Better parenting in 2015

Modern parenting is impossible, writes Jordan Shapiro in Forbes.

 . . .  the ideal parent is exhaustively selfless and giving, but also stern and principled. A good parent always puts the child first but somehow miraculously avoids creating a spoiled brat who thinks s/he is the center of the familial universe.

The father of two elementary-school-aged boys, he’s come up with 5 Ways To Be A Better Parent Next Year.

This year, I want to teach my kids about money. Not just financial literacy, but the socio-economic realities of the world. I want them to begin to think about how their own personal wealth (likely measured in their minds as quantity of video games and toys) impacts the world as a whole.

He also plans more family adventures — real life can be as exciting as a quality video game — and more exposure to art.

Educated in Quaker schools, Shapiro experienced the silent meditation of Quaker meetings. He worries that his boys can’t sit still — certainly not silently.

. . . the ability to intentionally disconnect for 40 minutes seems especially important in a world of smart phones and social networks. I have no objection to our modern virtual experience provided it becomes a supplement to, rather than a replacement for, tangible experience in physical space. Meeting for worship seems to be a good way to practice disconnection and presence.

He hopes to take his children “to the local Quaker meeting house in order to teach them the skills required for being present, quiet, and silent.”

For gamers, school is boooring

Kids think school is “boooring” compared to their video games, writes Washington Post columnist Esther Cepeda, a mother and former teacher.

Until you’ve put on a pair of headphones, grabbed your controller and strolled through the beautifully scored, eye-popping landscape of “Skyrim” for hours and hours that passed like minutes, you don’t can’t get it.

If you’ve never been engaged in a highly addictive three-dimensional lifelike murder mystery such as “L.A. Noire” or driven shiny, drop-dead gorgeous race cars across some of the world’s most storied autovistas with the feel of the engine rumbling in your hands and the sound of air whooshing past your face, you might not understand the appeal.

Teens play “in better-than-real worlds where you’re invincible and can make money with little effort,” while teachers desperately try to “entertain them into learning,” Cepeda writes.

She starts with an odd example of low-tech classroom fun:

Last week, my eighth-grader engaged in World War I-style trench warfare. It involved students in his classroom arrayed in ranks and a great many wadded paper balls. My school-hating son called it his best class ever.

In his mind, it’s just too bad that every day can’t involve something as fun.

Kids throwing paper balls at each other does not simulate trench warfare. Perhaps a very depressing video game could show the mud, the rats and the slaughter — but not the cold, the smells and the fear. I’d suggest reading All Quiet on the Western Front and Wilfred Owen’s Dulce Et Decorum Est

Are Esports Truly Sports?

The president of ESPN says “no”, but his network broadcasts poker games.  We’ll probably be seeing esports broadcasts very soon:

As a teenager, holed up in his bedroom, illuminated by the glow of his laptop, Youngbin Chung became addicted to video games. Ten-hours-a-day addicted.

His grades tanked. His parents fretted.

A few years later, the 20-year-old from the San Francisco area leads a team of headset-wearing players into virtual battle in a darkened room at a small private university in Chicago. He’s studying computer networking there on a nearly $15,000 a year athletic scholarship — for playing League of Legends, the video game that once jeopardized his high school diploma.

“I never thought in my life I’m going to get a scholarship playing a game,” said Chung, one of 35 students attending Robert Morris University on the school’s first-in-the-nation video game scholarship…

Robert Morris, a not-for-profit university with about 3,000 students, believes those are not so different from the skills one uses on a football field or a basketball court and that spending money to recruit these students, too, will enrich campus life and add to its ranks of high-achieving graduates.

“It’s coming; it’s coming big time,” Associate Athletic Director Kurt Melcher said of the esports (electronic sports) trend and what he’s sure is its looming recognition by a bigger chunk of the collegiate sports world.

