Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Spore! A bit of biology and computer gaming...

So we are on day 3 of Spore ownership. EA's new Maxis game, supposedly $50 million in the making, starts you as single-cell organisms working your way up the food chain, eating things to gain DNA points to add arms, legs, eyes...and mate, fight, eat, sing, dance, pose (pose??)...

What it is doing nicely with my 11 and 12 year olds is (a) getting them to talk with me and each other about biology and ecosystems and (b) play a computer game together. The graphics are cute and engaging, and one is always sitting over the other's shoulder enjoying their decisions and cheering them along.

Is singing, dancing, and posing accurate in nature? For a lot of species, perhaps, though the dancing here is a bit...odd? So far, my oldest has moved to level 3 and is thinking about societal/tribal issues. He also has learned that pie isn't the big mover of a culture (game inside joke).

So far, I do recommend Spore as something to add to the family gaming quiver. It isn't an accurate depiction of biology, but brings a lot of the concepts to the discussion forefront. Its design does imply that evolution is reality versus myth, but that's what I'd like my children to learn as well. :) And hopefully there isn't an 11 year old at the helm adding a third eye to a pink critter... :)

We'll see as we get further into tribal and planetwide conquest...

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

E-Learning Tools as School Starts Back Up

Last year, ReadWriteWeb had a nice list of available resources: http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/e-learning_20_all_you_need_to_know.php.

They have expanded it further at http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/web_20_backpack_web_apps_for_students.php. Some from last year have been bought, some closed, etc. I won't reinvent the wheel with their listings, but some highlights of note are the list of Mindmapping tools and sticky noting options. The more I work with high school and college students, the more I realize that they don't just need these tools, but they also need to be instructed how to use them.

The challenge I've found this year is group project work. Delicious can be good for sharing links. Another option is to use a free Wiki. Some of my students have used Wetpaint; others have used Wikispaces. Google Docs was tried this year as a group work space, but isn't as good for bookmark and research sharing.

Experimenting...Chore Wars!

I just got back from a fun sci fi/kitch culture convention and was hanging out with some tech-savvy moms. One enthusiastically recommended ChoreWars.com, which we are starting today at the house. Very cool concept!

You sign up as a Player Character in a Dungeons & Dragons environment, then set up a "party" that works together. Evidently, this can be for offices or families. (Hmmm?) Then you can set up a pre-arranged group of "average" chores or start with manual settings. For each chore, family members get XP, or experience points, but also can get random treasure and monsters.

My friend has a snack drawer that you can only exchange for XP or game gold, and other treats around the house (non-food) that can only come from game results. She has 5 kids and finds that this both incentivizes and monitors in a really fun way. So we'll set this up today and see how my tweens react. All three have become decent gamers so this might be a nice tool set. More to follow!

The site is www.chorewars.com and the basic setup is ad-supported. If you want a Gold account, you can pay $10 (one time) and get rid of the ads, plus acquire additional features. It was launched by UK-based developers in 2007 and according to a recent article in The Times of London, has about 70,000 people signed up.