Thursday, May 29, 2014

Move Over, Harry Potter: There’s a New Genre in Town

by Olivia Billbrough, Spring 2014 Intern

In recent years, The Hunger Games’ “girl on fire” has quickly replaced Harry Potter’s “the boy who lived” in popularity. And, let’s not forget, in between these there was Twilight’s “the vampire who sparkled.” While fantasy and teen paranormal romance are still selling books (the Harry Potter books have just been released with new cover designs) the current trend in novels has been young-adult (YA) dystopian literature. And according to some, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

In an article from The Island Packet, science fiction writer Hugh Howey, in an interview, says, “You can probably chart dissatisfaction with government with the rise of dystopian literature. I think these books have always been popular, but we went through a very rough economic stage and our satisfaction . . . is at an all-time low.” This trend is not something unique to twenty-first century writing. Dystopian literature, a subgenre of science fiction, has been linked to political and societal issues since the eighteenth century (with Gulliver’s Travels “arguably a foundational text.”).

Andrew Liptak points out in his Kirkus article “A Brief History of the Dystopian Novel” that “science fiction isn’t about the future; rather, its cultural anxieties and observations are wrapped up in the present and taken to an extreme breaking point.” Liptak continues to point out many notable examples of famous works of dystopian literature such as George Orwell’s 1984, which was published after World War II. Dystopia, however, is not just relegated to adult fiction, as we have seen with the rise in YA novels’ popularity over the last decade, starting, seemingly, with Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, published in 2008.

Suzanne Collins has said that inspiration for The Hunger Games came from flipping through channels on her TV and seeing people competing in reality shows coupled with images of people fighting in actual wars. And once The Hunger Games was adapted into a film, a flood of YA dystopian novels were published or gained further notice. Many have followed the trend of being adapted for the silver screen: Think this year’s Divergent, based on the first book in the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth, or the upcoming film adaptation of James Dashner’s The Maze Runner, also based on the first book in a trilogy of the same name.

However, dystopian literature, like any genre that becomes massively popular, is sitting in an hourglass—and the sand is beginning to trickle down. While Harry Potter is still wildly popular, more recent fantasy and books containing magic themes aren’t reaching the desired level of popularity. It seems like young adults also got tired of anything with a vampire—e.g., the Twilight-era teen paranormal romance—though zombies still refuse to die. But what is the new trend? What is turning the hourglass over on YA dystopian literature?

Enter contemporary YA fiction. John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, which came out in 2012, has sold millions of copies and has gained wide acclaim, may be the game changer that pushes dystopian literature aside. For while contemporary YA fiction has always been popular among teen readers, Green’s latest novel shows that YA fiction is being taken more seriously.

This is not to say that YA dystopian, fantasy, paranormal or contemporary fiction only get one turn in the spotlight. Like all trends, those in YA fiction come and go, and then come back again. The difference now, though, is that with the advent of Hollywood and more people taking YA fiction in all of its genres more seriously, there is a greater focus on what will work at what time. So while “the girl on fire” is still blazing across the big screen and bookshelves, “the boy who lived” and others like him may one day charm his way back into the spotlight.

Did You Know?

Popular sci-fi dystopian book series Uglies, written by Scott Westerfeld, is in development for a television series. The Uglies series was published in 2005 and takes place in a future world where teenagers undergo plastic surgery on their sixteenth birthday to transform them from being “ugly” to being “pretty.” But being pretty comes with a price.

Westerfeld is no stranger to YA genre fiction, having written several books of differing genres from his sci-fi book Peeps to the steampunk trilogy series Leviathan to So Yesterday, a contemporary YA novel about a young man who wants to find out what is the most “cool.”

(DYK by Olivia Billbrough)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Guest Blog: The Family That Reads Together . . .

by Martha Scherpelz, Gifted Intervention Specialist, Dublin (Ohio) City Schools

. . . sorry, that’s all I’ve got. No clever rhyme, no pithy ending phrase. I just wanted to applaud families who read together. That means dads who snuggle in to read a bedtime story, moms who make the mall run when the next book in the series hits the shelves and kids who willingly trade electronic pings for the sound of a parent voicing several characters in a good story. The very act of reading with a child acknowledges that literacy is important and that books are a staple in the household. As a teacher, my time is limited in developing good reading habits in my students. But here is one of the ways I can encourage and support reading beyond the classroom.

