Good Game!

eLearn Magazine, Education and Technology in Perspective published What Makes a Good Learning Game? Going Beyond Edutainment in February of this year.  The author,  Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen, outlines components in useful buzz words for non-techie educators and the sleek-edu-geeks alike to quickly evaluate the utility of the tons of “learning games” out there when looking for meaningful ways to integrate technology and curriculum.  The buzz words stay with you, and I can see them crossing my mind as I type ready to shoot them down with my semantic knowledge; ready, set, here we go.

1. Substantives – the signifiers and signified – the nouns that set-up the scene,

2. Verbs – the things learners have to do to meet the challenges and get the rewards,

3. Problem-solving – the challenges have to be interesting, and if I may add my two cents, culturally relevant,

4. Rewards – the rewards must definitely be culturally relevant,

5. Feedback – I remember an old mentor always used to say “Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent.”   So be weary of games that do not offer corrective feedback if the educator is not present., and

6. Alignment – while Egenfeldt-Nielsen doesn’t explicitly say to look for games that are tied to standards or even lesson objectives, I am.  If a game has all the first five components without this last one, you might as well just flush your professionalism down the toilet and admit you’re using gaming to baby-sit your class.

That said, Egenfeldt-Nielsen validates drill-and-practice games describing them as a “sound learning principle”.  I use drill-and-practice games aligned to standards and lesson objectives in order to pull small instructional groups for more support toward mastery. (Boy, o boy, a traveling tablet lab would be nice!)

Both drill-and-practice and mission-based games can be used to get that much closer to the Holy Grail of buzz words in education today individualized and differentiation.  So let the games begin!


Link Your Mexican-American Students to Their History Online!

Many Mexican American students who come to the United States quickly lose the historical knowledge needed to build a strong self-identity.  Those who were born on this side of the “tortilla curtain” have few, if any opportunities to learn about the history of their parent’s country of origin.  Their chances to learn and reconnect with their history will often times be reduced to taco shop murals and Cinco de Mayo celebrations.

Luckily, the Mexican government released a web portal last year  full of engaging educational material relating to the Mexican War of Independence and the Mexican Revolution, both of which were celebrated in a bicentennial and a “one-centennial,” respectively.

Niños 2010, as the  site is titled,  features “audiolibros” (audiobooks), animations, interactive games and activities and printable material. The age group is elementary, but much of the material could also apply in the middle school setting, especially if students are struggling to maintain their Spanish.

Historically speaking, the purpose of the site is clearly to help kids develop a strong sense of civic pride as well as to integrate them into a national narrative that, at times seems too simplistic and hero-worshiping, but that can nevertheless serve as a starting point for deeper discussions, should you wish to take it that far.

Try it out and leave a comment if you have success using this in your class.

The best feature I found are the audio-books, which offer printable text to accompany an instructional read aloud in Spanish class. Comprehension questions and vocabulary is not included, however.

For a more grown-up site, look at :

This bicentennial site has similar content as the kids site, but also has everything from flyovers that take you to important historical sites to  historical newspapers digitized for 21st century eyes. It’s quite probably the largest and most impressive effort to date to officially present Mexican history on the web.

Mexico 2010 also exists for the English-speaking world. It is available here: english.bicentenario. gob.mex

It is a great resource for any student working on a biography, or a Social Studies project.  You will even find materials you can use in biology and music.

On the downside, much of the content requires Flash, so no leave your iOS devices by the door.

I’ll end this post on this note  so I can return to peruse its content some more!

Corridos sin Fronteras: The Smithsonian launches Mexican corridos into the digital age

Recently I caught some students logging on to Pandora at the computer lab, turning the volume so low on the speakers that they had to hunch down to hear. The music of choice these days turned out to be Mexican corridos, or lyric ballads that relate the exploits of heroes and bandits sung in  simple, rhyming sequence. I was surprised to see that they had chosen these over Lil’ Wayne or Justin Bieber, and soon found myself promising them that I would play some good corridos for them in some academic context that I hadn’t quite formulated yet.

While the modern corrido has its roots in the Mexican Revolution , the genre itself  is as old as gunpowder and the guitar and it refuses to die after each generation. These days, however, these popular songs have come to be associated more with narco-traffickers and AK-47s than with peasant with Mausers fighting for land, and by consequence teaching about them has become more pressing, if anything to reconnectc the students to the themes of social justice and reprisal against oppression that the earlier corridos exalted.


Thankfully the folks at The Smithsonian have put together a nice online exhibition called Corridos Sin Fronteras, presented in both Spanish and English, highlighting the history of the corrido and offering many examples and resources to hold a unit of study for a few  days. The project is not exactly new, having been launched quite a number of years ago, but the online universe has not yet outgrown this site, as its content is still eye-opening and engaging for students and teachers.

Students can click on the Learn tab and explore the roots of the corrido and track its evolution over time. They can click around in one of the best interactive time lines I’ve seen, and come to  link to a map (surprisingly) in reference to “Lost Territory”–a refreshing counterpoint to the whole 1848 land grab than what you would normally expect from an institution as American as the Smithsonian.

Teachers can download  lesson plans, PDF’s and  song lyrics to sing along to their decent selection of themes. From here you can go many other places, YouTube videos if allowed, Arhoolie recordings (of which I am a fan)  and have students translate other corridos into English, or sing them as part of the Spanish portion of your day, if you are in a bilingual classroom.

Most impressive is the Write your own feature, which really makes the site one of the best in terms of providing a triangular linkage between the digital, the cultural, and the educational world. A student is given a template, a theme and an accompanying audio track, and they have to come up with the rhyming lyrics. Its a music, language (Spanish OR English) and history lesson all in one.

On the downside you need Flash, so no iPod access here. But you can’t fault these people. they have put together something memorable.
Another great site is the Kennedy Center’s Arts Edge site which has printable material  useful for those who teach in a bilingual environment in the upper elementary t0 high school age group.

The Kennedy Center provides more of a lesson plan model, and has assessments that accompany their featured lessons, which include other related themes that may interest you, like the style of the corrido, and the song Guantanamera, all which fall under the world music, folk label.