Short Story Project

“Create a prequel, sequel, or spinoff of a short story to demonstrate your understanding of the theme and the motifs of the short story you chose.”

Who knew this simple instruction would spark so much creativity among my students? I really shouldn’t be surprised that my students are so creative because they have always been. But time and time again, my students have surprised me with their talent. I am thrilled to see them shine.

Rationale for the Lesson

1. Social Learning Theory

Vygotsky (1978) discusses the importance of learning in a social context in his book Mind in Society.  He focuses on the use of tools. More importantly, Vigotsky argues for allowing all children to engage in play to demonstrate their innate creativity and imagination. This project focuses on providing a learning opportunity for students to work with various tools (short stories, video camera, and video editing software) in groups (social learning) while having fun (play), so that they can express their creativity.

2. A Situative Perspective

The situative perspective attempts to combine “cognitive science and interactional studies” (Greeno, 2006, p.92). Looking at the connection between student motivation and identity creation, this perspective allows teachers to create classroom activities that target both the individual students and the classroom environment to maximize student learning. Since it does not require teachers to make an explicit connection between the individual learning and the learning environment that allows it, it is a useful tool for any classroom teacher.

The Lesson Steps and Potential Challenges

If you are a teacher interested in trying this lesson, steps are listed here.

Potential challenges might be:

  • Lack of cameras

I combat that with supplying 3 digital cameras that I collected over the years. You could ask your colleagues and see whether they have digital cameras that they are willing to share. What I found, however, was that the students can use their smart phones to capture the videos.

  • Lack of video editing software

This could be one of the toughest challenges in attempting this project. At our school, we have labs with PCs. My student used Windows Moviemaker, a free program that is often pre-installed on any PC. Recently, a student of mine recommended VideoPad Video Editor, another free program that is a bit more sophisticated.

I wouldn’t, however, let this stop you from attempting the project. Providing your students with an opportunity to problem solve is important. It will just take more time.

  • Lack of time

For my AP students, I gave nearly 2 weeks to complete this project. I really wanted them to (1) read multiple stories, (2) extract the motifs and the themes from the story, and (3) synthesize their understandings in a coherent script. Still, their understanding of the motifs and the themes had a lot to be desired. I imagine this might take longer for less skilled groups of students.

I suggest reviewing what a motif is thoroughly with your students. I tell them a motif is something that reoccur throughout the story that enhance a point. I referred back to The Lord of the Flies, and Golding’s use of colors, in particular pink. For the purpose of this project, I encourage them to place a physical object in the movie to illustrate their understandings of the concept of motif.

Results

1. Sequel

The following video is a sequel of “The Rocking Horse Winner” by D. H. Lawrence.

Synopsis – 14 years have passed since Paul Hester, a little boy who rode the rocking horse winner to provide money for his mother in exchange for his life, died after predicting that Malabar would win the big race. His mother is dealing with the fallout from his death.

2. Spinoffs

The following video is a “spinoff” of Margaret Atwood’s “Happy Endings.”

The following video is a “spinoff” of Chinue Achebe’s “Marriage is a Private Affair.”

Reflection

I am more than likely to use this lesson again. I am in the process of working with another colleague to see how we can modify it for her ELD and literacy students who require more scaffold and support due to the skills levels. I can’t wait to write about their progress. Once the modifications are complete, we plan to present our findings at a conference in June.

References:

Greeno, J. (2006) Learning in activity. In K. Sawyer (Eds.) (Ed.), The Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences (pp. 79-96). New York: The Cambridge University Press.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

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Game and Learning Conference – Where are the games?

On March 14th, I attended the Games for Learning: Transforming Learning and Assessment with Digital Games hosted by the Finnish Government and GlassLab. It was recommended to me by one of my professors who is currently conducting research in collaboration with several Finnish researchers. It was a very small and short conference, and but I learned a lot of things about myself and the game-based researcher world.

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I was not in Kansas anymore.

When I arrived there, I realized how far removed I was with the gaming researchers and the gaming industry. Despite the fact that I am a doctoral student, most of my days are spent teaching in a high school classroom. The only reason I knew anything about gaming was because I had to take a gaming course in my program. Of course, that hasn’t made me an expert in game-based learning at all, and I am still learning. But I thought I was beginning to gain some important insights. While sitting in a room with industry experts, I realized how little I knew about the movers and shakers in the game-based education world.

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Still I was thrilled to speak to Jessica Lindl from GlassLab whom I saw at the Games Learning and Society conference in June of 2013. I found out that she was scheduled to be one of the keynote speakers for this year’s conference.  Mighty Eagle, Peter Vesterbacak, from Rovio also presented to a small group of intellectuals and investors who could bring real money to start up companies, hoping to influence educational gaming market.  Even though I felt somewhat intimidated, I raised my hand and spoke during a panel discussion.

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Teacher Professional Development in Gaming

I urged the group to think about all the barriers of getting the games into students’ hands. I shared my frustration of teachers being the biggest barriers in spreading the gaming and how companies seemed to miss great opportunities to work with teachers.

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I sat next to a nice young man from Finland who had an educational application company. He told me that his target was parents. I told him that teachers were also parents. I shared an example I read in the book Freakonomics. When Roth IRA first came out, many investment companies aggressively targeted teachers because teachers naturally educate the public if they are convinced of the benefits. I suggested that they should consider creating games that encourages teachers to become gamers.  How can teachers use games to teach students when they don’t know how to play?

Where are the games?

Before we adjourned, I approached Jessica Lindl and asked, “Where are the games?” I asked because I see this happening all the time. In my years as a teacher, I have been to too many conferences with a presenter lecturing about why teachers shouldn’t lecture. For a gaming conference that was supposed to promote game-based learning, we didn’t do any activities that remotely resembled a game. Games work because they are situated and experiential. I realize the conference was more of an information sharing and networking opportunity. However, I thought we could have play one game.

Free SIMCity licenses

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At the end of the conference, Dr. Tamas Makany from GlassLab approached me.  He was sympathetic and wanted to help. We discussed the technical limitations and challenges that rural teachers face.  To help me, he offered 30 SimCity Edu licenses for free. He was so encouraging and supportive of my passion for spreading game-based learning into rural areas.

After nearly a month, we are finally getting around to installing the program at one of our computer labs. Why? Because we don’t have the right video cards on the computers that our school owns, which goes to prove how many barriers classroom teachers to overcome to do things that we know work.

I know that I still have so much to learn. But I am glad that I learned the value of game-based learning. I can’t wait to develop lessons for my students and colleagues in the future.