We call it a Family Book Chat. Working with a team of teachers in my building, we begin by selecting a book with many layers, rich text and multiple avenues for discussion. Students and their families who choose to participate buy or check out the book, read it together and then come to the hour-long book chat, held on a weekday evening in the school library. A recent Family Book Chat choice, based on reading level and subject matter appropriate for fifth graders, was the historical fiction book Fever 1793.Written by Laurie Halse Anderson, it is the remarkable story of the yellow fever epidemic that swept through Philadelphia in 1793.

On the night of the event, we placed Fever-related “artifacts” on the tables—an old lantern, a pewter mug, crinkly replicas of Colonial currency. We also developed sets of discussion cards for each table, just in case the conversation needed a boost or additional direction. We were also lucky to have, from the local medical community, a guest speaker (the relative of a staff member) who offered fascinating background information on yellow fever, adding a layer of unique learning for our readers.

Families arrived, carrying their copies of the book. Some were tabbed with colorful sticky notes, always a good sign in the eyes of a teacher. Reactions to the book were strong, and the conversations were spirited; adult and student readers took equal part in the discussion. Students who were not typically talkative seemed to come alive, prompted by the energy of the group and comfortable in the casual, small group setting. Perhaps as beneficial was the experience of the parents. They were able to witness their children sharing ideas, offering opinions and making predictions; they could observe the kind of discussions teachers encourage in literacy—thoughtful, meaningful questions and focused, relevant responses. In the discussion guided by the teachers, parents heard questions that went far beyond “Did you like the book?” All readers listened and reacted to the comments and insights. By the end of the hour, it sounded more like a conversation between lovers of literature than a collection of parents and children. The time went by too quickly, but as families left, their comments made it clear that the event was a success.

Organizing a Family Book Chat is clearly worth the effort. Why? Because, it’s obvious that families who read together . . . well, you know.

About our Guest Writer

Martha is a specialist at Chapman Elementary School in Dublin, Ohio, where she works with fourth- and fifth-grade students who have been identified as gifted according to state and district guidelines. Martha provides support for the school’s accelerated math and language arts programs. She also just so happens to be married to our VP of Sales and Business Development, Ken Scherpelz.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Intern Spotlight: Meet Nick

by Nick Persad, Spring 2014 Intern

I am exactly where I should be. I just completed my MA in Publishing & Writing at Emerson College—a degree that thoroughly supplements my BA in Magazine Journalism from the State University of New York at Plattsburgh (SUNY Plattsburgh). During my undergrad years, I allowed my creativity to flourish, particularly in the areas of fashion, journalism and publishing. I completed an internship at the Press-Republican, the local newspaper in Plattsburgh, where I wrote front-page feature stories on events like the performance of country singer Justin Moore at the local fair and the importance of dental hygiene for the youth in the region.

After graduating with my bachelor’s degree in 2011, I went on to intern at WellWed and Vermont Vows, fashion magazines based in Burlington, Vermont. Next, I packed up and moved to the mecca of fashion—New York City. I secured an internship at Seventh House PR—a fashion PR agency representing established designers like Charlotte Ronson, which provided a great opportunity: to work at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. Although living and working in NYC was a dream come true for this Trinidad native, my graduate school aspirations were too great, and I left NYC for Boston in 2012 to attend Emerson College, which led me to my internship at Publishing Solutions Group. While at PSG, I have tackled a side of publishing that is completely new to me—educational publishing. I applied for this internship because I love education, and I wanted to learn more about the system in the United States, to acquire new publishing skills and to strengthen the skills I gained in the classroom. Since January, PSG has afforded me the opportunity to assist on numerous projects, and I am proud to work in such a positive and driven environment.

And while I will always be an outspoken fashionista, I am confident that as a result of my time at PSG, I am ready to enter the publishing world with a greater scope of knowledge and expertise that leaves me ready to approach any challenge.

