Long day in Troy NY. Started waking up at 6:30 cause the clock said 7. Bit of a tramp finding rent-a-car across the street. Woman there was interesting, hearing I was from Canada said she visited a reservation in the North once, it was 40 below. She wondered where all the teepees were. Her Native boyfriend hadn't warned her, "Indians don't talk much," she tells me. They broke up when she found out he was a gun runner and wouldn't be let back into the States. Are American's talkative or what? Also an interesting connection, her son had had a therapist 40 years ago who used games in therapy to improve social skills. Find out all sorts of things when you talk to people. Got to the conference all right, the keynote was great, about how teacher's professional development should be more playful, they should apply gamification principles t their own meetings. Key comment: "Technology is best understood as an amplifier" of qualities the kid may have but you don't know about. Next talk was about games on a great site, BrainPOP, focused on core curriculum but open ended. Focus on asking kids to collaborate in figuring out the rules of a math game, for instance. Key comment: "It's important to remember that our children have a lot of knowledge when they come to us." They're also collecting testimonials from teachers using games in the classroom and putting them on YouTube (e.g., Lisa Parisi GLPC). BrainPOP also has a funding page for education projects similar to Kickstarter. Next speaker Joel Levin talked about MindcraftEdu, his version of Minecraft designed for use in a classroom. Some amazing things built by kids: a cell, a scale model of their high school, the Alamo (see more on YouTube). Interesting that libraries and other comm hubs began calling him to get it in, there's a lot of interest in positive things to put on their computers (try to apply at home). Next was a workshop presenting some very cool research using games about difficult scientific concepts to prime kids for lessons. Examples were genetic mixing (RoboBots) and photosynthesis (building atoms). Then an adventure game had male and female leads making use of this knowledge in their quest. The next talk also involved quests, cutting up curriculum into modules that can be done in 10-15 minutes in any order, with kids getting points for completion and increasing difficulty levels. If the module is done poorly, they get it back with comments and can do it over until they're satisfied. Everyone who completes the class gets an A or A+, since it's designed to make students successful (what a concept!) Managed by a program called Quest (he had good non-Powerpoint slides too, I should ask him about that). Actually, it sounded a lot like my Grade 6 Enrichment class in 1969 (Mrs. Muir was ahead of her time). Finally, a "performance" video done by 5 high school kids with their teacher, using World of Warcraft to tell a story, and interesting mashup of theatre and gaming (they usually do it live, not in a video). Then followed the chalk arrows to the Happy Hour get together. Free wood-oven pizza and cash bar. This conference stuff is all right. Oh yeah, talked to several people about my site and handed out a lot of cards; also happened to bring a sheaf of posters with me which they put out on a table and which disappeared by the time I came to check on them, probably a good sign. Got a few minutes to spend on my essay. It's funny not having responsibilities outside of learning, quite a treat.
Mitch Moldofsky is founder of the Thinking Skills Club, a computer game club that helps develop cognitive functioning for kids. He hold a B.Sc. in Cognitive Science and Psychology from the University of Toronto.