Adventures in STEM, 1953

How do you get kids motivated to study math and science?  These days, it’s video games, but in 1953, General Electric published comic books about science “adventures” to lure young people into technical fields, reports the Washington Post‘s Ideas@Innovations blog.

Adults feared “comic books were producing a crop of juvenile delinquents,” General Electric Review wrote in September 1953. But GE went ahead with titles such as Adventures in Jet Power, Adventures Inside the Atom and Land of Plenty: A Story of Freedom and Power.

 

A moron with a computer is still a moron

A Moron with a Computer Is Still a Moron writes David P. Goldman on Pajamas Media, in response to the New York Times story, In the Classroom of the Future, Stagnant Scores.

Chinese parents are buying their children pianos, violins and music lessons, while “New Age nerds” try “to keep kids “engaged” with video games.

It is the antithesis of education, which begins with discipline and extended concentration span.

Technology is transformational when it’s designed into schools, not layered on top of the same old stuff, writes Tom Vander Ark on Getting Smart. “The story of this decade is that personal digital learning will change the world.”

 

 

Violence, sex and 'dark' lit

School reading lists are full of violence, wrote Justice Antonin Scalia in the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a California law barring the sale of violent video games to minors on free-speech grounds. It starts with violent fairy tales, Scalia wrote in the majority opinion.

Homer’s Odysseus blinds Polyphemus the Cyclops by grinding out his eye with a heated stake. In The Inferno, Dante and Virgil watch corrupt politicians struggle to stay submerged beneath a lake of boiling pitch, lest they be skewered by devils above the surface. … And Golding’s Lord of the Flies recounts how a schoolboy called Piggy is savagely murdered by other children while marooned on an island.”

I wonder how many high school students read Homer or Dante.  Still Lord of the Flies is still big on high school reading lists (no sex) and some complain that teachers are assigning or allowing students to read “dark” novels.

Much of young-adult literature invites teenagers to wallow in ugliness, barbarity, dysfunction and cruelty, writes Meghan Cox Gurdon in the Wall Street Journal, defending an earlier commentary.

It is true that so-called problem novels may be helpful to children in anguished circumstances. The larger question is whether books about rape, incest, eating disorders and “cutting” (self-mutilation) help to normalize such behaviors for the vast majority of children who are merely living through the routine ordeals of adolescence.

Siobhan Curious, who teaches 17- and 18-year-olds worried about going too dark in choosing a book list for a class on personal narrative.

When preparing the list last year, I hesitated over a couple of titles, including Kathryn Harrison’s The Kiss (about the author’s consensual adult sexual relationship with her father) and Alice Sebold’s Lucky (about the author’s brutal rape and its aftermath).  In the end, I decided to include Lucky on the list, and when I presented the book to the class as one of their choices, I told them about its subject matter and my hesitations.  I warned them that certain passages were very graphic, and that they should keep this in mind when deciding whether they wanted to read the book.

Almost every girl and about half the boys put Lucky on their list.

. . . many readers said that they found the book upsetting but rewarding.  Many of the boys who read it said it helped them understand the effect rape has on a woman; many girls said it allowed them to see how, after a terrible and scarring experience, someone could struggle on and make use of their suffering to help others.  But mostly they said that it was a really good read.

Adolescence is a dark time for some kids, counters Linda Holmes on NPR blog. She “took an entire class in high school where we read books about killing your family, double suicide, drowning, being murdered in your bed … it was called ‘Shakespeare,’ I believe.”

I was troubled by the murder of MacDuff’s family in Macbeth, the tortures of sinners in The Inferno. And poor Piggy.

Violence, sex and ‘dark’ lit

School reading lists are full of violence, wrote Justice Antonin Scalia in the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a California law barring the sale of violent video games to minors on free-speech grounds. It starts with violent fairy tales, Scalia wrote in the majority opinion.

Homer’s Odysseus blinds Polyphemus the Cyclops by grinding out his eye with a heated stake. In The Inferno, Dante and Virgil watch corrupt politicians struggle to stay submerged beneath a lake of boiling pitch, lest they be skewered by devils above the surface. … And Golding’s Lord of the Flies recounts how a schoolboy called Piggy is savagely murdered by other children while marooned on an island.”

I wonder how many high school students read Homer or Dante.  Still Lord of the Flies is still big on high school reading lists (no sex) and some complain that teachers are assigning or allowing students to read “dark” novels.

Much of young-adult literature invites teenagers to wallow in ugliness, barbarity, dysfunction and cruelty, writes Meghan Cox Gurdon in the Wall Street Journal, defending an earlier commentary.

It is true that so-called problem novels may be helpful to children in anguished circumstances. The larger question is whether books about rape, incest, eating disorders and “cutting” (self-mutilation) help to normalize such behaviors for the vast majority of children who are merely living through the routine ordeals of adolescence.

Siobhan Curious, who teaches 17- and 18-year-olds worried about going too dark in choosing a book list for a class on personal narrative.