Little-Known Facts About Nick

I am the definition of personal style. However, I didn’t always think so. Throughout high school, I stifled any form of creativity that could be perceived as “abnormal” because, like any teenager, I wanted to fit in—or more accurately, I didn’t want to stand out for the wrong reasons.

Now, I can’t help it. From my blonde dreadlocks pinned up to look like I’m wearing a crown to my unexpected Trinidadian accent, I stand out, and I’ve never been happier. Another little-known fact: I’m obsessed with Hello Kitty.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

It's the Zombie Apocalypse, Now Let's Educate!

by Nick Persad, Intern Spring 2014

Zombies! What comes to mind?

AMC’s The Walking Dead? The Resident Evil franchise? Education?

Personally, I imagine the rotting flesh and deep groans of humans who now walk the Earth (extremely slowly) as the undead—acting on one impulse: to satisfy their ravenous appetite for human flesh.

But, surprisingly, it is scenarios like this that are proving essential in teaching college classes about survival and human preparedness when struck with global disease, natural disasters or terrorism.

Professors are using popular culture—in this case, zombies and an impending zombie apocalypse—to attract students to classes where the scope of the class goes far beyond zombie culture.

In 2012, a professor at Michigan State University introduced the course “Surviving the Coming Zombie Apocalypse—Catastrophes and Human Behavior.” Capitalizing on the popularity of the undead in current media, the course examines “how human behavior and nature change after catastrophic incidences—from the historical to the hypothetical—through a blend of traditional coursework, online forums and a catastrophic event simulation.”

Similarly, during the 2014 spring semester, Central Michigan University “From Revelation to ’The Walking Dead,’” a religion course “exploring apocalyptic themes in biblical texts, literature and pop culture.” This class will discuss the “hypothetical ethical and theological problems that people could encounter in a post-apocalyptic world.”

During my undergrad, I took a gender and women’s studies course that focused on how women are portrayed in popular culture. This class was entertaining, but it wasn’t advertised using the ploy that students would be watching videos or movies the entire semester. Students took the class because they were interested in understanding the dynamic between women and popular culture and its corresponding effects, whether negative or positive. I entered the class ready to be bombarded with dense scholarly articles, and I was. However, some classes focused on video clips and movies that were required for discussion. Yes, they were fun to watch, but they also provided necessary reference for our topics and never became the sole focus of the class.

While undead-themed classes certainly examine much more than zombies, I think it would be beneficial to the students to understand exactly what the course entails rather than be enticed by the idea of a semester-long class about zombies. These classes offer insight into psychology, anthropology and geology, and students may not be aware of that from a class title including the word zombie.

This brings us to another point: What does it say about today’s college-bound that professors feel the need to reference popular media in order for potential students to consider a class?

An article from USA Today College states, “The issue of student engagement has begun to loom particularly in the growing field of massive open online courses (MOOCs), classes designed to reach hundreds—or even thousands—of college students. A recent study [PDF link] by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education [Penn GSE] crystallized the issue. The group studied one million users of MOOCs at the university and found that only an average of 4 percent of students actually completed their chosen courses.”

In another instance, the Utah-based company Instructure collaborated with the University of California, Irvine (UCI), to “try to combat student disinterest by relating complex sociological and scientific concepts to zombies in a MOOC titled “Society, Science, Survival: Lessons from AMC’s ’The Walking Dead’ in October through December 2013.”

What is the reason behind this disinterest? Do college students simply want to take their required courses and not bother with elective courses—no matter how beneficial they might be?

Whatever the reason, the idea of generating student interest in unique classes is a great thing—regardless of how this buzz is created. If zombies will fill seats in classrooms, virtual or otherwise, then let’s use them to educate.

Did You Know?

According to an article in Wired called “The Best Way to Teach Kids Math and Science, Zombies,” Texas Instruments (TI) has developed an educational program that “uses models of zombie outbreak loaded onto TI graphing calculators, computers, or iPads to demonstrate everything from brain damage [. . .] to the patterns in which disease spread.”

The program contains a battery of activities that teachers can download for computers, TI graphing calculators or iPads via TI apps. Additionally, TI is working with “physics professors, anthropologists, and NASA scientists to develop similar entertainment-focused education programs focused on superheroes, forensics and space.”

