Well holy cow. That was a lot of intense and highly beneficial math training.
I was able to see a ton of mathematics content that will surely help me in my professional life for the future.
One invisible constant remains throughout the conference. There are gamification elements in everything. Look at the conference app. When you post, you get points. When you like, comment, hell...pretty much do anything in the app you get points. There is a reward at the end. Oh!show up for five of our sessions? You get a raffle ticket for a chance to win an iPad. Answer a question correctly? Free t-shirt, books, stickers you name it we got it.
A lot of the research today has also shown that in coaching teachers, gamification elements truly work. Dr. Nebesniak from UNK (Univ of Nebraska at Kearney) stated that adding gaming (or technology) elements to their PD sessions increased teacher engagement with their professional development. They had a reward system for different tasks that they completed. For instance, they would get a digital badge that said they had completed their "video reflection piece". She stated that people were more likely to enact their professional development when they had the "achievement system" throughout the year. Simply having a "one and done" PD doesn't cut it (as we already knew).
Simply put, gamification is showing up everywhere in all aspects of education. I predict that aspects of gamification will be included in the newest model for education in the future.
In terms of Virtual Reality at NCTM 2016
I walked around the venue today and tried to talk to as many technology savvy people as I could. (Some of the tech I saw today was incredible). I talked to Hewlett Packard, Texas Instruments, and Casio for calculators (No one has dabble with virtual reality). I talked to Desmos, Mangahigh and some other institutions but no one has stepped into that realm. So that's interesting. I know that Virtual Reality is super expensive and new, but I figure someone has to be working on this stuff. I guess that someone might be me. Maybe in 5-10 years I'll be at an NCTM conference presenting this stuff.
Mangahigh has done a great job creating some decent games that invoke student engagement. One thing that I noticed was an asteroid game. They had asteroids composed of a number...say 81. Then a cannon that had "threes" in it. It would shoot the asteroid and break it up into smaller chunks, essentially dividing it by three. So kids were blowing things up, unconsciously realizing that they were dividing numbers by three. 81 shot would go to 27, then 9, 3, and then disappear. It was pretty cool. (Maybe the 3/3 should be 1 instead of disappear but I didn't get a good look at it yet).
VIDEO GAMES IN THE CLASSROOM
One presentation I went to was specifically tailored for video games and the education that can come from them. Basically, you have to specifically identify the mathematics and promote mathematical discourse with your students to make video games viable in an education sense. The presenter was Dr. Matt Lane and his presentation was entitled The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics/Video Games. In it he talks about Fallout 4 and how the computer terminals inside the game could be used for mathematical purposes. His site is mathgoespop.com and he details in full this concept. (Also his twitter handle is @mmmaaatttttt...Seriously). I don't want to bore you with the details, but mathematics was involved in unlocking terminals. I did things like this all the time with my kids. Make the mathematics relevant and interesting for them.
You might ask...not everyone likes video games...why incorporate these within education? This isn't what makes it relevant and interesting? What are you doing Jimmy? Well these statistics might shock you a bit. In the presentation from Dr. Lane, we learned these tidbits.
Games are extremely relevant. They are an important part of society. He said something today that resonates with my vision for Virtual Reality Education. "It (video games) gives an experience that we couldn't get from any other medium". Wow! So true. If we can capture this balance of education, interactive, immersion and obviously FUN we can change the world.
IMAGINE if the image said this instead:
97% of teenagers study.
Half of teenagers studied as recently as "yesterday"
75% of teenagers study at least once a week.
31% of teenagers study at least once a day.
59% of Americans study.
33% of study students are adult women, only 15% are boys etc. etc.
That goes back to my central mission of all of this. If we can "gamify" the system to the point where students are this involved in their education we could change the world.
Back to the Fallout 4 problem:
What was really interesting to me in this aspect was what he said happens when they fail. When the students fail unlocking the terminal, the terminal locks, and you don't get your loot. This was pretty eye opening for me. There is a consequence for failure. However, this consequence doesn't prohibit the learning process. It isn't game over or detrimental enough to stop you from learning/playing. In fact, there is nothing terrible about it other than you don't get your reward. THIS IS KEY IN GAMIFICATION OF ANYTHING. I don't care if you are doing professional development, teaching kids, doing a training on the web etc. This is going to be key in a lot of institutions.
The Fallout 4 Problem/Dr. Nebesniak Takeaways
What was really interesting to me in this aspect was what Dr. Lane said happens when they fail. When the students fail unlocking the terminal, the terminal locks, and you don't get your loot. This was pretty eye opening for me. There is a consequence for failure. However, this consequence doesn't prohibit the learning process. It isn't game over or detrimental enough to stop you from learning/playing. In fact, there is nothing terrible about it other than you don't get your reward. THIS IS KEY IN GAMIFICATION OF ANYTHING. I think I'll create a list soon of all of the elements that Gamification requires.
This whole Fallout 4 system of hacking the terminals is also doing something else very well. (Remember this hacking the terminals mini game is completely masking the educational aspects. Kids think they are just playing a game.) Kids are developing an intuition of how the mini game works as they successfully work their way through the game. The game also has easy, medium and hard terminals which scaffolds their process to unlock them.
But all of the educational pieces in this mini game are masked. They are masked heavily. Heavily to the point where the students honestly don't know they exist. Can we coach teachers to pull the mathematical discussion from the context of the game? Dr. Nebesniak from the Professional Development presentation said that "Games are fantastic teaching tools. But it's hard to get the math explanation or understanding piece from them".
It's up to us as teachers to pull the mathematics out of them. We can show kids that there is a better way to place a 300x300x300 grid of blocks in minecraft (Coding). You can figure out how long you will have to chop wood in Fable 3 in order to get your sword (Linear Functions). We can figure out the best build orders in Starcraft II to get the highest army value with the lowest cost. (Optimization). If we can teach our kids to be cognizant of the mathematics that is in front of them they could learn a lot. Or maybe we can create a game that ever so slightly makes these mathematical aspects apparent to them.
I think this will be key in what the VRwheatley project will be about.
The PATHS TO SUCCESS
Dr. Lane also talked about these three paths to success.
1. Embrace the medium.
2. Ask lots of questions (Think about questions that come up as you play the game. This will be a discussion post at some point for the world).
3. Connect the game to reality.
I'll talk more about these in subsequent posts.
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Your VR Blogger
Math Teaching Specialist for the University of Delaware.