Snow Day (Let’s Talk About Zelda)

I was really surprised to answer the phone at 6:15 this morning and hear the announcement that today would be a snow day for our district. I was surprised because we had school yesterday when just about every other school in the county had off. And today, very few other local districts have off (some have two hour delays).

I am going to try to grade some assessments (something I struggle to force myself to do, more than doing dishes even). But, I am also going to play more video games than I probably should. Specifically, I will play Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on the new Nintendo Switch.

We got this game the day it came out (my spouse and I are both big fans of the franchise; in fact I proposed to him with a Zelda-patterned cross-stich with a ring sewn on). My husband had to go out of town that weekend, so I got quality time on the system first.



love it.

Firstly, the Switch. It’s much smaller than the Wii U, and you can switch it from being hooked up to the TV, to being more like a handheld console. I prefer playing on the big screen, but it’s cool to be able to have it smaller, so that my husband can catch up on Hulu shows. I even took it to a family dinner to show my twin sister (also a big Zelda fan). It’s still just as lovely to behold on the smaller screen, it’s just smaller. And even using the smaller screen, you can set it up to multiple different controller configurations so that you can do however you prefer. (I like to hold the Joy-Cons by themselves in each hand; my husband likes to use them in the Joy-Con grip.)

Next, the game itself. It really seems very compatible with my gaming style, which is reckless. I tend to rush headlong into circumstances without planning much in advance; then, if I utterly fail, I observe how I fail so that I can base future planning on that. (My twin sister, by contrast, is cautious: she made it through Ocarina of Time without ever dying.) This game does not overly punish rashness; it autosaves frequently and does not force you to save at particular points. There are many situations where, instead of killing you outright, puts you back to your last safe moment with reduced health.

There are many challenges in the game that you can choose to face in different ways. Often there are items lying around, or characteristics of the environment you can use to your advantage if you think things through. You also get some abilities early in the game that you can creatively apply in many settings.

My husband and I are benefiting from watching each other play. For example, I solved a puzzle using the stasis ability and arrows; when he came on the same one, he happened to be out of arrows. Rather than retreat to gather supplies, he managed to find another way to solve the puzzle. I remembered his method the next time I faced a puzzle, and made sure to try other angles than I normally would at first. I don’t think I’d be doing half as well if I wasn’t playing in tandem with a different person who doesn’t do the same things I do.

I also like that there’s not a strictness to the storyline. In previous Zelda games, you had to accomplish goals in a particular order. This is not the case in this game. Yes, there are certain plot points that only get triggered after certain other things occur. Yes, there are enemies you can’t actually beat until you get the right weapons, armor, or power-ups. But the game doesn’t actually stop  you from trying to do things that you’re not equipped to handle. I think an abrupt “game over” screen is how the game designers chose to teach the player that it’s okay to run away from some battles.


As for the content of the storyline, I think I’ll save that for another post, one with spoiler tags.



School Week Round-Up: Week Twenty-Seven

Lessons: This week went more smoothly than last week. I got students using Khan Academy again. I used Khan Academy quite a bit last year, actually because I was asked to present about it at a professional development. But this year it seemed like a lot of work, especially compared to websites and resources that were easier to sync with Google Classroom. Then… Khan Academy enabled teachers to import their Google Classrooms. Sweet! It was so much faster to set kids back up this way. The kids even like it a little better than last year, because we’re starting so late in the year, they’re breezing through the things they’ve already learned. I like Khan Academy for a lot of reasons. I like that it allows me to see how much time students are actually engaged on the site, so I can verify who’s likely goofing off. I like that it allows students to state, “I haven’t learned this” or see a hint. I like that it doesn’t let kids exit and start a mastery challenge all over again – it saves their work. (That last one is because some students have perfectionist tendencies and want to get every answer right on the first try – but that’s not a reasonable expectation to have of oneself at all times.)

Support: We use an online instructional system that has lately caused struggle with Google Chrome. It’s especially a frustration for teachers whose students use older Mac laptops that were reimaged to run like Chromebooks. The system is aware of how the browser issues play out and are trying to support school districts who use it. It’s the kind of thing where you have the first thing to try; if that doesn’t work I have a second, or even third thing to try; and if those don’t work, then I reach out for help. I actually taught a third grader how to do the first thing, and he showed his homeroom teacher. So now I’m thinking I could find a couple of students in every class and train them up in some troubleshooting steps, to help out their teachers and classmates.

