Several of my students have started playing this online game. The idea is that an environmental disaster has happened and somehow the players in the game will have to help put all the clues together to figure out what's happened. This game has been created by a team of educational research scientists at MIT thru the Smithsonian Musuem. So all the people involved in this really want science to be something that kids enjoy AND learn from using. It's such a cool idea and I thought I set them up to be successful. We kicked it off and I helped them get started. But.....well, it's just not going to be enough help.
My 6th graders aren't getting it.
They love the idea. But they don't love the game.
They don't get it.
Last week and again this week, students are collecting digital samples of blooming trees and shrubs to see if there's been some kind of shift in when they bloom. The briefing seems to indicate that the temperatures are much different than they were and that somehow all the plants and animals are behaving differently now than they were....blooming at different times.
So kids have been asking to go out and take pictures of the redbuds are just stunning around my house right now. They upload these images onto their account and somehow, and they're still a little confused about how this works, they'll be comparing their data with other people. I think they're going to have opportunities to interact with scientists who will help them interpret the data and try to come to some conclusions.
Honestly....this game is way above the heads of my 6th graders. Had I known what I know now, I would have done this as a whole class activity. I think I could have helped out enough to make it fun for them. Mostly they're confused and totally mystified as to what to do next.
I'm not sure if the game designers were aiming for the lower end of the age group they specified or if they wanted only really smart, highly motivated geekie kids to play. But the average kid in my classroom can't do this on their own. I'm going to try a couple of strategies next week to try and help the kids out....I've culled out a small group of pretty interested science kiddos to work on their projects a couple days a week during class time. I'm doing this by compacting their regular curriculum...and the bummer of it...is that I don't have computers to give them access where I am located. So I'm sending them all the way across the building to where there are computers and an adult that can supervise to work on this. I may try and con our Assistant Principal to work with them (he's a former science teacher) and maybe get some help for them that way. I'm also going to work with the other three kiddos that were brave enough to try this on their own in class...I'm not sure how that will go because I really don't have computer access, but we'll see if I can bring in my home computer.
Do you like the trees at our school? Over the weekend, students are going to use field manuals I got for them to find out what kinds of trees they are. One of my students is then going to call the city's park department and check to see if we correctly identified them...then another student is going to upload these into her gallery. I know it's not the intent of the game for us to work together, but I see this as a modification that will make it possible for them to play and not to be too frustrated.
Did you see the cool map at the top of this post? The designers have incorporated these into the game and they are super helpful to the kids. I've worked on finding a way to print them out and post them above our class computer at the back of the room. I "catch" kids pointing and talking about what things mean on them. If the intent was to generate thinking, then I think they've worked pretty well. I wonder if there's anyway that these could be available as .pdf files so I could download them and print them out in a clearer way next time they do something like this. (Isn't that positive thinking that we'll be able to do it again?) I wish I could do weekly recaps like this!!!
I wonder if people who think about what teachers should do to differentiate learning for their kids ever plan for these kinds of real world challenges. It all sounds so good on paper and in theory...but when the rubber meets the road...implementation is not so smooth. You'd better be a great problem solver or your kids are never going to do much unless you can cobble together an assemblage of this and thats to accomplish what you wanted.
I'm not giving up. The game lasts 8 weeks and it's a way too cool opportunity to miss. So we'll keep on trying and I'll keep on working with them as much as I can. The website suggests that this game is for 10 1/2 year olds thru 14 year old....WOW. Who ever established this age range must have some supercharged 10 1/2 year olds because my newly 12 year olds can't do it on their own.
I was not going to write such negative things because this is a terrific idea. But then I thought I should. How can the inventors ever refine their ideas if the real people playing it don't give them feedback? so please take any negative comments as feedback only..... I would suggest thinking how younger children if you're going to let us play can do it as a small group or as a whole class the next time you do something like this.