When preparing the list last year, I hesitated over a couple of titles, including Kathryn Harrison’s The Kiss (about the author’s consensual adult sexual relationship with her father) and Alice Sebold’s Lucky (about the author’s brutal rape and its aftermath).  In the end, I decided to include Lucky on the list, and when I presented the book to the class as one of their choices, I told them about its subject matter and my hesitations.  I warned them that certain passages were very graphic, and that they should keep this in mind when deciding whether they wanted to read the book.

Almost every girl and about half the boys put Lucky on their list.

. . . many readers said that they found the book upsetting but rewarding.  Many of the boys who read it said it helped them understand the effect rape has on a woman; many girls said it allowed them to see how, after a terrible and scarring experience, someone could struggle on and make use of their suffering to help others.  But mostly they said that it was a really good read.

Adolescence is a dark time for some kids, counters Linda Holmes on NPR blog. She “took an entire class in high school where we read books about killing your family, double suicide, drowning, being murdered in your bed … it was called ‘Shakespeare,’ I believe.”

I was troubled by the murder of MacDuff’s family in Macbeth, the tortures of sinners in The Inferno. And poor Piggy.

STEM gaming

The National STEM Video Game Challenge has announced the 2010 winners.

You Make Me Sick!, a game showing the spread of bacteria and viruses, won the grand prize. Number Power: Numbaland!, which teaches K-4 math concepts, won in the collegiate category.  Twelve students in grades five through eight won the youth award.

Teaching games

Digital teaching games are taking off, reports Education Week.

Educators at Ocoee Middle School in Florida have built an online game lab to engage students and sharpen technology skills. Researchers at Rice University have created a virtual game to teach forensics to middle schoolers. North Carolina State University’s IntelliMedia Group has released a digital game to teach microbiology to 8th graders.

Digital games for learning academic skills change depending on each student’s ability and course of action. Such games provide personalized feedback in real time—something a traditional classroom often doesn’t offer.

CSI: Web Adventures lets middle schoolers identify shoe prints, test DNA, and interview suspects in order to crack the case.

James Lester, a computer science professor at the Raleigh-based North Carolina State University, has also noticed an uptick in enjoyment of STEM subjects through a digital game called Crystal Island, designed by the IntelliMedia Group at his university, a research initiative that studies human-computer interaction.

Crystal Island, which targets 8th grade science students, begins as the students virtually arrive on the island with their research teams. Soon after their arrival, people on the island begin to fall sick, and it is up to the student to determine the origin of the outbreak.

Ocoee Middle School outside Orlando offers digital art, digital media, and digital video-game design.

“They finally see a legitimate use for the [concepts] they learn in algebra,” says Principal Sharyn Gabriel.

A good video game “will provide good feedback to students and teachers, ramp up the challenge level appropriately, and free the teacher to facilitate learning,” says Bill Watson, director of the Purdue Center for Serious Games and Learning in Virtual Environments.  Students won’t connect the game to what they’re learning in class unless the teacher draws the connections through class discussions, he says.

Connected kids

Today’s children are Always Connected, reports Sesame Street Workship and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center. Nearly one quarter of young children (ages 0 to 5) use the Internet at least once a week and just under half of all 6-year-olds play video games.
Almost nine out of ten children over age 5 watch television, averaging at least three hours of television a day.

Co-viewing — children watching TV with a parent — promotes learning, the report advises. But parents should make sure children don’t spend too much time “connected” to media.

Growing up digital and distracted

Young people today are wired for distraction, concludes a New York Times story.

Vishal Singh, a 17-year-old student at Woodside High in Silicon Valley, gets through only 43 pages of his summer reading because he’s busy surfing Facebook and YouTube and making digital videos.  On YouTube, “you can get a whole story in six minutes,” he explains. “A book takes so long. I prefer the immediate gratification.”

Students have always faced distractions and time-wasters. But computers and cellphones, and the constant stream of stimuli they offer, pose a profound new challenge to focusing and learning.

Researchers say the lure of these technologies, while it affects adults too, is particularly powerful for young people. The risk, they say, is that developing brains can become more easily habituated than adult brains to constantly switching tasks — and less able to sustain attention.

“Their brains are rewarded not for staying on task but for jumping to the next thing,” said Michael Rich, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and executive director of the Center on Media and Child Health in Boston. And the effects could linger: “The worry is we’re raising a generation of kids in front of screens whose brains are going to be wired differently.”

Trying to fight wired with wired, Principal David Reilly “has asked teachers to build Web sites to communicate with students, introduced popular classes on using digital tools to record music, secured funding for iPads to teach Mandarin and obtained $3 million in grants for a multimedia center.”

Instead of skaters, jocks and band geeks, students split into texters and gamers, “Facebook addict and YouTube potato,” write the Times.

Allison Miller, 14, sends and receives 27,000 texts in a month, her fingers clicking at a blistering pace as she carries on as many as seven text conversations at a time. She texts between classes, at the moment soccer practice ends, while being driven to and from school and, often, while studying.

. . . But this proficiency comes at a cost: she blames multitasking for the three B’s on her recent progress report.

“I’ll be reading a book for homework and I’ll get a text message and pause my reading and put down the book, pick up the phone to reply to the text message, and then 20 minutes later realize, ‘Oh, I forgot to do my homework.’ ”

Shy students escape into the world of video games.

