I had a great day on Monday, October 13, 2009. I attended the Computers for Youth Education Executives day.
The purpose of the day is for Title I Middle School students from New York City and education executives from around the country to evaluate learning software for the home. At the end of the day, three titles become finalists based on the following criteria:
- improves students' academic competencies
- promotes family involvement in education
- develops students' life-long learning skills (such as planning and reflection)
- motivates students to learn
- increases students' social interaction around learning
This summer, the students attended a two week boot camp, where they learned and worked with twenty different titles. From those titles, they chose twelve nominees.
On Education Executives day, the students presented each title to the education leaders, explained what they learned, what they liked, how they used the software, and what they recommended. The educators were
- Craig Lynch, Officer for Information Technology Services, Chicago Public Schools
- Kate Kemker, Director of Instructional Technology, Florida Department of Education
- Anne McMullan, Insturctional Technology Officer, Klein Independent School District, TX
- Hydra Mendoza, Mayor's Education Advisor, San Francisco
- Themy Sparangis, Chief Technology Director, Education Technology, Los Angeles Unified School District
- Andrea Waters-Winston, Acting Director, Instructional Technology, Atlanta Public Schools.
The kids did a great job. For many, it was their first ever presentation, yet they fully engaged the adult audience as they instructed, demonstrated, and explained. You could see their self-confidence increase as the day progressed, and they found out that what they said mattered.
Following is a list of the programs and my reaction and summary of the educator's thoughts
This is a free downloadable program designed to teach wolf ecology at Yellowstone National Park. We all had objections to this program. Wolves gain strength by drinking blood. Wolves can only mate with other wolves of the same color. Students didn't seem to learn about how wolves aid the ecology. Many of the students loved the blood and gore of the program.
This is a free game that can be played at a number of sites, including the linked one. It teachers problem solving and some physics principals. You play by cutting wooden objects and joints in order to guide your character to its goal. This was one of three games that is very similar to The Incredible Machine, a game I used to play 20 years ago. The kids loved the game, but not quite as much as World of Goo (below).
This game costs $19.99 to download, and there is a free demo available. This game teaches more about ecology than the Wolfquest game, as you balance the needs of carnivores, plant-eaters, and plants over the four seasons. The students never did understand how to balance the needs of the different species in order to have a sustainable environment.Resilient Planet
This is available as free download or for purchase, and comes from the Jason Project. It also comes with classroom curriculum.
Students explore different biomes, both on land and under the sea, and learn to identify plants and animals while they also do activities. The kids really enjoyed the realism and the graphics, and saw a direct connection between this game and what they needed to learn in school.
You can play free for one hour, or download (this site charges $6.99).
Of the three problem solving games, this is the one the kids liked the best, probably because of the graphics and the immediate feedback. In the other games, the students set up their contraption and then pressed a button to view the results. Players create large structures using balls of goo, and must follow the rules of gravity and physics. The kids found that the game occupied them for at least twenty hours. But, when the kids ran into trouble, they also found they could do searches for solutions.
This is a free ad-supported site. It can take up to 15 minutes to load on a slow connection (three minutes on my cable connection).
The kids liked this program, which is similar to World of Goo and Splitter. You build machines that move one piece around obstacles to a goal. Most of the kids, though, could only progress through the first four or five levels, before becoming frustrated. The educators objected to the ads, some of which they thought were inappropriate.
This is a free online game, and it has education guides and lesson plans for teachers or parents.
Your goal is to rescue your dog, which has gone to a smelly world protected by monsters, which must be tricked. The game teaches math concepts, including addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, ratios, and fractions. While playing the game, students have to solve puzzles using logic and math.
Some of the kids never understood the game and never got into it. The kids who did spend the time and effort to learn the game really enjoyed it. Personally, I thought this was the most engaging game.
The home edition of this game is $19.95, and the teacher edition is $32.95.
In this game, students practice math problems to accumulate points or money. They use the money to purchase a car. Then they race the car.
Students saw a direct connection between the exercises and what they needed to know at school, but did not like the separation between the drill and practice exercises and the fun parts of the game. They also found most of the problems too easy for Middle School.Skate Kids Online
This is a game that must be purchased by contacting the company, pricing is not listed on the website, but they provided free subscriptions to Computers for Youth.
Skate Kids is a collection of games that are designed in improve the skills needed for reading like concentration, memory, and attention. The kids generally liked the games, but they could not see the connection between these skills and reading, and thus could not explain to the educators how the program was educational. Some of the students said that their parents enjoyed playing the game because it improved their memory and concentration.
This is a free online game, where you create a not for profit for some social good and then try and grow it. Students liked the game, but could not seem to grasp how to create and run a growing non-profit over a period of years. The game has free teachers curricula, and would probably work better with a trained adult supervising the students.
This is a free online game from UNICEF. Students create a family in Haiti, and set their goals of happiness, education, money, or health. They learn that family member die, that people in poor countries often face obstacles that cannot be overcome, and appalling choices. Students commented that, while playing the game with their parents, they had discussions on how thankful they are that they don't live in this type of environment.
Currently this is a free game as the owners are trying to sell the company.
The goal of the game is to buy seeds, plant and care for a garden, and overcome characters who try to destroy plants.
Students found that their younger brothers and sisters (ages 5 to 7) enjoyed the game, but it was not at their level.
The three programs that the students and educators felt best met the criteria to become finalists were World of Goo, Resilient Planet, and Ayiti.
Next step is for the students to each bring in three other students to learn and play with the games, and then to discuss and select the overall Family Learning Software Award by the early Spring of 2010.
If you haven't heard of it, Computers for Youth is a great organization. They work with Title I middle schools to provide needy families with computers, training, support, and software to foster home learning.
Below are the kids and educators at the end of the day.