Gaming as a Learning Tool

For some time educators and computer game developers have been exploring the potential for games as learning tools that enable deep, intuitive learning. Here’s an interesting article about Beta testing on one such new initiative. This takes the well-known and popular Sim City in to the educational arena with SimCityEdu:

SimCityEdu article

The article raises some issues about some of the challenges that come up when attempting to use gaming in the classroom, but in my opinion the potential learning benefits make it more than worthwhile that such work continues with a view to ironing out such matters to create differentiated entry points for students with different past gaming experiences.

Wise Voices

Thought-provoking short video put out by the organisers of a conference going on in Doha, Qatar right now (wish i could have been there):

Tough Being a Parent

‘Command and control’ parenting throught the use of extrinsic motivation (sticks and carrots) is explored in this editorial debate from today’s New York Times;

New York Times – Room for Debate – Should You Bribe Your Kids?

Whilst it’s quite a light-hearted article and somewhat amusing I was left with two thoughts that meant i wasn’t wholly comfortable with the viewpoint of either of the writers.

Firstly, the article carries no acknowledgement of the needs, clearly identified through research with both children and adults, for intrinsic motivation to drive success in life. If every child is growing up with ‘bribing’ parents, should we be surprised if we finish up with an adult population that looks for instant and immediate material gratification as a necessary quid pro quo for every piece of effort extended? Whilst, as one of the writers acknowledges, that might solve her short term issues and give her an easier life, is she short changing her children by failing to invest adequate effort in the long term task of developing internal motivation to do what is right and necessary because one can make the mental connections between ‘doing what it takes now’ and ‘having what i want later’?

My second concern is that if parents are engaging in ‘mass bribery’ to weather the daily challenges of parenting – where does that leave the other people who play an important part in the lives of those children – the educators? If a child is in the habit of linking agreement to do something with some form of immediate gratification in the form of a bribe, then how are educators supposed to effectively fulfil their roles? They don’t necessarily have a pool of resources to keep handing out to children in return for them simply doing what they’re supposed to do – or worse, for not making our lives too difficult!

So, what do you think? Am I being too idealistic? Do you feel that bribing is an OK short-term fix for an easy life that doesn’t really do any harm? I’m really keen to hear people’s views on this. I may have mine, but after reading this article i fear i might be in a small (and dwindling) minority!

Younger Learners

The weight of evidence now in the public domain about brain and mental development should be more than enough to put to bed once and for all debates about ‘academics’ and kindergarten children. There is now enough that we know that tells us that to push reading, writing and other such skills early is to take enormous risks with children who may not yet have the neural network ready and in place to be ready for this kind of learning.

As early years education has turned away from ‘syllabus’ and bodies of content to be taught/ learned (x number of vegetable names, y number of colour names, z number of fruit names etc.) it has inevitably brought more and more questions – ‘Well, if not for that stuff, then what is the purpose of early years education?’

This is a relatively short piece written by a practicing early years teacher in the US that nicely gives her perspective on the aims and objectives of her early years classroom;

I found the teacher’s perspective refreshing, realistic and rooted in complete faith and belief in each child’s ability to acquire some level of competence in these key skills, given the right climate, atmosphere and activities to engage in.

I also couldn’t help noticing the coincidental strong correlation between her four listed skills for development and our own school’s four declared values:

Independence – learning is a lifelong process
Collaboration – Diversity
Ownership – Character forms the basis of a fulfilled life
Persistence – Self-determination/ Success Lies in the individual’s own hands

Indian Education Jugaad

You can’t spend 15 years ignoring all the really necessary things, and then bolt them on late in 5 minutes!

DNA Article – Education Jugaad

The article above from DNA India really highlights the inadequacies of last-minutism and attempts to fiull in for systemic shortcomings with quick fixes. Essentially, what has happened is that there has been a massive mismatch between thew skills taught (and tested) in the school system, and what students need to be economically productive contributors in society after they leave formal education.

As a result, a vast array of public and private solutions have come in to being in the past few years that seek to swiftly overlay all the skills young people should have developed before they are let loose on the workplace.

Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work. These aren’t skills that can be taught with a textbook and a few lessons. The reality is these skills woulds always have been better learned through child-centric, skills based approaches to education in school (that would not have been at the expense of academic learning).

With the cart now placed squarely in front of the horse – it’s a long and challenging road ahead, at least for the generation leaving education now and during the next few years. Nobody must be under any illusions that there will be prices to pay and these may be heavy; economic, social, personal and impacting the stability of society. For those of us in school education, there is not much that we can do for the older students. We must takje our responsibility seriously to ensure that at least those who come after will be better equipped to be effective citizens.

Learning Naturally

A fascinating article about the experiences of some pupils and parents in a school with a very natural, child-driven approach to learning.

Mindshift Article – harnessing Children’s Natural Ways of Learning

As I read the article, I was continually reminded of how ‘unnatural’ children must find so much of what actually goes on in most schools and how we came to create such (sometimes bizarre) relatively unproductive, even harmful practices.

The task at hand is to undo this harm, to move towards learning methods that work and that respect the innate humanity in the child.

Science of Early Childhood Development

The ASCD is one of the biggest bodies in the world committed to assiting educators in their professional development. Amongst other superb resources, they have an extensive blog site with top contributors from across the education field that focuses on ‘Whole child’ development.

This is a mine of information and i would urge fellow educators to become regular visitors to that site. Here is just one page with a great short video from Harvard University that looks at the scientific understanding of early childhood development:

ASCD Whole Child Blog – Video on Science of Early Childhood Development

How Shanghai Schools Got to Number One

Here’s an interesting article from Thomas Friedman in today’s New York Times recounting his experiences from visiting a high performing Shanghai School;

New York Times Article

Oh, how this article will disappoint many. How some educators around the world will beat their chests about how PISA isn’t the only measure of greatness in schools or an education system. Oh, how many will hate the fact that the conclusions are that they don’t suffer from the complacency and the ‘plague of mediocrity’ that blights so many education systems. Instead, there’s no ‘magic sauce’. Instead they take some fundamental things that we all know make a difference and they work harder at them, more determinedly and with a mindset that says – you can’t get too good at these things and there’s always scope for improvement.

Wow, hard work and a never ending pursuit of excellence in fundamental areas might come back in to fashion!!

Eco-School for Ajman in 2014

Here’s an interesting story about a new school coming up next year, to be affiliated to CBSE, but with some different ideas. As well as the farming aspects I would be keen to know if the school’s own environmental practices will be made as eco-friendly as possible, even at the architecture and design stages of the school;

Zawya Article – Eco-Friendly Ajman School in 2014

Nobel Prize for Literature – Alice Munro

I have to confess that, a few days ago, when i saw the announcement that this year’s Nobel Laureate for Literature was Alice Munro, I wasn’t familiar with any of her work. However, the article i read about her intrigued me, so I went looking and came across this wonderful short story that was published in New Yorker;

New Yorker – Alice Munro – Short Story

I loved the imagery, the sensitivity to find something good and worthy in all five of the main characters. At the same time, it carries something of sadness – a wistful way that people reach the latter years of their lives having failed to be and do what they had always wanted. I was left remembering the well-known quote from Thoreau – “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

As mankind evolves, shouldn’t progress be about bringing that song out to be sung, not just in ourselves, but also in others. Maybe Stephen Covey was really on to something with his Eighth Habit – find your voice and help others to find theirs.

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