Ramon Ochoa-Lopez, 14, an introvert, plays six hours of video games on weekdays and more on weekends, leaving homework to be done in the bathroom before school.

“Downtime is to the brain what sleep is to the body,” said Dr. Rich. “But kids are in a constant mode of stimulation.”

Yes, it’s the same Woodside High as in Waiting for Superman.

Learning by playing video games

Can students learn by playing video games? Designing video games? A New York City public school called Quest to Learn, the brainchild of game designer Katie Salen, is exploring the possibilities. From New York Times Magazine:

Quest to Learn is organized specifically around the idea that digital games are central to the lives of today’s children and also increasingly, as their speed and capability grow, powerful tools for intellectual exploration. Salen, a professor of design and technology at Parsons the New School for Design, also directs a research-based organization called Institute of Play, which examines the connections between games and learning. Working with Robert Torres, a learning scientist who is a former school principal, and a small team of curriculum and game designers, Salen spent two years planning Quest to Learn in conjunction with the education-reform group New Visions for Public Schools.

Quest to Learn enrolls 145 sixth and seventh graders — all admitted by lottery — and eventually will grow to include a high school. Currently, the school employs 11 teachers and three game designers. Foundation money pays for the technology and staff.

Students work to qualify as “pre-novice,” “novice,” “apprentice,” “senior” and “master.”

The principles are similar to those used in problem-based learning, a more established educational method in which students collaborate to tackle broad, open-ended problems, with a teacher providing guidance though not necessarily a lot of instruction. But at Quest to Learn, the problems have been expertly aerated with fantasy.

Once it has been worked over by game designers, a lesson doesn’t look like a lesson anymore. It is now a quest. And while students at the school are put through the usual rigors of studying pre-algebra, basic physics, ancient civilizations and writing, they do it inside interdisciplinary classes with names like Codeworlds — a hybrid of math and English class — where the quests blend skills from different subject areas. Students have been called upon to balance the budget and brainstorm business ideas for an imaginary community called Creepytown, for example, and to design architectural blueprints for a village of bumbling little creatures called the Troggles.

There are elements of the school’s curriculum that look familiar — nightly independent reading assignments, weekly reading-comprehension packets and plenty of work with pencils and paper — and others that don’t. Quest to Learn students record podcasts, film and edit videos, play video games, blog avidly and occasionally receive video messages from aliens.

Students also design their own games, developing, in theory, “math, writing, art, computer programming, deductive reasoning and critical thinking skills.”

After one year, Quest to Learn students earned average scores on state reading and math exams.  Work is underway on “new assessment measures . . . to look at progress in areas like systems thinking, teamwork and time management.”

Also in the Times, Deborah Solomon asks Education Secretary Arne Duncan about computers in the schools in what Ed Sector’s Chad Aldeman calls the worst questions ever.

The media generation

If Your Kids Are Awake, They’re Probably Online, reports the New York Times, quoting a Kaiser Family Foundation study.

Those ages 8 to 18 spend more than seven and a half hours a day with electronic devices — plus another hour and a half texting and a half-hour talking on their cellphones.

The study’s findings shocked its authors, who had concluded in 2005 that use could not possibly grow further, and confirmed the fears of many parents whose children are constantly tethered to media devices.

. . . Dr. Michael Rich, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital Boston who directs the Center on Media and Child Health, said that with media use so ubiquitous, it was time to stop arguing over whether it was good or bad and accept it as part of children’s environment, “like the air they breathe, the water they drink and the food they eat.”

Not surprisingly, the very heavy media users (16+ hours a day), who make up 21 percent of the total, were more likely to earn low grades than the light users (three hours or less), who make up 17 percent.

The heaviest media users were also more likely than the lightest users to report that they were bored or sad, or that they got into trouble, did not get along well with their parents and were not happy at school.

The study could not say whether the media use causes problems, or, rather, whether troubled youths turn to heavy media use.

Over the past five years, ownership of cell phones and iPods has soared among 8- to 18-year-olds, growing from 39% to 66% for cell phones, and from 18% to 76% for iPods and other MP3 players.

. . . young people now spend more time listening to music, playing games, and watching TV on their cell phones (a total of :49 daily) than they spend talking on them (:33).

When parents limit TV watching, video games or computer use, children average three hours less usage per day.  But 70 percent of parents set no rules.

About two-thirds (64%) of young people say the TV is usually on during meals, and just under half (45%) say the TV is left on “most of the time” in their home, even if no one is watching.  Seven in ten (71%) have a TV in their bedroom, and half (50%) have a console video game player in their room.  Again, children in these TV-centric homes spend far more time watching: 1:30 more a day in homes where the TV is left on most of the time, and an hour more among those with a TV in their room.

“Black and Hispanic children consume nearly 4½ hours more media daily than whites,” the study found.

Some of the largest differences are in TV viewing: Black children spend nearly 6 hours and Hispanics just under 5½ hours, compared to roughly 3½ hours a day for White youth.

Time spent reading books held steady at 25 minutes a day, with another nine minutes with magazines and newspapers.