Hundreds of other colleges and universities have esports clubs, but Robert Morris is the first to recognize it as a varsity sport under its athletic department.   link

I sometimes question whether golf is a sport or not, so for me there’s no question whether video games are, or are not, a sport.  A college can have any sort of team it wants, but to call such games “sports” truly stretches the meaning of the word–which makes me wonder why someone would choose that particular word for such games, and what they expect to gain by doing so.


cross-posted from

Core quest

A screen shot of an Amplify game under development

“Really cool video games” may turn out to be a benefit of common standards, reports Benjamin Winterhalter in The Atlantic. By creating a national market, the Common Core has created a huge incentive for ed tech companies to develop learning games.

Amplify may be “the frontrunner in this Common Core-driven gold rush,” writes Winterhalter.

During a unit on Shakespeare, a student can watch a short video of actors performing the “out, out, damned spot” scene from Macbeth, which appears side-by-side with the passage’s text. Or the student can have the software quickly provide the definitions of unfamiliar words in reading assignments, which are added to a custom database of new vocabulary.

In a game called 12, “the universe is under attack by the largest known prime number, and the player, assuming the role of the number 12, must battle to save it.”

. . . the number 12 must combine itself with other numbers using “operation gates,” which look like sci-fi warp portals, representing +, –, ×, and ÷, and reach a desired result.

For instance, suppose the desired result is “54.” The player can track down a 4, go to a multiplication gate, become 48, and then track down a 6, go to an addition gate, and arrive at 54. This system can present puzzles as simple as order of operations and as complex as differential equations.

Lexica, a multiplayer literary game, lets players explore a “game world that looks and feels a lot like World of Warcraft.” They complete quests by talking to literary characters, such as Jane Austen’s Emma, and reading the classic books in the game’s library. “The game’s characters will talk to you about what you’re reading.”

Some games let kids be designers and coders, writes Emmanuel Felton on the Hechinger Report.

In Globaloria, students learn how to code Flash, said Shubha Tuljapurkar, director of Globaloria West.  “That’s an important skill. But that’s not necessarily something a kid wants to do, but they do want to create their very own monster.”

Zulama, which lets students design and built games, was developed by Nikki Navta, the mother of teenage boys obsessed with Minecraft and World of Warcraft. Students work collaboratively to master 3D modeling and mobile game design.

Survey: 33% of parents read bedtime stories

One in three parents with children eight and younger reads a bedtime story every night, according to a  survey for Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) and Macy’s. Half of  parents surveyed say their children spend more time with TV or video games than with books.

Superfun sameness

In a New York Times op-ed, editor Pamela Paul points out a “farcical reversal” of our concepts of work and play: “schoolwork is meant to be superfun; play, like homework, is meant to teach.” Video games in particular have reversed (or mixed up) these roles; schools are making increasing use of video game technology in the classroom, while many recreational video games come packaged with a purported educational purpose. This ends up compromising both study and play:

Many of the games marketed as educational aren’t as much fun as video games children would play if left to their own devices. But the added bells and whistles still make it harder for them to focus on plain old boring work sheets and exams. Imagine how flat a work sheet would seem after a boisterous round of Zap the Math From Outer Space.

I agree with Paul but would call this “superfun sameness” instead. Study and play have become more and more alike–especially when “driven” by computer games. What’s more: they are alike in a disturbing way: hyped up, cloyingly interactive, and oh, so much fun. The result: students lose tolerance for things that seem slightly boring at first.

This happens on many fronts (not only with video games). Students get the message that their studies are supposed to be immediately gratifying and tailored to them. I often hear students (not at my school specifically, but in many places) complain that this or that book isn’t “relevant” to their lives and that they don’t enjoy it. What they’re really saying is that they haven’t learned to exercise patience and stretch the imagination.

