So I Bought a Video Game

This event was met with mild interest by my nine-year-old niece until she realized it didn’t come with a corresponding Wii.  I’ve read about the value of computery games, and I know that the masses of DS-toting fifth graders who learn in my classroom make gaming a part of their daily lives.  So after a tremendous amount of foot-dragging, I purchased Zoo Tycoon 2 last week. 

Yes, I know, not very “sexy” as games go–but I have to start somewhere, right?  And I’m just not into virtually killing things or chasing after gold coins spinning in the air or whatever.  Those sorts of games will have to remain spectator sports for me.  As it was, I was fairly sure that even if I could figure out how to play this zoo thing, I wouldn’t actually like it.

Seven days later, I’ve probably logged in 15-20 hours creating my kick-butt zoo that is actually making quite a tidy profit, thankyouverymuch!  The day I loaded the software onto my computer I spent almost four straight hours glued to my computer, and when I finally snapped out of the fog of learning to organize virtual zoo exhibits and place adequate restrooms for my little electronic patrons, I had muscle cramps in my hand and backside from stiffly clicking away like a nut.

I sort of get it, now.  No doubt I felt invested in my work, proud of my accomplishments, determined to fix my failures…and boy was I learning.  Mostly learning the game, but still learning.  But I wondered whether the average 10-year-old would be as interested in building a zoo (or roller coaster or any of the other tycoon-ish games) as I was. 

This is fundamentally different from ninja-kicking or car-stealing…or is it?  I sat through a session at BLC 2007 in which Marc Prensky browbeat the audience a bit for our digital immigrancy and I read one of his books, so I feel like I should “get” this more.  Is the point problem-solving, whether it is combat-based quests or crafting the most attractive penguin pool?  Maybe.  Either way, do video-gaming kids (or adults) adopt skills that translate into non-virtual environments (aka reality)?  If a kid spends time daily for years learning to try again after a failure in her/his video-gaming, will that same perseverance extend to math assignments or riding a horse or finding a job?

So I bought a video game (sort of) and I think I understand what makes this activity generally attractive (sort of) and I can see some potential for useful learning…sort of.  Oops!  The zebras have knocked down their fence and are loose in the family picnic area–gotta go.


Digital Storytelling

My class completed their digital stories a couple of weeks ago.  For their first attempt, they’re pretty good.  Having to collaborate on a group project and doing informational pieces made the projects extra-challenging.  I wish I could share them online, but they used lots of copyrighted images, so these particular projects will have to stay private.  In honor of their work, I made a digital story of my own, the subject being the Battle at Lexington and Concord.  Since my piece is chock-full of my mediocre photos from my own camera, I happily deposit a link here for any who care to see.


The Podcast’s the Thing

Here I am, trying to get back on the reflective blogging again!  In my class’ most recent publishing cycle, a handful of my students chose to blog their pieces–something we’ve done with great success in the past.  Another handful chose to podcast.  Though I’ve fallen down on the job of promoting their work, I plan to add this to the publishing choices on a permanent basis. 

My initial concern was time, and so I was relieved that a minority of the class chose podcasting.  The funny thing was, it was very quick.  This group has a lot of techno-confidence at this point, and I spent about a minute explaining the program I use to capture and edit audio (an open source miracle called Audacity), and walked away.  Each podcaster handled the rest quite well, although I did do some editing of the audio after school.  Most of the students heard their first recording and then chose to do a second, wanting to improve on their phrasing, expression, etc.  Nice when they attend to fluency, isn’t it?  I could easily have podcast the entire class in just a few days worth of readers’ workshops using just my desktop and a single microphone.  So this excuse not to podcast has been blown out of the water.

Now I have to do my part.  Like the blog, it is clear that I need to be a major promoter of the podcasts, which have a home at Podcast People.  It has a free basic service that is more than adequate for our podcasting needs and is reasonably efficient.  My plan is to send the link out in the class newsletter, and then email the link with a request for commentary to all of my building colleagues and all of the literacy coaches in my district.  I may even hang our shingle out on the Red Cedar Writing Project listserv (all the prior-mentioned folks are now properly warned).  This is mostly a shameless promotion of my students’ work, because I’ve seen some really useful reflection on their parts when they read comments.  I’ve also seen a boost in their confidence as writers, which is solid gold in the teaching/learning biz.

So this past publishing cycle, students could podcast, blog, present in Author’s Chair time, or simply post their pieces in the classroom for others to read.  Our last published pieces were required to be blogged and presented in Author’s Chair.  Given the choice, a full half of the class still chose Author’s Chair, which I’ve been mulling over for a couple of weeks now.  This is the classic and familiar choice, and probably the only one they had prior to joining my class.  So why do the same old thing, I keep wondering.  I know why a few folks choose to simply post in the classroom–this is the single choice they can make that does not open them up to the review of others–podcasts and blogs allow commentary, and Author’s Chair in my room is followed by two “stars” and two “wishes” from the audience.

Author’s Chair–is it the personal performance element?  Or just the more personal touch?  Is it the familiarity, maybe that gives this option more legitimacy…I’d be curious for anyone who is spending their valuable time reading this crazy business to chime in.  Yes, I know I could just ask the students, but where’s the fun in that?  So, gentle reader, why are my students not flocking to the tech publishing, in all its sparkly innovationyness?