AIM for Good Writing

As a second-language learner, I have always had issues with writing in English. You might think it’s strange for me to admit that I have issues with English since I have taught English for the past decade in the United States.

I used to joke with my students with that there was no way for an American to move to Korea and teach Korean to Korean-born children. I told them that I was grateful beyond for the opportunities that this country has given me.

Having said that, I always felt that English teachers could do a better job of teaching writing. I say that because I personally struggled for many years before I figured out three fundamental rules for writing in English. I used to have a huge poster in my classroom to teach my students to AIM for good writing because I learned that all great writers have followed the following rules when they write in English. They are: Avoid Redundancy, Improve Vocabulary, and Match Words and Phrases.

1. A = Avoid Redundancy

I used to tell my students that all English writers despised redundancy, which is different from repetition. Any English teacher knows that repetition for effect is a great strategy. But being redundant, not so much! For example, I often tell my students that they should never say, “In my opinion, I believe” in an argumentative essay. Why? Because everyone should already know that one is expressing his or her opinion in an argumentative essay. If you keep saying “In my opinion” or “I believe,” you are being redundant.

2. I= Improve Vocabulary

The second rule of writing English, which I still struggle with all the time, is improving vocabulary, aka elevation diction. During my dissertation writing, this was one of the most challenging aspects. My writing teachers used to tell me that I was “wordy.” What they actually meant was that I didn’t have high-quality vocabulary to convey my thoughts in the most succinct manner.

For example, many students will say, “I am gonna turn in my homework.” I would encourage them to say, “I will submit my homework.” When my students asked why that matters, I would point out how so many writing contests  or college personal statements often have word limits. I would also tell them that is one of the reasons why poetry is considered one of the highest forms of writing since it allows the economy of expression.

3. M= Match Words and Phrases

Finally, I would tell them how the English language requires everything to match, which is expressed in the idea of subject and verb agreement and parallelism. Remember reading John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address or Martin Luther King’s speech? Enough said.

I feel that English teachers who are born in this country understand such rules instinctively. What many English teachers who are native English speakers don’t realize is that students who do not read good writing are unable to pick up such preferences naturally. I argue that teachers must teach the rules explicitly if we were to want to help our students.

Next time you have to teach students to write essays, I encourage you to review these fundamental rules.

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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.

Sunday Stalemate

Having achieve no progress on Saturday, I decided to call on my tutor Skylar, who was a student of mine. Now studying computer science at UC Irvine, he volunteered to be my “technical advisor.”

First, we began working on getting the Flora hooked up because I wanted to get to the part of the LED strip that bought lighting up.

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However, I didn’t realize that I needed an extra part. For example, to make the strip work, I needed a resistor and special hook up. Futhermore, the Flora board needed a specific program language environment that I didn’t have.

After spending 2 hours trying to figure out how to download the Flora specific Ardino program, I plugged in one of the Flora boards.  After about 1/2 second, I saw a red light blinking rapidly. Then I smelt something burning. When I touched the board, it was hot! And the program kept sending me error messages.

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So I stopped working on the board. Even my tutor couldn’t help me. This experience made me think about how much tacit knowledge one must possess to be able to take on a project of this kind. I just wanted the LED strip to light up based on Adafruit’s diagram. I had no idea how much I needed to know things about electricity, voltage, and data input and output of data to make this project work.

After that defeat, I decided to switch to a LiliPad to see whether I could at least make the Velostate respond to the input.

This time, I was able to make the serial monitor to respond! I was so EXCITED!!!! However, I was still apprehensive about what I had to do to make this project a success.

First Saturday Meeting

Even though we didn’t get anything “done” per se, I think it was a great meeting. Here are some pictures.

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Trying to put the shoes together.

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Using Kodu to create a game.

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Working on Code Academy and Kodu.

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Students learning how to code using Code Academy.

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Trying to fly the electric airplane.

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All the supplies out.

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What’s inside a computer?

Coding Club Fun

When I brought the supplies to the Monday meeting, the noise level was deafening. They were beyond excited. But with 38 minutes for lunch, we hardly had the time to open the computer to look at the code. That’s when my students asked me whether we could meet on a Saturday or even after school! Now I am committed to meeting them on Saturdays and one day after school during the week. I hope I can find the time to make this happen.

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Working with the Arduno board

Since I need to create a project for my own class, I decided to re-create a pair of Firewalker LED light up shoes.

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Becky Stern with Firewalker Sneakers (http://learn.adafruit.com/assets/10669)

Originally I wanted to create a pair of shoes with a built-in pedometer that kept track of how many steps one took. But working with my coder tutor, I realized that I do not have enough technical abilities to make this possible at this time. Furthermore, I was much more interested in engaging my students in maker activities than making an amazing machine. In the end, I simply ran out of time. With taking three classes and performing additional functions at school, I have limited time to do a complicated project by the due date.

I personally think it’s a great thing that my students want to spend more time working with the materials. The fact that they want to meet twice a week says how interested they are.

I probably won’t meet the deadline set my maker class, but I haven’t given up! I still might be able to make a prototype with usable codes at some point. I am definitely continuing with my students. Wish me luck!

Coding Club Begins

With the bit of seed money, I ordered a few things to share with my students. First, I got the Makey Makey board from Amazon. Image

And on a whim, I also ordered an electric airplane kit.

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I can’t wait to share these things with my students.