Things I Did Well:
 I actually had another genuine sick day (slight fever), and the Google Classroom lessons apparently went slightly askew. But, the students are now familiar enough with it that they were able to tell the sub, “If the lesson doesn’t work, this is the backup plan.” (It’s in a Google Doc in the “About” section of Google Classroom.) And the sub trusted enough to go along with it. So I will have to make up a couple lessons for next week, but I’m really proud of my students!

Things I Will Do Better: In reference to the above paragraph, I need to triple check my Google Classroom lessons are posted, er, correctly when I’m sick. Foggy head led to unclear directions. This is why we hate making sub plans!

master-sword-2002961_1280Cold Prickly: My spouse is going out of town this weekend to see our niece and nephew in a play. I couldn’t go because I made a commitment on my side of the family. I’m sad I’ll be missing this.

Warm Fuzzy: A video game I’ve been looking forward to just game out on a new system. So, even though I’m on my own for most of the weekend, at least I get to spend that time with a guy named Link in a land called Hyrule.

On Reading the Directions

I have started frequently using videos to deliver directions to students. On Google Classroom, it is easy to write a couple of sentences, then attach a video as well as whatever assignment I’m asking students to do.

Before I started blending my classroom, I would stand by the SmartBoard and demonstrate to students step-by-step what I wanted them to do before sending them to their seats. Or, I would stand by the SmartBoard and try to make the kids go step-by-step with me as they followed along from their seats. Both delivery methods left a lot to be desired — kids would forget steps if you told them too many to start with; or computers wouldn’t cooperate and the entire class would get held up because someone needed help troubleshooting. Eventually, I switched to emailing directions (with links) to students, but that wasn’t a perfect system either. Kids would get lost or distracted in their email; directions would get lose effectiveness as they got longer and longer.

Now, with Google Classroom, I am able to give students everything I want them to do… and it’s up to them to use it. They can read the directions, watch the whole video, then start on the assignment if they want to. They can read some of the directions, watch part of the video, then check out the assignment — then go back to the directions or video if they need clarification. They can also dive straight into the assignment, because sometimes you need to become aware of what you don’t already know before you can learn a new thing.

Kids will seek out the information they want. This is not a new concept. Think of Minecraft: it’s a game many play and many more will try, and it comes with no instruction booklet. You learn by doing; or you learn by asking someone else what to do; or you looked it up online; or you saw someone else do it; or you got a book at the book fair. I think the designer may have done this on purpose. It’s not an intimidating game, visually; you certainly feel comfortable exploring before really knowing what you’re doing. But there are so many little things you can’t know unless you look them up, like how to craft a door for your hut, or how best to defend yourself against monsters, or all the steps it takes to grow crops and make food. And this isn’t new to Minecraft. I still dive into video games without more than a glance at any instructions, and that glance has more to do with awesome artwork than learning mechanics.

Kids will seek out the information they want, so I just have to make them want it.

School Week Round-Up: Week Twenty

So, this was a choppy week. Today was a teacher work day, so no students; earlier this week we had a snow day. So it was a three day week for kids, and those three days were not consecutive. Always a treat.

20170112_183237Lessons: Because of the choppiness of the week, lessons went a little funky monkey. I think I did different things with every second and third grade class. But, I did hit on a first grade lesson that went so well, I’m pretty sure it’s what I would leave for a sub in the future. I picked three videos from Art For Kids Hub on Youtube, and posted them in Google Classroom. I provided students with pencils and papers, and they chose a video to watch and draw along. After they were done, they could color their picture (I provided crayons). Then they could add more detail, or try another picture, or move onto a menu of sponge activities to soak up the rest of class time. I wanted to make sure students knew how to pause a video, replay a video, move forward or backward in a video, and so on. I also wanted to use the crayons that never seem to get used in a computer lab. Kids “got” it with minimal fuss or directions, and it wasn’t so tech-heavy that a sub would be totally lost. I used the cartoon butterfly, cartoon octopus, and cartoon pegasus videos. Butterfly was easy to do, octopus was medium (more detailed), and pegasus was most challenging (no symmetry). I also chose those three because they could be any color kids wanted; I expected there’d be fights over yellow crayons if I’d posted the cartoon banana. I’m curious about their easy origami videos too.

Support: I got a Donors Choose project funded (my first!) so this week I was able to distribute 6-port desktop chargers plus lightning cables to teachers who got hand-me-down iPads to use in their classrooms, but not enough chargers to go with them. Plus, the multi-port chargers are going to be so much more convenient for teachers and students, since they don’t have to choose between which devices to charge.