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Guest Interview: A Local Science Teacher Shares Her Thoughts about NGSS

by Alyssa Guarino, Junior Project Manager

Rachael Barron is a science teacher at Wakefield Memorial High School in Wakefield, Massachusetts. Rachael teaches AP Biology, Honors Genetics and Microbiology, College Prep Anatomy & Physiology, and College Prep Introduction to the Physical and Life Sciences. Rachael holds a bachelor of science in biology with a minor in education from Brandeis University. She earned her master of arts in teaching biology from Salem State College and a Teacher Leadership Certificate from Cambridge College.

How have teachers been reacting to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) over the course of this year? To find out, I interviewed one of my former high-school science teachers, Rachael Barron, who offered her insight and involvement with the standards. Massachusetts, which was a lead state partner of NGSS development, has chosen to adapt NGSS to better fit with the state’s existing standards, rather than to fully adopt the standards with no changes. The following is a summary of the interview.

Q: When did you first start hearing about the NGSS? Had they reached their official release, or were they still in the drafting stage?

A: I started hearing about NGSS while it was still in its drafting phase, but I was never personally asked for feedback. I followed its progress through science education newsletters and blogs. I was also aware of it because of my involvement with the College Board; it was brought up through AP biology workshops. [A few years ago, the College Board revised its AP science standards, and this revision was taken into consideration during NGSS development. —Ed.]

Q: What do you think of the construction of the NGSS?

A: I like that the focus is more on developing skills and participating in labs. With the changes in technology, information is at students’ fingertips, and a focus on memorization isn’t as necessary in the classroom setting. If students don’t understand how to run an experiment and manipulate data, they won’t be successful after college. However, this is higher cognitive learning, and some high school students still haven’t quite developed this part of their brains. It can be a struggle for students on the lower end of the learning spectrum.

Q: Did you feel like the standards were needed?

A: I do think they were necessary and good, but they are going to be difficult to implement [at the high school level]. High school feeds directly into college, so high school teachers face a lot of feedback about [getting students ready for] college. If learning gaps occur beforehand, high school can be very difficult for students; I have seen a great focus, at the elementary [school] level, on literacy and math, but I think students need more focus on science at this age, too, especially with the new focus on those higher cognitive skills.

Q: What do you think of Massachusetts adapting the NGSS for its own use, rather than adopting as is?

A: Massachusetts is adapting them more around the themes and type of learning than in specificity. [The state] also want[s] the focus more on practices and skills rather than memorization of knowledge. [But Massachusetts is adding a greater degree of specificity in the language of its standards to better prepare students for college and careers. —Ed.] Science careers are varied based on regions; here, we focus on preparing students to work in the biotechnology industry.

Q: What do you think is the most challenging aspect of integrating new standards?

A: If the textbooks are older, they don’t have the focus on higher-order thinking and practice skills. They also don’t have many data sets to analyze. There are financial constraints to ordering new textbooks; often it is on the teachers to find their own resources and make new experiments, which can be expensive. Not all teachers would even be able to put forth additional time to “design a model” [as the standards require] that will demonstrate a skill. The focus on more engineering is good, but it takes more time and can be difficult.

Q: Have you received many student or parent reactions?

A: Most parents have reacted more positively than I expected to the “flipped classroom model” for the AP biology curriculum. I use Bozeman biology because it is more technologically advanced. It’s allowed for more time on labs and data analysis in the classroom (AP requires 25 percent of time spent on labs). I have received some complaints that this is not teaching; but the idea is to teach students how to work in the outside world. They need to figure out why experiments fail and how to design them better. My students learn more from their mistakes in field experiments than from me telling them how to build a perfect experiment. This is realistic to how science works in the real world, but parents don’t always realize the importance of the focus on skills.

Q: What do you think will be the short- and long-term results of changing the focus to higher cognitive learning and skills?

