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!


Bilingual and Bicultural, the Immigrant Student’s Way To Success

New research done by the University of Missouri’s David Aguayo and published as  “Culture Predicts Mexican Americans’ College Self-Efficacy and College Performance,” in the journal Culture and College Outcomes finds that Mexican-American students who keep their native language and maintain close ties to their home culture earn higher GPAs than their English Only counterparts.

In the study, Aguayo followed 408 Mexican American students and found a strong correlation between their grades in school and the degree to which they kept their cultural heritage close to them, including language.

This might seem counterintuitive to many who for years have clamored for the elimination of bilingual education and the establishment of English only requirements for schools, however those of us who had the fortune to grow up bilingual, despite the strong acculturating forces that tend to strip away home language and culture in this country while  achieving  high marks in school hardly find these results surprising.

  After all, brain research in recent years point to several  cognitive advantages held by bilingual brains over monolingual ones.  There is strong evidence to prove that bilingual brains have stronger executive functions and can handle multiple tasks better than those that only hold one language.

Researchers have also found that the bilingual brain also has a 5 year delay of the onset of dementia when compared with monolingual patients. Why then, would it not makes sense that students who have hard-wired their brains with double the power in the executive language centers would not have an advantage over those that only rely on one.

It’s our own Dual Processor!

A story that ran today on NPR pretty much outlines these findings.

As vindicating as these findings may be to proponents of bilingual education, we have to pause and ask a few questions:

1. What makes a student more likely to maintain their home language and culture? Could there be a cognitive advantage already pre-installed that allows some students to move through life without losing their native tongue and others to struggle to maintain it?

2. What correlation is there between the ability to remain bilingual and the desire to maintain and nurture cultural heritage? Does one precede the other?

3. What outside factors contribute to the maintenance of a home language? Distance from the border? Availability of Spanish media outlets? The chance to go to a bilingual school? Spanish-friendly public policy? It would be interesting to see how Aguayo’s findings vary across geography and income brackets as well.

4.  What do these findings tell us about the direction of public education given the fact that Latinos are one of the fastest growing demographics? Should we be promoting more bilingual schools, and as a consequence, fostering the resurgence of more bilingual models that have recently bitten the dust as a result of the No Child Left Behind schemes of the past 10 years?

5. Finally, what do we as educators of English Language Learners need to do to make sure we are not promoting English proficiency at the expense of a rich native literacy?

One small change I predict has to do with the the focus of this website. In the future zapaTECHISTA will definitely have to change   from a blog that only promotes the teaching of English to English Learners through technology to one that includes more digital resources to maintain the Spanish language and associated cultures.

This article, by the way, can be used as a reading comprehension lesson. I’ve adapted it and added some questions to the end. Feel free to pass it along.

News-David Aguayo


Obama Holds Town Hall on Latino Education Issues

U.S. President Obama took time out of bombing Libya to answer some questions about what his administration is or is not doing to address the problems facing the English Learners and Latino students in our schools. Jorge Ramos of the  Univision network put this “Foro Comunitario” together las Monday as part of their feature entitled “El Presidente, Los Hispanos, y la Educación.”

The event took place at the Bell Multicultural High School in Washington D.C and in conjunction by the Gates Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education, and advocacy groups. (Even NASA is credited on the Univisión website as having had a hand in it. )

Obama spoke in his usual, calculated manner, pointing out things he has said before, unveiling no  surprises, but as a whole  the forum  served as a good landscape view of the Obama administration’s positions on issues that affect the Hispanic community, and the national educational trajectory in general.

Here are some of the highlights, in case you don’t want to sit through the whole 45 minute video:

Jorge Ramos confronted Obama with the statistic that his administration has deported more people than any other, to which he responded that his administration has made the deportation of “criminals” rather than normal hardworking people a priority. The latter group, he argued, has seen a decrease in deportation.

In one of the most poignant moments a student asked via video, why she received a deportation order, challenging his assertion that they were only trying to deport criminals. The POTUS responded with administration talking points on the importance of securing borders and getting comprehensive immigration reform passed.

Then he fielded a tough question on the amount of money the U.S. spends on war compared to what it spends on education. He tiptoed around it, and said that the defense budget was built over many decades. He claimed that in his new budget, even with all the wars he is still committed to fighting, he was able to increase the overall education budget by ten percent. Balance, balance, he argued.

He then gave the usual billboard advice to parents on the importance of reading to your child and staying involved in school, and going to college. He also did more than his fair share of tooting his administration’s horn on his accomplishments on making college more affordable and such. He was clearly in campaign mode at times, and managed to crack a few jokes where he could.

But the atmosphere was punctured by a woman who spoke about her son who died as a result of bullying, who asked why did he not answer her letters and what we was planning on doing about it at a national scale. He said he was sorry to hear about it, and went on to tout what he was already doing about it.

Obama also went down the list of tech devices he owns–ipad, computer, blackberry–which led to the final question, delivered by another student, Diana Castillo, about access to technology.

Obama raced through the answer, but said “if” schools know how to use technology well, every student should have access to the computer. “Technology is not a magic bullet,” he said and added that

Another student challenged him on the amount of standardized tests, which he found excessive. Obama replied by saying that those tests are being used to punish students an schools too much, and that we needed a “less pressure-packed atmosphere” and that we should perhaps consider giving tests every few years. Obama and his Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, have hinted such things in the past, but it was refreshing to hear him say that he doesn’t want students evaluated solely on standardized tests, and that education should not be focused on “teaching to the test”.

To what extent they are going to move on this given the sad state of the Congress is still to be seen, although signs are not hopeful–but not altogether hopeless either.