Multiplayer games as the future of learning

Appearing in today’s edition of The Atlantic: “It was just supposed to be a quick trip to Beijing, a touristy group thing to take in the sights. It wasn’t supposed to go down like this.There wasn’t supposed to be a lost manuscript; the travelers weren’t supposed to turn on each other. The only good, if any, to be found in this godforsaken quest, this unholy mission, was that by the end of it, they would all know how to speak Mandarin.imgres-1

“This intricate Maltese Falcon­-like story will unfold each day, over the course of semester, as a multiplayer game at Renssalear Polytechnic Institute in New York. It is being  designed as a language-learning exercise by Lee Sheldon, an associate professor in the college’s Games and Simulations Arts and Sciences Program. “Using games and storytelling to teach­—it’s not that radical of a concept,” says Sheldon. “It makes them more interested in what’s going on.”

“Sheldon is a pioneer in gamification, a new movement that essentially takes all the things that make video games engaging and applies them to classroom learning. Sheldon started developing the theory eight years ago. Since then, gamification now comes in all shapes and sizes and is used across educational levels, for kindergarteners through adult learners. Its practitioners range from individual teachers experimenting with game-like elements in their classrooms to entire schools that have integrated the games into their curricula.

“The goal is to change the student’s mindset to a mastery orientation­—to promote motivation, engagement, active learning­—and to cultivate 21st century skills like collaboration, problem solving, creativity and systems thinking,” says Joey Lee, a research assistant professor of Technology and Education at Teacher’s College, Columbia University. “Learning looks very different today, so we need to move away from the Industrial Revolution one-size-fits-all model that still plagues much of education.” Continue reading “Multiplayer games as the future of learning”

The end of handwriting

Does handwriting matter?

Says the New York Times, “Not very much, according to many educators. The Common Core standards, which have been adopted in most states, call for teaching legible writing, but only in kindergarten and first grade. After that, the emphasis quickly shifts to proficiency on the keyboard.images

“But psychologists and neuroscientists say it is far too soon to declare handwriting a relic of the past. New evidence suggests that the links between handwriting and broader educational development run deep.

“Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how.

“When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated,” said Stanislas Dehaene, a psychologist at the Collège de France in Paris. “There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain.

“Handwriting is being dropped in public schools — that could be bad for young minds. Google’s new hands-free computer is finding its way into operating rooms. Breast cancer survivors find the start of their new lives in a tattoo artist’s work.
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“And it seems that this circuit is contributing in unique ways we didn’t realize,” he continued. “Learning is made easier.” Continue reading “The end of handwriting”

Brain fountain of youth

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Shannon, a 14-year-old who lives in Massachusetts, has amblyopia, a condition sometimes referred to as “lazy eye.”

You can’t tell by looking at her, though. Unlike some amblyopic patients, whose eyes visibly wander, Shannon simply has extremely poor eyesight.

Patients’ best hope for correcting amblyopia is before they turn about 8 years old. Those who don’t get treatment early enough—or for whom treatment doesn’t work—usually end up living with the problem forever.

Shannon is one of those people. Her entire life, she’s worn glasses with a thin non-prescription lens on one side, and a thick corrective lens on the other. As a toddler, her parents tried to make her wear therapeutic eye patches, but she would fling them off.

A few months ago, Shannon enrolled in a clinical study at Boston Children’s Hospital for which she’s taking donepezil, a drug that’s typically used to treat Alzheimer’s. Donepezil is a cholinesterase inhibitor, meaning it increases the amount of acetylcholine circulating around nerve endings. It’s been shown to improve memory function in some patients with dementia.

But of course, Shannon doesn’t have memory problems. Her team of doctors is instead using the donepezil to encourage her brain to learn new skills as quickly and nimbly as an infant’s would. Shannon’s vision has improved markedly over the past four months, her mother told me by phone. Continue reading “Brain fountain of youth”

Math disability affects 6 percent

A math learning disability similar to dyslexia affects 6 percent of people, although it gets little attention.

“Dyscalculia” is discussed in Discover Magazine as excerpted below:

“Steph Zech graduated from high school this spring with an admirable academic record. She especially loved chemistry, writing and literature — though she has some reservations about Dante. A bright and diligent student, she took two Advanced Placement classes her senior year, sailing through both.images

“But when it comes to math, Steph has struggled mightily. At age 17, she still counts on her fingers to add 3 and 5. She doesn’t know her multiplication tables. She can’t understand fractions, process concepts of time such as “quarter after” or read dice without counting the dots. She did recently figure out that if something costs 75 cents, the change from a dollar should be 25 cents. But when asked what the change would be if the price were 70 cents, she considers at length before venturing, “15 cents?” Continue reading “Math disability affects 6 percent”

What’s worth learning

We’ve heard a lot of criticism of schools in recent years – in recent decades for that matter.

Ideologues blame teachers, administrators, funding sources, and even kids for deficiencies. Writing in today’s Truthout, Marion Brady takes a different tack, looking at outdated views of what counts as knowledge, of what is worth learning. Her opening paragraphs are excerpted below:

“The evidence is inescapable. Millions of kids walk away from school long before they’re scheduled to graduate. Millions more stay but disengage. Half of those entering the teaching profession soon abandon it. Administrators play musical chairs. Barbed wire surrounds many

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schools, and police patrol hallways. School bond levies usually fail.Superficial fads—old ideas resurrected with new names—come and go with depressing regularity. Continue reading “What’s worth learning”