A: The scores on state exams will probably go down during early implementation. Even though students will be better off, there will be complaints. Eventually, the work population will be better prepared for STEM jobs.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Intern Spotlight: Meet Tess

by Tess Klingenstein, Spring 2014 Intern

I like languages. That’s not to say that I have a good ear for them. In the same way that I struggle with tone deafness and staying on key when I sing karaoke, I have a hard time hearing and repeating foreign phrases. It’s why I took Latin in high school and why I enrolled in an American Sign Language (ASL) course my first semester at Tufts University. But eventually I decided to grab the bull by the horns and study abroad in Chile. With four semesters of Spanish under my belt, I familiarized myself (albeit clumsily) with the city of Santiago. The owner of the fruit shop next to my house thought I couldn’t do basic math because I couldn’t understand his accent when he tallied my total. My anthropology professor, my watercolor teacher and my kickboxing instructor all assumed my knowledge or skill set was deficient. Really, I just lacked the vocabulary for ethnocentricity, or fan brush, or roundhouse kick. But six months later I returned home with improved Spanish and a heightened appreciation for being able to communicate in my native tongue.

I am impressed by anyone who has a great mastery of a language, even their own. W. Somerset Maugham, Oscar Wilde, Charlotte Brontë, Sylvia Plath—people who are able to communicate the subtlest feelings and the most poignant messages through works of fiction—are some of the people I most admire. Those are the people who draw me to the field of publishing. When I’m not writing blog posts or doing editorial work at PSG, I’m at the Tufts Tisch Library, finishing up a short story for my creative writing class or drafting an essay on James Joyce’s representation of the body in Ulysses. Sundays, I work as a concessionist at a small local movie theater, where I get my fill of movies, new and old, and try not to eat all the popcorn. The majority of my weekends are spent catching up on Parks and Recreation and The Mindy Project, and singing along (off-key) to Taylor Swift while I cook vegetarian fajitas. (I am not vegetarian, but I only know how to cook one thing, and that’s vegetarian fajitas.)

I’m interested in film and television, literature and fiction writing, speech pathology, and working with children. I once read somewhere that people of my generation are projected to have between seven and nine different careers. It would be great if that were true, because there are a lot of different avenues that I would like to explore.

Little-Known Facts About Tess

Tess is known around the office for her subtle wit and upbeat personality, but is known at home for her delicious pie crust abilities. You can find her dishing out pies to one of her 50 maternal cousins, or, if you’re an MTV fan, may catch a glimpse of her in the background of an episode of The Real World: Washington DC.

Tess has also had her fair share of interesting summers. One she spent as the only hearing counselor at an ASL camp. This summer, she will be interning on an island off the coast of Washington State, where she is confident that she will have an amazing time.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Next Generation Science Standards: One Year Later

by Alyssa Guarino, Junior Project Manager

It has now been over a year since the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) were finalized in April 2013. While 26 states actively participated in the development of the standards (the NGSS official site calls them “lead state partners”), the adoption process has been slow and controversial. As of March 2014, the District of Columbia and just eleven states have accepted the standards: California, Delaware, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington—ten of which were lead partners during NGSS development. Unlike the rapid-fire state adoptions after the release of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the NGSS have evoked careful consideration from each state.

If 26 states were active participants in NGSS development, why haven’t more adopted the standards? Timing seems to be a key factor to NGSS consideration. Several states, including Tennessee, have reported that because their current state science standards are not due for review, they are not looking at the possibility of adopting the NGSS. Some states, such as North Carolina and Minnesota, have only recently adopted or revised their current science standards and will not be able to seriously consider the NGSS until their next revision period. Other states, such as New Jersey, are approaching a revision period but are still treading lightly in order to best weigh their options.

As we highlighted in an earlier blog post, the cost implications associated with implementing a new set of standards is a cause of concern for many states. The financial strain of creating new curricula and training educators is a serious consideration for many states that are reviewing already tight budgets. Additionally, a majority of states have been implementing the CCSS and dealing with the costs associated with it, and adding the cost of another set of standards may pose short-term challenges. Even with federal incentives, states in the process of implementing the CCSS have invested heavily in creating new curricula, purchasing required equipment, training their educators and transitioning their students; for instance, Florida has announced the need to delay NGSS review because resources are currently occupied with the CCSS. 

Even for those states that have already adopted the NGSS, there is some concern for the amount of training educators will need to undergo. If a state were to implement both the CCSS and the NGSS, elementary teachers, for example, would now be tasked with learning the new standards and revising their curricula for math, ELA and science.

