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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

How can we harness the power of the irresistible?



Myst improves descriptive writing in boys?

I've been reading with my mouth agape about how Tim Rylands uses the Myst computer games in literacy classes to rev up the descriptive writing skills of his students, particularly boys. In a newspaper article about Tim, they describe the learning process using Exile, part of the Myst computer game, as follows:

In the lesson, on the whiteboard, we started in a rocky terrain. You could see that it had been inhabited. Stone steps flanked by gnarled wooden railings led upwards to an ornate door. "Should we open it?" asked Tim.

"Yes," chorused the Year 6 children. The door slid back and, inside, the cave-like room was bathed with gold. That light flooded the classroom too and illuminated the children's faces as they sat enraptured by the images.

"Write down what you feel at this moment." They scribbled away. And so it went on as we traveled down corridors and eventually emerged on a cliff overlooking the sea. Should we climb into a pewter vessel that looked as though it was out of Jules Verne? We did and looked at the controls. An exploratory press on a button and the children gasped as the craft moved forward whooshing us over the sea to a nearby island. They scrawled their feelings and thoughts. The vivid experience jolted superb writing from the children.

What are they learning? Tim believes the quality of speaking and listening is raised. "They have a shared experience and, the way we work, 30 people can have a conversation without putting their hands up because they are listening to each other and respecting each other," says Tim. "They can observe the non-verbal communication. They are capable of taking turns.

When interviewed about this process, Tim says:

At first sight what Tim does is highly unconventional. "I am doing basic things in an off-the-wall way, but it gets results," Tim explains. "I am trying to create the magic, the enjoyment rather than just the basic skill.
The new Viper SRT-10: Obnoxious and irresistible
I've been considering this for several days now, and then my husband, an engineer, sent me an article from the Detroit Daily News about the new Viper SRT-10 entitled: Obnoxious and irresistible.

The author does a beautiful job of describing this car:

Whoa! Have you ever fallen in love with someone you knew to be crazy?

Getting heated up over the Viper SRT-10 is something like that. It's sexy, attractive and thoroughly nuts. It is woefully impractical. It ultimately will take from you more than it will give, but you become so addicted to what it offers that you can't resist. You are pulled in by the obnoxious roar of its engine, replete with the loud pop-pop racecar noises emanating from exhaust pipes cleverly integrated into rocker panels right and left.

Harnessing the irresistible in the classroom.
As I read the article, I was transported into how I picture Tim Ryland's classroom. I think Mr. Ryland has hit on something: he has harnessed the irresistible to teach.

Perhaps his children think they "shouldn't like to write" but he has used the irresistible (a video game) to engage his students in writing.

It seems to me that many educators fight the irresistible: the iPod, the cell phone, the laptop, the wiki, the blog, the podcast, and more. Instead, we should be harnessing the irresistible to engage students in writing, in reading, and in learning.
The power of the irresistible: Video Games that Teach
I've seen this in my own children. I have a ten year old who loves Civilization. (Read his blog entry.) In the course of playing this incredible video game, he has learned about all of the major forms of government as well as governmental structure. He has learned the importance of innovation in a society and about the balance required to run a government. Even more so, he has learned the importance of listening to advisors. I've played this game and it is full of meaning, learning, and is totally irresistible! Voila!

He is learning and he thinks he is playing! Its OK to have fun when you learn.

How else can we harness the irresistible to learn?

It seems to me that when we are working with children who have preconceived negative emotions about a subject, that harnessing the subject to "the irresistible" may serve as a magnet to draw students into the subject.

How Mashups became exciting to my male students

I recall when my students were discussing mashups. The boys in my class did not get really excited until they invented Hunter's Paradise. They looked at the various websites that they wanted to mash together and got very excited. These boys love hunting. Their love for hunting engaged them in a topic they were lukewarm about at the beginning of the class period.

That is harnessing the power of the irresistible for teaching!

It is happening all of the time. I'm reading stories about it in so many edublogs! I think this simple concept of transference is a powerful tool in the classroom.

I guess I've always used it from the early 1990's when I taught the Internet to older people, I would teach them to look up recipes, compare medicines, and look up health information. That was when they got excited! Teachers got excited about rubrics and gradebooks. Students got excited about myspace, iPods, and cell phones. What have we done to harness those tools to teach? (See my recent post on DOPA.)

How irresistible Legos teach programming!

I am seeing this as my students build robots with Lego Mindstorms as we conclude our year in Computer Science. They love Legos and their love of them transfers to programming.

The two or so intertwined that now they have practically self learned the concept of gear ratios as well as programming loops. Interestingly, seniors from last year (who are in their last three days of school) are taking time to show the juniors and sophomores techniques for improving the robots. They love the robots and are so very excited! The power of the irresistible to teach!

How do you harness the power of the irresistible?
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