to find a game, and have searched for one in the past as well as this week, that combines these elements and also helped with language learning.    The problem is, I don’t think there are many games that provide a rich enough language experience to truly be used for anything other than enrichment outside of the classroom.   One of the main reasons for this is that many of the games also take a while to play and so they don’t always seem like an efficient use of class time.  They also take a while to figure out so by the time you figure out how to play the game and are actually getting something out of it, several class periods have gone by.  This week I have literally spent  hours trying out different games from our assignment sheet  to see if there are any I would use and honestly, I cannot say that I would use any of them in the classroom.  I played many games at games for change (many of which I enjoyed), Third World Farmer, The McDonald's Game, Against All Odds, Budget Hero, The Garbage GameDarfur is Dying,  and several of the point and click and escape the room games.
Although many of the the games are engaging and interesting and I’m sure the students would enjoy playing them, I just don’t see spending that much class time for the amount of language learning that would happen, especially language learning that I could actually evaluate.  Some of the suggested games, such as Pac-Man seem to be truly a waste of time in terms of language learning even though they are fun to play.  A few of the other games could maybe be used and would provide language practice and interaction, but to me they seem much less efficient than typical classroom activities and so I don’t see myself using them for anything other than enrichment for students to do on their own time or for rare occasions when one or two students finish work early.  A few of the games were also obviously made by non-native English speakers and  had incorrect or awkward English grammar and vocabulary, which I would not want to use with the students.

Although it may not seem like it based upon this post, I actually am not completely anti-video game, I have played video games on occasion and have enjoyed them,  however the ‘escape the room’  concept seems like a waste of time for a language learner or not.  The only use of them for me would be the ones in the article using the walkthrough, as a reading comprehension, listening, or partner activity.  I would only use ready-made ones, however, because I can’t imagine the boredom of having to figure out where to randomly click on a computer screen to get out of a fake room (and why someone wanted to spend the hours to do this already is beyond me).   Teachers are so busy and I can't imagine spending hours clicking on a screen to create a reading comprehension activity to use for one class period.  I would consider using one of the ready made ones especially for a day when the students had a sub or something,because it would be different for them and they would probably be engaged in it. I would consider the activity to be the walkthrough, though, and not the game itself and think that something similar could be done with a picture.  
 Maybe I am being closed-minded and there are some great uses for video games in the classroom, but gamification is something I have thought about for quite a long time and know that I would be open to something if I felt it truly provided valuable language practice in an efficient manner that students can not get in some other (and easier) way.   I would, however,  see it as a positive thing if the students played these games on their own time and would definitely encourage them to do so.  

Have you found any games to be useful and relevant in the language learning classroom?  If so, I'd love to hear about them!  Please let me know in the comments!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Twitter in the Classroom. A Good Idea?

In this digital age, social media has become part of many people’s lives.  A considerable number of educators have also begun using social media in schools and classrooms throughout the world to enhance the experience for teachers and students.   Microblogging, through a platform such as Twitter, seems to be one of the ways educators have been integrating social media in their teaching.  It was interesting this week to create my own Twitter account and really begin getting a feel for this microblogging tool.  I also spent time perusing the multitude of resources available to guide teachers in using this tool in the classroom.   
If you’re a teacher who is just beginning to explore the benefits of using Twitter in the classroom, like I am, edudemic’s Ultimate Twitter Guidebook for Teachers is a good place to start.  It contains over 100 tips, apps, and resources for using Twitter all in one place to help you get started.  On sites such as 28 Creative Ways Teachers Are Using Twitter, 60 Inspiring Examples of Twitter inthe Classroom, and 36 Interesting Ways to Use Twitter in the Classroom, I got several ideas for ways Twitter could be used effectively in the classroom.  I must say that  I don’t necessarily think everything on the sites is a wonderful idea. For example, I don't understand why you would use it to communicate with someone in the same room or classroom you are, especially at the K-12 level.  For adults, I can see an argument for using it in very few specific situations like tweeting questions to a lecturer in a large lecture hall in a university or at a conference, for instance, but for younger students who are rarely in this type of situation, I don't really see it.  If you are in the same room, can't you just talk to the people in the room or write on a piece of paper or use whiteboards? I see for certain activities it might make it easier to have a record of what you have done, but mostly it seems to open up the possibility of distractions and off-task behavior.  I do think there are many more practical applications for when people are not in the same physical space, however, or for extending learning to outside the classroom.  Here are a few of the things mentioned in the articles I did think might be useful for language teachers....

Interaction with Other Educators

Teachers and leaders in education who would never have had the opportunity to meet one another now have the opportunity to engage in discussions and even professional development online.  One of the ways that educators can do this is to participate in any number of ‘Twitter chats’. Twitter chats are scheduled events or conversations that use a specific hashtag in an attempt to organize a conversation around a particular topic.  Since I've had my "professional" Twitter account that I created just this week, I've been following educators I find interesting.  I have definitely been able to find out new ideas and perspectives that I wouldn't normally have found unless I had this account.  

Communication with Parents 

Parents can sign up to receive tweets from the teacher to keep them informed about what is going on in class and keep them updated about deadlines.

Interaction with People from Around the World 

Beyond facilitating communication within the course itself, teachers may like the idea of connecting with similar ones in other cities, states or even countries. Through Twitter (and set up by the teacher), students can engage with students in other classrooms around the world.
The 140-character limit offers a nice little challenge for students and innovative educators have taken notice. Whether writing poetry, short stories or something else entirely, Twitter’s unique structure offers up some excellent ways to stimulate creativity.  Some instructors ask class participants to set up real or imaginary feeds roleplaying as significant figures in history or literature, approaching microblog technology "in character" as in this example. One could easily incorporate scientists, artists, and plenty more into the fold as well.  In a language classroom, students could create twitter conversations as an alternative to the traditional dialogues that are often used in language classes.  I’ve also used the ‘six-word memoir’ with language classes.  Maybe the ‘140 character memoir’ is the modern version of this? 

Group Story Making

This is a way to practice students' writing  and creative thinking skills. The teacher can start the story with a sentence, and then the students can each add sentence to continue the story. In this way, the class can create their own class story. 
________of the Day 

The teacher can post an idiom, vocabulary word, quote, or something else "of the day". This can be an excellent supplement to the day’s lesson. If parents are also connected, they can be encouraged to talk about these things at home as well.

These are some starting points for using Twitter in the classroom.  What other ways have you found to engage through microblogging?