I haven’t tried this experiment, nor do I plan to do so, but I’m willing to bet on the outcome: Give a high school class a unit on Hamlet. One group gets just the book (and a few video clips of performances); the other gets an interactive Hamlet video game, where they get to take photos of their friends and dress them up as the characters, follow the ghost around the castle, reenact the final swordfight, etc. Each group is aware of the other. One week into the project, students are given a survey on their interest levels and their desire to remain in their current group. The survey is repeated at the completion of the unit and then a year later. I imagine the first survey would show many students wishing to switch from the book group to the video group (but not vice versa); the second survey would have a less pronounced result, and the final survey would show a preference for the book group.

In other words, if you can persuade kids to stick with something that’s initially difficult or not palpably fun, you see their interest grow over time. But if you give up, you encourage the “relevance” crutch: you feed their demand for studies that feel good and seem to meet their needs and wants, right now. “Relevance” and “fun” are not exactly the same, but in their shallowest form they become close to synonymous. When omnipresent, they become that shallow.

It takes a lot of energy to get students to stick with something in their studies that doesn’t immediately grab them–but it’s worth the struggle. Then they become capable of a larger range, and they overthrow the tyranny of relevance.

In contrast with Paul (or seeming contrast), I see many instances where play could be educational (for instance, working with an electronics kit) and study could be fun (for instance, learning songs in Russian). The problem lies not in the overlap but in the homogeneity, the cutesiness, and the appeal to a lazy part of the mind and character.

Video-game lobby aims ads at parents

Worried about post-Newtown censorship, the video game lobby will run ads aimed at parents that encourage them to use existing parental controls, reports Roll Call.

Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., has introduced a bill calling for a study to examine whether violent video games lead to real-world violence.

The industry and its lobby, the Entertainment Software Association, maintain its products do not cause shooting sprees or other violent crimes. But it’s been on the defensive since the National Rifle Association, in opposing proposed gun safety measures, pegged violent video games as a culprit in such mass murders.

Video games have carried ratings since 1994. An  “M” rating “denotes content generally suitable for ages 17 and up that may contain intense violence, blood, gore, sexual content and/or strong language.”

Study: TV can teach empathy to preschoolers

When 3- to 5-year-olds watch less violence on TV and more shows featuring cooperation and friendship, they’re less aggressive toward other children, concludes a study published in Pediatrics.

One group of parents received guides highlighting positive TV shows for children and newsletters encouraging them to watch with their kids and discuss  the best ways to deal with conflict. Researchers called monthly to help parents set television-watching goals for their preschoolers.

The control group got dietary advice, but no guidance on TV watching.

After six months, parents in the group receiving advice about television-watching said their children were somewhat less aggressive with others, compared with those in the control group. The children who watched less violent shows also scored higher on measures of social competence, a difference that persisted after one year.

Low-income boys showed the most improvement.

“It’s not just about turning off the TV; it’s about changing the channel,” said Dr. Dimitri A. Christakis, the lead author of the study and a University of Washington pediatrics professor.

Preschoolers average 4.1 hours of television and other screen time daily, according to a 2011 study.

“Law enforcement sources” believe Adam Lanza was motivated to kill Newtown’s children by “violent video games“and his desire to outkill Andres Breivik, the Norwegian mass murderer, reports CBS.  “Call of Duty” was his favorite.

Unplugged — and unheated

Superstorm Sandy forced digital kids to unplug, notes a lifestyle piece in the New York Times.

BLANK screens. Cellphones on the fritz. Wii games sitting dormant in darkened rec rooms. For a swath of teenagers and preteens on the East Coast, the power failures that followed Hurricane Sandy last month represented the first time in their young lives that they were totally off the grid, without the ability to text, play Minecraft, video-chat, check Facebook, or send updates to Twitter.

And so on. Some poor teens were forced to talk to their parents.

Unmentioned are thousands of kids and their parents who’ve been freezing in the dark for nearly two weeks. They don’t have running water or toilets that flush. No wonder they think they’ve been forgotten.

Are educational video games educational?

Do Educational Video Games Actually Work?  asks Online College Courses. Some teachers are skeptical.

Do Educational Video Games Actually Work?