Physics, ethics, zombies


Fighting zombies — and learning ethic?

Video games are used to teach everything from ethics to physics at a Norwegian high school, reports Tina Barseghian on Mind/Shift.

In a religious studies class, students watch a scene from The Walking Dead.

Supplies are running low and only four food items are left to ration, but there are 10 hungry mouths to feed. Who should eat? The grumpy old guy? The injured teen? The children? The leader?

Once the class reaches a consensus, they have to justify their choice with one of the concepts they’ve learned from moral philosophy. Was their decision guided by situational ethics, utilitarianism or consequentialism?

Games should be more than “chocolate-covered broccoli,” says teacher Tobias Staaby. He also uses Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, a sword-and-and sorcery action role-playing game, to teach about Norwegian romantic nationalism.

Physics students play Portal 2, which requires solving puzzles to escape a labyrinthine lab complex. Players “manipulate cubes, redirect lasers and tractor beams, time jumps, and teleport through walls . . . ”

“Should we have a large mass and height? Drop 50 kilograms from 50 meters? Oh, the air resistance kicks in – let’s shorten the height,” said (teacher Jørgen) Kristofferson, illustrating how his students toyed with the power of gravity.

“Real world experiments are important and the game can’t replace them,” he said, “but the game gives students a different perspective on the laws of physics, where mechanics are simulated by a computer to create a realistic gaming environment. It can also be a great source of discussion when the laws of physics are broken!” Students think about how the simulation deviates from reality and transform what might be perceived as a game’s shortcoming into a critical thinking opportunity.

An avid gamer, teacher Aleksander Husoy pioneered the idea by using Civilization IV to teach a cross-curricular unit in Norwegian, English and social studies.

It’s a learning game — and a test

Learning games are trying to “bridge the gap between instruction and assessment,” reports Education Week.

In SimCity’s Pollution Challenge game, students “must balance the growth of their cities with environmental impacts.” The game analyzes how well a student understands “systems thinking” and reports that to teachers.

“If a student builds one bus stop, then waits before strategically building other bus stops, he has an eye for problem-solving that I would not have gotten with a multiple-choice or written test,” said Matt Farber, a social studies teacher who beta-tested SimCityEDU with 6th graders at the 650-student Valleyview Middle School in Denville, N.J.

More assessment-embedded games are on the way, experts say.

“Stealth assessments” can measure “creativity, persistence and conceptual understanding during game play,” said Valerie J. Shute, a Florida State educational psychology professor. Shute co-developed Newton’s Playground, which uses simulations to teach about gravity, mass, and other physics concepts. Assessment is embedded in the game.

PBS: Teachers like technology

Teachers value educational technology, according to a survey by PBS LearningMedia released for Digital Learning Day. Three-quarters of teachers surveyed said technology helps them expand on content, motivate students and respond to different learning styles.

Nearly half (48%) of teachers surveyed reported using technology for online lesson plans, and just under half use technology to give students access to web-based educational games or activities (45%). Additionally, teachers use online video, images and articles (43%). Sixty-five percent of teachers reported that technology allows them to demonstrate something they cannot show in any other way.

Ninety percent of teachers surveyed have access to at least one PC or laptop for their classrooms; 59 percent use an interactive whiteboard. Access to a tablet or e-reader is growing rapidly, from 20 percent to 35 percent of teachers in a year.