Educational Game Reviews

This week I took a look at two educational games that I could potentially use in my classroom. The first game I looked at was “The Voter Suppression Trail” from the New York Times. Overall, I thought the game was enjoyable and was informative about how the votes of many Americans are being suppressed. While there wasn’t any strategy to the game (the whole point of the game is to show that the system is rigged), it does create a good understanding of the problems facing people of color when trying to vote.

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Two issues I could see with this game are that many of the “jokes” and “sarcastic comments” could be lost on many students. In addition, the game is pretty critical of Republicans and Donald Trump. As a results, educators should be prepared for the controversy that the game could potentially stir up.


The second game I played was “Win the White House” from iCivics. Overall, this was an excellent game that does a nice job of showing how a campaign is run and helping students understand how the electoral college works. In addition, it introduces a lot of key political issues that inform voter decisions. For the game, the player starts off by selecting a character, political party, and policy platform. Next, the player must debate other members of their own party to receive the nomination. This requires the player to identify key issues and show that they understand how they may affect people.

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Once the player has won the nomination, they must next fund raise, poll, make appearances and create advertisements that will help them win support across the electoral map.

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The campaign kits and political advertisements add some creativity and humor to the game.


One thing I also liked about this game was that you can choose to play at an elementary, middle school or high school level. This is a great feature since I’ve played other iCivics games that are easy too childish for students or contain concepts and vocabulary that is too advanced. Nice to see them differentiating the content!


Geeking Out

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Geeking out can sometimes require taking knowledge from old technologies (books) and connecting with people through new technologies (not the plant or coffee though those are great also).

In Douglas and Brown’s book A New Culture of Learning, the idea of “geeking out” is promoted as one of the higher stages of learning. According to Douglas and Brown, “Geeking out provides an experiential, embodied sense of learning within a rich social context of peer interaction, feedback and knowledge construction enabled by a technological infrastructure.” While their definition of geeking out includes a social element that is not necessarily part of how I’ve heard the term used, I can still relate to the intense drive to learn something on my own. In fact, I imagine most people have an area of knowledge or expertise that was developed outside of school through their own process of geeking out.

This makes me wonder two things. First, how do we enable students to geek out in school about meaningful topics? Second, should we focus on more self-directed modes of learning like Douglas and Brown promote or do we need traditional models of school to provide the tools to effectively geek out? Personally, I imagine it is a combination of these two elements. While I definitely think we need to make a better effort to allow students to explore and direct their own learning, I also like the idea of exposing them to ideas they may not initially gravitate towards.

What are your thoughts about geeking out and how it can be integrated into the classroom?

What areas have you geeked out about?

*Areas I’ve geeked out about: History (especially Abraham Lincoln, Alexander Hamilton, and Teddy Roosevelt) and Music



Weekly Play – John Roberts GIF

For my weekly play I decided to try another attempt at making a GIF. Unlike my first attempt, I decided to try taking a piece of a video and using it to construct my GIF. First, I decided to find a video of John Roberts in order to provide some commentary about his response to Donald Trump this past week. In order to do this, I went on youtube and searched “Justice John Roberts C-SPAN” to find a video that I could use. Next, I simply searched the video for some facial expressions that seemed interesting and could be reinterpreted for what is happening currently in our country (the original video is from June).

Once I had the video, I used to import the video and construct the GIF. Overall, it was surprisingly easy to take the video and trim it to the correct spots. All I had to do was  provide a link to the video and adjust the arrows underneath the video to set the time parameters. Since this was so easy, I could imagine students in elementary-high school being able to do this.

Like my cartoon caption from last week, I could imagine giving students a video clip to provide commentary on or providing an issue that they need to create a GIF about. What other ideas could you see for how this could be used in social studies?

Finding the right balance

Over the past few weeks I have been giving quite a bit of thought into what is the proper way to approach intellectual property on the internet. While copyright rules still exist, there is also a growing culture that seeks to exchange ideas and content freely (in both senses of the word). Complicating this discussion is also the practice of remixes, memes, and edits where the original content is altered or adapted for other purposes. In addition, there is also a debate about when something is an homage versus appropriation. This is especially complicated when worries of issues such digital black face are also entering into the conversation around the sharing of digital content.

All this makes me wonder where the balance should be? While a strength of the internet is the free flow of ideas, it is also important that we remain aware of how these ideas are being used and potentially exploited. Unfortunately, since the only rules that exist are for specifically copyrighted materials, much of this is incredibly subjective. Maybe the world will reach a consensus about what the proper balance should be. Unfortunately, we there doesn’t seem to be a lot of consensus building right now. What are your thoughts?


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Reading Across Time

This week I started reading A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change by Douglass Thomas and John Seely Brown. One of the more interesting concepts that they developed was the idea that writing on sites like Wikipedia can provide a better historical record than traditional print media. According to the authors, Wikipedia is able to show in detail how the entry was created and the controversies that have been addressed regarding the information that is being presented. Unlike print media, one is able to see the process and the potential flaws in the work as well as actively participate in its creation. Interestingly, the author’s noted that neither form of information seems to be more factually accurate, however there is much more transparency as to how the knowledge was constructed with Wikipedia.

While this information is not exactly new to most people who have used Wikipedia, I had never thought of looking at past edits as incredibly useful (unless one was looking to add to the post). For entries like Christopher Columbus, it can definitely be a very powerful tool to assess where the scholarship is currently sitting and how, in many cases, our interpretations of people or events may be changing. Likewise, if there has not been very much conversation and editing, this can be very telling as well. Either way, this was a useful way to reexamine the strengths of Wikipedia and sources that are based off of collective knowledge.