Things I Did Well: 
I have been fine-tuning my last RESA task that I need to pass. It’s not due anytime soon, but I don’t want to leave it til later and stress about it. I feel like I’ve worked really hard on it. If I manage to fail at it this last time, then perhaps this just isn’t where I should be right now in my life.

Things I Will Do Better: I feel like this week was a little experimental, lessons wise. I kind of put out some ideas and strategies to kids without being fully invested in all of them. I wanted to pay attention to how things played out. I know some elements need to be tweaked, and one of them is my own engagement with the students and the content.

Cold Prickly: I’m glad it’s a three day weekend, because I think I’ve got a cold coming on.

Warm FuzzyIs it wrong to admit how excited I am about the Nintendo Switch?

Pokémon Kept GOing

The biggest thing in my planner today was how I needed to take my car into the shop so the mechanic could give it a check-up. What a perfect opportunity to keep playing Pokémon GO like the ridiculous human being that I am!

I have leveled up in my gameplay, and experienced broader play elements now.

Firstly, my spouse and I took over a gym, extremely briefly. It took several fights to do so. To take over a gym, you have to lower the gym’s “prestige” first. It’s like you’re chipping away at the hold another team has over the gym. Failure is a common and arguably even necessary part of this progress. It is definitely easier to take over a gym when you work together, and possibly easier to hold onto it, too. This part of the game is better with a buddy!

Secondly, the game really encourages walking. No wonder that’s the most-talked about aspect of the game on social media! You can get closer to many spots and gyms by walking than you can with a vehicle. Also, driving in a vehicle, even at 35mph, takes you past most spots too quickly for you to have an interaction with them. Also, you hatch your Pokémon eggs by walking. Even a little bit at a time helps. It occurred to me that I didn’t mind parking a little farther away from a destination if I had my game going. That’s a tenth of a kilometer closer to hatching a Jigglypuff, dudes! My deepest hope is that this will inspire more people to return their carts/buggies to proper locations at the grocery store, which is one of my biggest pet peeves.

Thirdly, I wonder whether this game might help us teach our children how to talk to strangers. “Stranger danger” and “don’t talk to strangers” is a deep-seated but misguided attempt at keeping children safe. I wonder whether Pokémon GO can help us teach children when and where and how to interact with people they don’t know. When I see kids playing the game, I usually see a parent with them or very close by. This could be an excellent opportunity for modeling a lot of positive, safe behavior. It could be as simple as asking another player what team they picked to start a conversation. Of course, you want to look out for “tricky people” playing the game, just as you would in any context. Real life rules still apply.

Related to that, parents also have the opportunity to model how to cross streets safely, how to look out for traffic, and so on. City kids might know that stuff intrinsically by now, but not everyone does.

There does seem to be an imbalance between areas of high interaction (having Pokéstops and gyms) and areas of low interaction. At least in my city, the historically less privileged part of town is severely lacking in interactive spots. The park there doesn’t even have a Pokéstop, much less a gym! The local university is lit, though. My understanding is that the map was largely ported from a previous AR release. So the dearth of spots in one neighborhood vs. the glut of spots in another probably speaks to the demographics of who played that other game. Also, many landmarks are outdated. On the left is how one Pokéstop appears in the game. On the right is how it actually looks as of now. Where did that sculpture go?

Like Minecraft, the game itself doesn’t give you all the best details on how to play it. This forces players to either learn by trial and error, or seek out resources. Those resources might be other people or online searches. These days, there are a lot of Minecraft books in the library kids can use too. I wonder whether Pokémon GO might head in this direction, inspiring kids to pick up books and read more about something that interests them.

For what it’s worth, I have always enjoyed video games, from a very young age. Pokemon was a big thing when I was in middle school and high school. (It wasn’t cool to like Pokemon in high school, but that didn’t make me like it any less at the time.)

Pokémon GO? Oh, I Pokémon WENT

Last week a free-to-play augmented reality mobile game called Pokémon GO became available. I didn’t hop on the bandwagon right away, but I wanted to try it sooner rather than later. I have a reputation as a video-game-liking teacher that I need to uphold come the fall. If Pokémon GO was going to be the big deal my Facebook feed led me to believe, I figured I better at least be familiar with it.

I like to learn about the things kids like — shows, games, hobbies, etc. — because it makes kids feel like their interests have value. Also, sometimes something really popular gives you another avenue of language to explain something. For instance, I can’t begin to list all the math concepts that I have explained using Minecraft examples. So as I played Pokémon GO this morning, I wondered how it might lend itself to classroom discussion, lessons, or activities.