Some states are hesitant to adopt the NGSS because they standardize when subject areas are taught, which may be vastly different from the time that the state currently covers those topics. Other states may feel that their current standards are up to par, or that their own standards are similar enough that it would not be cost-effective to make the change. This has even been the case for some of the lead state partners of the NGSS; Massachusetts, while a supporter of the NGSS, ultimately decided not to adopt. Instead, it revised its current science standards using many of the ideas of the NGSS. The state modeled the disciplinary core ideas and practices of the NGSS, but made some key changes that include presenting middle-school science as grade-by-grade rather than as a grade span, defining college and career readiness for science and technology/engineering (STE), and making technology/engineering its own discipline.

What does seem to be consistent about states considering the NGSS is careful appraisal with multi-source input and plans for gradual implementation. The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) has stated, “It is important to remember that adoption does not mean instant implementation,” and that if standards are adopted, they will be “through a thoughtful transition and implementation process.”
And for those that are either hesitant or not inclined to adopt the NGSS, they may just need more time. Keep an eye out for our next blog post, where an educator weighs in!

Did You Know?

In August, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and MasteryConnect released a free NGSS app. In addition to a search feature, the app allows for different views of the standards and links any connections to MasteryConnect’s Common Core App. The NSTA has also provided links to free resources geared towards learning about and working with the NGSS.
(DYK by Alyssa Guarino)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Buzz on Bee Week

by Liz Canon, Spring 2014 Intern

The National Spelling Bee, an American tradition since 1925, will take place this month from May 27 through May 29. The National Spelling Bee was originally created to encourage students to excel in the otherwise (seemingly) mundane task of spelling words in the English language. It became the Scripps National Spelling Bee in 1941 after The E. W. Scripps Company took over the sponsorship. In order to qualify for the national competition, students must win regional spelling competitions in their home states. These competitions are organized by sponsors, which are usually businesses, community organizations, or colleges and universities. These sponsors also pay for their spelling champion to travel to Washington, DC, for the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

As the national competition approaches, all eyes will be on Kush Sharma, the boy who beat his competitor Sophia Hoffman after an unheard-of two-day, 95-round match to win his place in the national bee. On February 22, Hoffman and Sharma made history when they competed in the Jackson County Spelling Bee in Missouri. The competition originally began with 25 contestants, but was narrowed down to Sharma, a seventh grader from the Frontier School of Innovation, and Hoffman, a fifth-grader from Highland Park Elementary, after nineteen rounds.

No one could have predicted the epic spelling match that ensued between the two students. After 66 rounds, Hoffman and Sharma had gone through all of the words that were given to them by the judges. They proceeded to spell 20 additional words that the judges had selected from the eleventh edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. The contestants, audience and judges were all shocked by their progress. Playing for 66 rounds is a big feat, considering last year’s Jackson County competition only lasted 21 rounds before a champion was named.

The spelling bee resumed on March 8, after about a two-week break. The Kansas City Public Library was packed with spectators. In fact, there were so many people who came out to see the spelling bee that some of them had to watch the spelling bee from a video cast in the lobby. After 28 rounds, Sophia misspelled the word stifling. She was as baffled by her misspelling of the word as the audience, considering she had managed to spell more challenging words such as schadenfreude and barukhzy. Kush went on to the twenty-ninth round and spelled definition (a word that we seem to have foreseen in the title of our coverage of the bee last year) correctly, solidifying his spot in the national competition.

Kush will be spelling against hundreds of other state finalists this year at the eighty-seventh Scripps National Spelling Bee. Hopefully, he will be able to demonstrate the endurance and accuracy he did at the local level. However, this year’s competition isn’t only about being able to spell in front of an audience. The contestants are also being scored on vocabulary tests taken before the competition. The scores from these tests are then incorporated into the student’s overall score. If Kush does succeed, he will win $30,000 from Scripps, a $2,500 US savings bond and complete reference library from Merriam-Webster, and $2,000 worth of reference works from Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Did You Know?