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While the final product can seem a blur, we can also slow things down and look at the individual steps that were taken.

Mediated Writing Project

Link to project in Adobe Spark

Here is my finished version of my mediated writing project that I have been working on. For this project, I took portions of a paper that I wrote for BEDUC 502 and added various links, images and videos to augment the piece. One of the more difficult aspects of this project was to take something that had already been written in an academic setting and adapt it to a digital format. Not only did I have to cut out certain portions of the paper that did not seem necessary for this context, but I also had to make sure the project still flowed and made sense. Once I started adding in images, the paragraphs without visual elements seemed to be too wordy. As a result I had to spend a lot of time searching for new images that would break up the writing while still adding something to the piece. This was also difficult since I didn’t have access to a lot of personal photographs (which I would have preferred).

Besides getting the opportunity to break up the writing and include slight side stories, I appreciated that presenting this work in this way allowed me to transition between ideas in different ways. For parts where the writing seemed a little choppy, adding visuals allowed me to create breaks and scene changes in order to segue to new topics. Still, I would be interested to get input from others about whether the added elements ended up breaking up my writing too much and became distracting. One thing that I wish Adobe Spark allowed me to do was to create more sidebars or smaller elements that felt more optional.  Overall though, I think the project turned out pretty well – though I wish I had more time to add dig up a few more photographs and documents.

Dropped Vowels and Spaghetti on the Beach

Weekly Play – Caption Contest

For my weekly play I decided to do another daily create from DS106. Basically, the task was to take a cartoon from the New Yorker (they do a weekly caption contest) and add your own caption. Since my advocacy focus has been providing political commentary on topics in the recent news, I thought this would be a nice way of scaffolding how to make political cartoons. Since the picture was already drawn, my only task was to think of which political situation could best be represented through the image. After a bit of brainstorming, my thoughts turned to the resignation of Jeff Sessions and the uncertainty about the Mueller investigation with the appointment of Matthew Whitaker.  Here is the caption and cartoon.


Overall, I think this kind of activity could be a fun thing to do with my students. I imagine that students who struggle with reading and writing would find this task to be challenging yet accessible. In addition, my more advanced students might enjoy the chance to be a little extra clever with their captions.

Chapter 4 Worried About the Wrong Things

This chapter examined the use of electronics in schools and the ways that restrictions on technology impact the educational environment. According to the author, worries over the potential for technology to distract students from learning has led to restrictive policies in schools. While Vickery points out that this fear may be valid (especially with younger students), she also argues that restrictive technology policies undermine the educational environment. According to Vickery, restrictions on technology  communicates to students that they cannot be trusted and ultimately creates a “prison-like” atmosphere in which boredom reigns. Vickery also notes that restrictions on technology limits student access, creativity and opportunities to learn to use technology responsibly. Furthermore, limits on technology use are especially problematic for low income students who may not have any other access to technology other than at school.

Through student interviews conducted at a high school, Vickery also notes that many students use restricted sites to access tools necessary to their learning. In addition, access to social media and unrestricted technology allows students to feel connected within an environment where they often feel alienated or isolated.

Overall, I found this chapter to be an interesting take on the use of cell phones and restricted technology in school. While I generally lean towards trying to limit technology and distractions to students, I appreciated hearing arguments against what is seen in most schools. I also appreciated the interview portions with students – although I am a little skeptical of some of the statements that they made. In the end, while I see the problems (and futility) with restricting access to technology, I am not completely sold on the idea of opening up technology either.


The Realist

This week I took a privacy personality quiz in order to further develop a sense of what my views are about the use of my personal data. Interestingly, the results seemed to be fairly accurate in calling me a privacy realist (please note, unlike the profile, I don’t regret posting certain photos on social media or have Facebook messenger installed on my phone) . While not a perfect fit, I definitely see the potential threats to my privacy that technology poses as well as the benefits. In particular, some of the terms used in the privacy personality profile that seem to represent my thinking are: flawed, conflicted, and choice.

More importantly, this survey made me start to reexamine my views about privacy and my online presence. While I don’t want to be oblivious to the risks that new technologies pose to my privacy, I also don’t want to become paralyzed by fear. In addition, it is at times incredibly difficult to be as vigilant and conscious about digital privacy as I probably should be. Thus, while I am realistic about many things, it is difficult to determine what an appropriate level of security and concern about digital privacy should be. Is it truly worth it to spend a lot of time and resources towards protecting my privacy? Will such efforts be successful or are we destined to be one step behind?

While I am not giving up on this manner, I am still curious as to what the appropriate response is to all the new technologies that may threaten our privacy. What do you think? Please make sure to include your personal information (SSN, Credit Card, date of birth, etc.) in your responses.

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Wanted: Secure Place to Connect

After reading about the dangers of algorithms and the tendency for social networks to collect our information, I am curious why there isn’t a popular social networking site devoted to keeping user habits private? While Mozilla has filled this need with browsers, DuckDuckGo has done this with search engines, and there are countless linux operating systems devoted to this issue, I have not heard of any social networks with privacy as emphasis. With all of the public uproar over the use of private information by Facebook, I would imagine that someone would have developed a viable alternative.

Of course, I am sure there are plenty of reasons why people haven’t done this. For example, it may be too costly or people may not have shown much willingness to actually change their online habits. In addition, it may be that people who want to post information about themselves online are not overly concerned with privacy. Finally, there actually might already be a viable alternative out there that I have simply not heard of or that has been muscled out of the market by larger companies.

What are your thoughts on this? Are there good alternatives? What other barriers are there for new social networking sites entering the market?

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Where is the online equivalent to this?