Monday, November 19, 2012

Weekly Response: Problem Solving and Video Games

Video games combine art, theatre, music, problem solving, and literary techniques in ways that engage, teach, and entertain.

This week, we learned about a lot of things. We saw TED Talks on "boy culture" and, perhaps more memorably, one by a young boy about the stimulating educational benefits of World of Tanks, an online game. We also saw a video about an entire middle/high school in New York, the Institute of Play, where scholars learn in an environment that connects the curriculum to the designing and creation of video games. For instance, in order to make a video game with an engaging story about The Iliad or The Aeneid that was faithful to the material, students had to read and understand these stories on a deep level and then find a way to interpret the story through media/the creation of a game and present it. This made me think about Valve Software's Portal 2.

Portal and Portal 2 contain developer commentary, which you can access from the main menu for them and the rest of Valve's games since the release of The Orange Box onward. These games focus very, very heavily on challenging problem solving, deep and interesting characters, and an engaging narrative. The developer commentary contains a lot of insights into the work that went into the game and the testing phase for it. They employ a lot of educational techniques, including scaffolding, when teaching the skills needed to complete the game or giving details about the story behind the one that is told to you through character interaction. These games are so successful at this that I remember it was said (though I don't remember where) at its release that Portal had the most heart of any game that year, even though it contained one primary character besides you, the player. And you don't even speak.

Here is a great example from the commentary that shows how the developers adjusted the game's levels and employ scaffolding techniques in order to teach skills, create an engaging and heart-pounding experience, and surprise the player, defying their expectations. If I were to write a novel at some point in my life, I could definitely use a lot of the techniques for developing the story that Valve's developers did.

Be warned! This contains spoilers for the end of Portal 2.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Weekly Response: Identity

This week, we learned about the myth of the "Model Minority," with a focus on Asian American students. Basically, the myth is that people of certain minorities are innately more intelligent and talented than other people. Sometimes, members of the minority take the stereotype and internalize it, and one of the biggest problems this can cause is an identity crisis in students. The story of adolescence is "Who Am I?" and so students have enough trouble figuring out who they are at this crucial time of transition and discovery in their lives, and you all know that. Add in the pressures of stereotypes and parental expectations turned up to eleven and you have a serious problem on your hands. It's hard enough being a teenager without being railroaded down a certain path of life before you even chisel out what your personal strengths and interests truly are. If I was pressured to be a doctor or an engineer, I would have failed out of college freshman year. I just do not have the mind for all the math an science involved. I love math and science, but my mind is just not built around it. I'm more right-brained I guess one could say. Anyway, personal identity is a serious issue that affects all students no matter who they are, and the contexts of your life can make it better or worse, and I'm glad this class took the time to teach me that I should create an environment that will allow students to learn more about themselves while they learn about English and literature.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Weekly Response: Educacion

In class this week we learned about "Educacion," and our next intervention is going to focus on it. In simple terms, it is teaching students how to be people, not just teaching them facts and skills. It is the incorporation of values and a sense of what it means to communicate and cooperate effectively and craft oneself into a better person. It means that a teacher needs to recognize that he or she is a creator of relationships. This doesn't just mean relationships between texts and their contexts, but the students and each other as well as other people they know or will meet in the future. There should be a sense of culture in the school experience  and a sense of how the students will fit into the community. One suggestion we had in class would be to host a Career Day, the way St. Mark's does for their juniors or every single school does in all those old cartoons. A teacher should create a good relationship with the students in order to foster better relationships between the student and the school, their classmates, and fellow teachers.

It's definitely an interesting and important new dimension to teaching to think about, and that's one of the reason I decided to write these responses on my personal blog instead of creating a class one. I want to keep these somewhere that I know I can revisit them at, somewhere that maybe current and future colleagues could read them and remember the importance of these bits of their jobs. I certainly hope to incorporate the idea of Educacion into my classroom in the future.