Friday, September 30, 2011

Game On!

I have never been a gamer.

And I will totally date myself here by saying that I was never into Pac Man, I don’t own an X-Box or a Wii and I was generally not following the connections between games and the classroom.
That is until a couple of summer’s ago at the Harvard Graduate School’s Future of Learning Institute where I both learned to “tweet” and had the opportunity to attend a session with Chris Dede, Professor of Learning Technologies at Harvard. 

And I thought …whoa! 

He was talking about disruptive innovations and that the disruptive innovation heading toward our classrooms was the customization of individual needs. This was way beyond  differentiating instruction. Chris Dede talks about a full customization of the learning process that is student driven. 


Students understanding themselves in ways that allow them to create the learning situations which will help them to meet their goals as individual learners.

And then we talked about gaming.

At the recent New York State Council of School Superintendents Conference in Saratoga Springs, Mary Cullinane, Director of Innovation – US Partners of Learning for Microsoft Corporation focused part of her  presentation on gaming. 

She shared an amazing statistic ….. that kids playing video games fail at the game 80% of the time.
 Think about that  …….and think about what do they do every time they fail? 

They go back for more!

When I get a mental image of what this type of perseverance and persistence would look like inside our classrooms I am filled with excitement. Kids so engaged with an activity or a concept that if they failed to understand it 80% of the time they would willingly and of their own volition keep going back until they got it.

 Just picture that! 

Consider the incredible implications this holds for learning. 

In the September issues of “the Journal,” an educational technology publication which you can check out at writer Charlene O’Hanlon talks about “a new generation of gamers who are not just picking up skills by playing video games – they’re learning by designing an creating games themselves.” In her article she explains that game creation as a learning tool is really just a digital-age take on the learning-by-doing approach to teaching. All of the current curriculum re-design work being done in schools across the country is being structured to include more opportunities for project-based learning. We know that students pick up concepts more easily and retain more information when they are hands-on with their subject matter. 

I am especially drawn to the use of Gamestar Mechanic because it is targeted toward middle school students. There is much research that points toward middle school as the time when many students disengage from learning; especially boys. Gamestar Mechanic is built on a foundation of pedagogical research that includes systems thinking, digital literacy skills and STEM learning. It is being used in 800 schools and the basic program is free. 

I would encourage you to check out some of the following websites:

I am convinced that the use of games as part of the instructional program holds endless opportunities for our students to practice 21st Century skills such as communication, problem-solving, collaboration and teamwork. These skills simply cannot be replicated in the same way by traditional classroom activities. 

According to David Samuelson, Executive Vice President and Director of Games and Augmented Reality at Pearson and co-moderator of the working group that focuses on game-based learning within the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA), “we are graduating through the stage where we’ve accepted that games are now a part of society, and we’re looking for the best ways to incorporate them into the teaching environment. It’s a natural progression.”

So … innovative teachers willing to embrace the redesign of teaching and learning for our 21st Century classrooms ….

Game On!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ask A Sixth Grader

Change is good and these are exciting times! As the new superintendent in Dobbs Ferry, I have been trying to unravel the “state of the schools” in an effort to pick an entry point for where to begin. As is the case with all schools, we are attempting to “change the tire while the car is moving.” How do we establish the technological culture that will inspire, educate and empower all students to be successful participants in a 21st Century global society?

We began over the summer with our Board members and administrators reading Tony Wagner’s book, The Global Achievement Gap. The text grapples with the issues facing all schools in teaching our students what Wagner refers to as the “seven survival skills” that our children need in order to be successful in a global society.

In November, I am beginning a series of Parent Book Chats coordinated by our District PTSA. Hosted in neighborhood homes, we will meet in groups of 10-12 parents to discuss the Wagner text and engage in dialogue about the kinds of things we want our students to be able to know and do when they graduate from Dobbs Ferry High School. It is hard for me to imagine a group more invested in the changes that need to occur. After all, every parent holds high hopes and dreams for their child including the ability to secure a decent job and become a contributing member of society.

Today, I met with a group of our new sixth graders. This is their first year in Middle School and .their ideas and feedback on what they think would make their learning more relevant astounded me. In a recent piece in The Next Web, entitled What today’s Digital Native children can teach the rest of us about technology,” Neela Sakaria, Senior Vice President of Latitude (a research consulting company to leaders in content, technology and learning) explains that research is “focused on giving children a real voice in the broader, often very adult, discussion of future technologies and real-world problem solving. We believe that kids are the architects of the future- they’re creative, have an intuitive relationship with technology and have proven that they think in extraordinarily sophisticated ways about how tech can enhance their learning, play and interactions with people and things around them.”

The sixth graders were explaining to me that one of the things new to them this year was having different subject area classes and that they really needed to be more organized. I asked them the obvious question, “What are you doing to keep yourselves more organized?” They started by explaining that they were using multiple folders and binders to keep all the class work separate, but that there was always lots of “stuff” on their desks because of the various papers, folders and notebooks.

I was fascinated by this since I was thinking “how many adults in the “real world” use notebooks and folders to keep themselves organized?” I will admit to a small number of file folders in my office but …really ….do we think that this is the way that these kids will one day structure their homes and offices? Unable to contain my curiosity about how the students would respond, I asked “Do you think there is any other way to keep yourselves organized?”

Well … I wish you could have been there. Without having any knowledge of Wagners’ “seven survival skills,” our students’ answers demonstrated many of the attributes that he cites are imperative for the next generation to master including critical thinking, understanding resources, problem solving, adapting technology, analyzing information and imagination. Here are some of their creative ideas:

  • “Everyone should have an iPad because when we get home we have an ipad and we just use online folders to organize our work.”

  • “I think that someone would have to write the code, but you should be able to bring your iPad to school and log on to a network where all of your game apps are disabled while you are in school.”

  • “If kids don’t have money to buy an iPad they should able to rent one from the school.”

  • “If you added up all the money that the school is going to spend on paper for us from the time we are in sixth grade to twelfth grade it would probably cost the same as an iPad. Using technology is a better environmental solution.”

  • “All the desks in the school should have a ‘built in’ iPad so that whatever classroom you went into, you would just log-in to the iPad in the classroom.”

Trying to put aside the pros and cons of ipads vs. netbooks vs. laptops, the larger conversation revolves around why our classrooms are so disconnected from what our students encounter and engage in during their daily life? Why are they being forced to “power down” when they walk through our doors? The research being done by Latitude has found that today’s children perceive a very seamless connection between online and offline worlds.

The pivotal question is “how willing are we to hear what our digital native children are telling us, and what are we willing to do about it?”