The term bee is a strange word to represent a competition. The first known reference to the word bee in print was in 1769. However, it was probably used in common speech for years before it was actually printed on paper. Some scholars speculate that the word originates from the Old English word bēn, which meant “a prayer” or “a favor.”

In America, a bee refers to “a gathering of people for a specific purpose <a quilting bee>"," or, according to Scripps, “a community social gathering at which friends and neighbors join together in a single activity (sewing, quilting, barn raising, etc.), usually to help one person or family.” During the American Revolution, some women would compete in spinning bees [PDF download]. There were also apple bees, husking bees and logging bees throughout the nineteenth century.
(DYK by Liz Canon)

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Ramifications of Gamification

by Tess Klingenstein, Spring 2014 Intern

When I was in school, I was one of those kids who hated gym class. I would purposely strike out during kickball so that I could return to the bench as soon as possible; I would let myself get hit when playing dodge ball rather than spend the energy swerving; and I always walked the mile during the annual presidential fitness test, linking arms with my best friend as we chatted about Growing Pains or our new Hilary Duff CD on our stroll. Athletically, I didn’t have a competitive bone in my body.

Competition in the classroom was a different story. I can still remember the rules to some of the games my teachers used in order to familiarize students with times tables, spelling or geography. There was Multiplication Basketball and Spelling Bee Races and Where in the World. Granted, these games didn’t have the Milton Bradley stamp of approval—and I’m pretty sure my teachers came up with the games (and the games’ names) themselves—but they succeeded in getting me pumped up about learning.

But is gamification—turning tasks not usually related to games into games—a good thing? On the one hand, what could be wrong with, as Slate writer Lindsey Tepe puts it, “making the mundane playful, individualizing learning, encouraging competition [and] rewarding progress”? When, according to a new study [PDF download] funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, 47 percent of high-school dropouts “said a major reason for dropping out was because classes were not interesting,” maybe adding more entertaining competition to curricula is not a bad idea. On the other hand, shouldn’t we be instilling a passion for learning in children, rather than a passion for winning?

The incorporation of gamification in curricula has led educators to take a closer look beyond the competition and at the benefits of using games in the classroom. Games that have been around for centuries (e.g., chess, mancala and checkers) have stayed around because of their simple nature and the necessity of thought-inducing strategy. Unsurprisingly, these are the kinds of games that are good for the mind in the ways they encourage skills like problem solving, foresight and patience.

But these aren’t the only kinds of beneficial games out there. Interestingly, schools are now looking to incorporate video games into the classroom, as they have been found to have neurological advantages in how they improve peripheral vision and special reasoning skills (for other advantages, see one of our former blog posts). Sara Corbett, a New York Times Magazine contributor, discusses the use of digital games at the NYC public school Quest To Learn: “The principles are similar to those used in problem-based learning, a more established educational method in which students collaborate to tackle broad, open-ended problems, with a teacher providing guidance, though not necessarily a lot of instruction.” Video games seem to open up a whole other door to educational gamification.

Personally, when I tutor elementary school children, I use games like Math Hangman and Reading Races to get my students excited about the material. I think gamification is a useful combatant against boredom and definitely had an impact on making me a knowledgeable (albeit not physically fit) elementary-school student. If gamification can contribute to lowering that 47 percent of dropouts who leave because they’re not engaged, I say bring on a little more fun and games in the classroom.

Did You Know?

The game of chess was derived from Chatarung, a two-person Indian war game dating back to 600 CE. Persian traders brought the game to Europe around 1000 CE, where it spread and rose in popularity. Interestingly, the game at that time was much slower. Why? Because the queen—in today’s rules, the most powerful piece—was tied with the bishop for least valuable player. Sometime in the 1400s, the rules were changed, and the queen was given the power that we are familiar with today.

One of many famous chess aficionados was Benjamin Franklin. Franklin spent many hours not only playing chess, but also writing “The Morals of Chess and Diplomacy.” In the essay, the philosopher and inventor contends, “Several very valuable qualities of the Mind, useful in the course of human Life, are to be acquir’d or strengthened by it, so as to become habits, ready on all occasions.” Considering we still play the game hundreds of years later, it appears the child of Chatarung has stood the test of time.

(DYK by Tess Klingenstein)