Gaming Moral Complexity

Friday’s terrorist attack on Paris will likely, as others have before it, result in a rash of violent crimes against Muslims, as well as ratchet up tensions in Europe surrounding the many refugees seeking asylum from Syria. Many Europeans will be, quite justifiably, frightened and angry, and trying to find a way to express and cope with this fear and anger.

As a species, we like moral certainty; we are comforted by a worldview that can easily separate good from evil (and good decisions from bad), and it is in our nature to gravitate to those points of view whenever possible. It can be especially difficult under circumstances like these determine where our worldviews protect us, and where they put us — or others — in harm’s way. Continue reading

Why Context Matters in Games for Learning

sad llama with tee shirt that says I wasn't good at math

Information requires context in order to be meaningful.

From this idea follow a couple of points worth discussing: (1) that games can provide something crucial to the learning experience and (2), that the choice of context in learning games matters enormously.

The other day, I saw one of those shareable quotes on Facebook – a particularly whiny one – to this effect: Another day and I still haven’t used that algebra they made me learn in high school. Apparently you can also pay money to have this sentiment printed on a tee shirt for you. I remember hearing a lot of the same sort of whining in school, with students wondering why they needed to learn algebra (among other things), and it seems like some people, long after graduating, are still nurturing a lingering resentment for what seemed like a waste of time when they were 16.

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STEM in America: Data, Approaches, and Questions (Part III)

Lego women scientists

Part III: Strategies

In Part II, we continued to look at data about students in higher education and what they choose to study; we saw that, although the overall student population for all of higher education became more similar from 2002 to 2012 to the overall national population of 18-24 year-olds, student populations in engineering programs are not following the same trend.

In this section, we’ll look at two programs trying to address and remedy representational disparities in STEM fields. Though one targets K-12 students and the other post-baccalaureates, both identify similar sources for, and solutions to, the diversity problem in STEM education.

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STEM in America: Data, Approaches, and Questions (Part II)

trends in pursuit of engineering degrees 2002-2011 by race and ethnicity

If you missed Part I of this series, find it here.

Part II: Trends

In Part I, we looked at some numbers: majors and graduates in US four-year institutions in and out of STEM fields. Those data gave us an overview of the state of STEM education in 2012 – who’s pursuing it (mostly men, to varying degrees depending on race and ethnicity) and who isn’t (mostly women across all race and ethnicity groups).

In this segment, we have two objectives. First, I’d like to provide a little more context for the discussion by looking at the value of STEM versus non-STEM degrees for the graduates who hold them. Then, we’ll look at data on higher education in the US from 2002 and 2012 to set up a longer perspective on how disparities have been changing (if indeed they have). In our efforts to make college more accessible to all Americans, have we been making progress? And when we look at STEM in particular, do we see similar patterns? Or are disparities in STEM widening when compared to higher education as a whole? Continue reading

Land of Venn: Numeric Storms Teaches Numeracy (Review)

Land of Venn: Numeric Storms is a game app for early numeracy from iMagine Machine, a studio for learning software.

If you’re not familiar with numeracy, it’s essentially the math version of literacy: not a memorization of number-related information, but a comfort with numbers and a fluent approach to solving problems with numbers. Numeracy is key to the common core approach to teaching math to children. I am completely on board with the concept of numeracy and excited to see it explored through gameplay.

Data Theory Play llama with numbers Continue reading

STEM in America: Data, Approaches, and Questions (Part I)

Our economy needs STEM skills.

Not only does it need STEM skills, but it rewards people who have them – significantly more than those who don’t.

As educators, we have two major responsibilities on the STEM front:

  • Create STEM exposure opportunities for students who might lack access, and
  • Make those opportunities as rich and engaging as possible.

Determining how to do those things successfully and on a large scale (and not just on a case-by case basis) requires looking at some large-scale data – some of which we have, and some of which we don’t.

This multi-part series will look at some of the data we have, some of the problems those data suggest, some solutions currently in use and development, and where to look to answer our next questions.

Part I: The State of STEM

For reference, in 2012 the US resident population of 18-24 years old was 63% white, 5% Asian and Pacific Islander, 12% black, 17% Hispanic or Latino, less than 1% (0.7%) Native American/Alaskan Native, and 2% mixed-race (non-Hispanic). [Note: to my knowledge, all race and ethnicity data is self-reported, and Hispanic/Latino may refer to any race. Some citizens identify as more than one race or ethnicity, and percentages may not add up to 100 in all data sets.] Data used for the charts in this section comes from the NSF, and is freely available here. (Thanks, NSF!)

The 4-year college and university population in 2012 looked like this:Pie chart showing US 4-year college population by race, ethnicity, sex, and citizenship Continue reading

Kriegsspiel: the Glory and the Pain of Teamwork

Kriegsspiel is a war game with a pedigree. Developed by the Prussian military in the 19th century to train officers, it offers a gameplay experience unlike anything I’ve had so far.

William and I played kriegsspiel at LA’s Strategicon over the long weekend. The game lasted about eight hours — and they flew by.

kriegsspiel game civil war
Battle lines being drawn as the Confederates prepare to take Tappahannock

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What Games do Teachers Play?

It’s getting easier to find statistics about how many students are playing games and even what game genres and specific titles they play. But data about what teachers are playing? Not so easy to find.

The Joan Ganz Cooney Center has organized teacher surveys to gather data about which teachers use games, and how (Games & Learning reports on game use in class). But they’ve also asked some questions about teachers’ personal recreational gameplay, and that’s what I’m interested in today. After all, it’s hard to imagine asking someone with no interest in books to inspire kids to have rich reading experiences; if we’re going to expect teachers to use games in their classrooms — and increasingly, we do — shouldn’t we invest in the gaming lives of teachers?

Data Theory Play Llamas in RPG costumes Continue reading

Are We Overlooking Paper Games?

As an educator, I’ve sometimes had the feeling that technology in school was an end in itself rather than a means to better learning experiences. Perhaps you’ve been there, too.

Technology absolutely has its place in learning. A big place, even, especially when it comes to digital games. But I’ve had two occasions this week to think about the place of games that don’t require modern technology, and to consider that they might be undervalued in the exploding field of educational gaming.

Data Theory Play llamas holding board game pieces Continue reading