Firstly, I think Michelle Obama might secretly be behind this game, or at least supporting it, because I walked four miles this morning… which is about four miles more than I did yesterday. If you stay in one place, you are not going to get the full experience of this game. You have to keep moving to find more variety of Pokémon, and to interact with locations designated as Pokéstops and Gyms. I also spent almost all that time outside, so I’m glad I slathered on the sunscreen first!

Secondly, the game’s interface is a simplified version of Google Maps. It is not super detailed, and your avatar is disproportionately large on it. As you roam the neighborhood, you can randomly encounter (and capture) Pokémon. Twice I came upon Pokémon that appeared on the interface to be across the street from me. Luckily, I did not need to cross the street to capture them. This was on two separate, busy streets in my city, and I’m an adult who knows better than to step into the street. You may want to review basic safety and alertness with your child before trying this game, even with supervision. The potential to get an injury exists. But, I think it is the responsibility of the gamer to stay aware of their surroundings — just as you must remain aware of your surroundings if you walk and read a book, or listen to music, or chat on the phone. I realized as I played that, while I walked, I could simply hold my phone and feel it vibrate to tell me there was a Pokémon nearby, rather than looking at my phone while I walked, which made me feel safer. I also made a point of not using headphones so that I could always hear cars.

Probably the best place to hunt for Pokémon this morning was a local university campus that is close to my apartment. School is out of session so it was nearly abandoned except for half a dozen other people who I suspected were also playing Pokémon GO. Additionally, there were lots of memorials and statues and such that are designated Pokéstops by the game. Pokéstops are places you can pick up free items like Pokéballs (needed to capture Pokémon), potions (needed to heal Pokémon), and revives (needed to revive Pokémon who have fainted). Finally, because of the nature of this particular campus, there were not a lot of cars driving through, and any that did drove really slow. I imagine that would be a good place to let your kids run around pretty safely. I will be checking out a park later today too; I suspect it will be a good spot as well.

So far, the most talked-about aspects of this game (at least on my Facebook feed) are that it gets people outside, and it gets people moving. But I think there are additional aspects that are good, too. For example, a player can make choices about transferring Pokémon, or powering them up. If you have limited resources, you are forced to make choices. Sure, players may end up making choices they regret, or agonizing over their choices. But ultimately a game is a low-stakes environment for choice-making. And kids don’t learn to make good decisions unless they have the opportunity to make some bad ones. Of course, the game does support in-app purchases, so make sure your child steers clear of that unless you’re willing to shell out for Pokécoins.

Another aspect of the game is that it gets players to engage in their communities in ways they maybe hadn’t before. For example, I have walked through the local university campus many times. But only this morning did I realize they had a statue of Abraham Lincoln near their information center. Funny enough, there was a Nidoking also admiring it. Park pavilions and churches come up as gyms. Luckily, you don’t have to enter a location to interact with it, otherwise the folks my local fire station might get very confused!

I did try playing it in a variety of locations — meaning my aunt’s neighborhood, and my mother’s rural house — and I did not have as much success as I did closer to home. I don’t know if that’s because location or because servers may have been down. (Actually accessing the game the past few days has been hit and miss for me due to server issues.) But my understanding is that, the higher the foot traffic in a given area, the more opportunity for interaction.

There are aspects of the game I can’t speak to, because I don’t have much experience in them yet, such as battling with Pokémon at gyms. But, I imagine that kids who want to know more will be able to find out more information with a few well-chosen search engine keywords, plus carefully evaluating sources and articles to determine how far they can be relied on. Besides, I look forward to learning more! Just waiting for my phone to charge before I coat myself in another layer of sunscreen and run off to my local park. I noticed the gym there changed hands from Team Red to Team Blue and I’m curious to know more.


Teacher Off Topic Plays Minecraft! Episode 1

So… this happened. Number one, yes, it is a way I can justify how much time I, as a professional adult, plays Minecraft. But I also want to convey to parents what can be positive about playing video games, starting with Minecraft. One excellent resource that convinced me to give Minecraft a try is The Minecraft Guide for Parents by Cori Dusmann. I really liked how this book addressed some reasonable parent concerns (like what if my kid won’t do anything but play Minecraft?). But it also offers advice on using the game to guide kids through things like coping with online bullies and navigating other online relationships. That plus like actual instruction on playing the game itself.