G-FMS Curriculum Development Journal – July 8, 2013

July 8, 2013

The morning began with an assembling of the Hive cooperative directed by myself (Professor Shad). In attendance were Chris Aiken, Kidany Cabrera, Waleska Martinez, Elijah Richmond, joined by Dylan Shad who had missed the July 1 meeting. Amara Dioubate was unable to attend.

The group began the day by considering approaches to two issues raised by Professor Baker on July 1: fractions and scientific notation. First on the table were fractions. Elijah had been toying around with the concept of a social game where students would be given various fractions represented by wedges of a pie, and have to negotiate with fellow students to assemble whole pies. The team considered the idea, and then shelved it feeling it needed more development. Next, Dylan and I introduced the rest of the hive to my dice collection – featuring a wide assortment of four, six, eight, ten, twelve, and twenty-sided dice. The team considered ways that the dice could be used in tandem to represent a wide variety of fractional and percentile representation for use as a game mechanic. Dice are used this way, Dylan explained, in role-playing games (RPGs) all the time.

The team circled around the fraction question uncomfortably for a while before exploring Professor Baker’s other issue, scientific notation. The use of exponents to represent incredibly large (and as Chris pointed out also incredibly tiny) numbers opened a bit of a creative floodgate. The game of Risk was described to the team to help them imagine a large-scale asset being represented with manageable representation. Risk represents battalions of soldiers as single roman numerals, which are then manageable on the tabletop world map that makes up the game board. The team began a rapid-fire brainstorming session of developing a game representing the anatomical battle of viral infection and an opposing immune system. Here instead of a world map players would be confronted with an anatomical map illustrating the human body, its organs, nervous system and/or muscle tissue. Players would take on the role of either a virus invading the map or the body’s immune system acting to defend territory. These opposing powers would replicate and build in number according to various components introduced to the situation, and numbers would end up being represented in exponential representation at the peak of the battle.

Chris asked if this couldn’t also be a medium for a fraction game at the same time, and all agreed it was feasible, but I mentioned that it would be important to have fractions under the student’s belt long before the concepts of scientific notation. This could make for confusion if introduced too early in the curriculum, or be unnecessary later in the tem. Elijah threw out the idea that this could be simplified for earlier in the semester and (like the number line game of the previous session) be made modular in order to have students coming back to the game over the course of the semester.

Dylan suggested focusing on an organ such as the heart, having the virus infecting fractions or percentages of the valves, and so simplifying the battle to a whole object that would be more easily discernable. This would perhaps even provide for quicker game times.

The team tabled this concept to come back to later.

The next concept returned to Elijah’s social pie game by first working to create a more engaging narrative. Someone suggested building a planet with the proper percentages of elements from a collection spread throughout the student group. The planet could be divided into a pie chart of elements and students would have to negotiate with each other to create assigned planets in our solar system. So for example a quick dive into Wikipedia tells us that Mercury has no substantial atmosphere, which mostly consists of a small amount of helium and traces of sodium, potassium, and oxygen. Venus has an atmosphere mostly made up of carbon dioxide with some nitrogen and argon. A bit more research and we could uncover generalized percentages in order to use these in the game. This lead to the concept of a solar system spread around the classroom where each planet would have a different soup of atmospheric elements that would need to be built from a collection distributed among the students. Once built, these planets could then be terra-formed according to the needs of life forms drawn from a deck of cards.

The group then began considering the use of scientific notation for use by the students in developing and controlling life-form populations on the planets they create. Once again,we were considering a modular game that could be returned to with more complexity over the course of a semester.

So by the end of the morning the Hive had sketched out two quite impressive game concepts with staged complexity that introduce some scientific information while focused on introducing fractions in introductory stages and potentially develop to more complex mathematical concepts in later stages.

When the science professors Francisco Fernandez and Nelson Nuñez-Rodriguez came to join us they initially had a reaction to the complexity of the science involved in the morning’s game concepts. They pointed out that for many of the students at Hostos, even scientific language could be overwhelming, and the language used in the narrative would be problematic while the science too complex. Nelson suggested that drawing the narrative from familiar subjects such as cooking cup cakes would be more effective. Switching out the planets for cup cakes in the fraction game would allow students who bake to relate to the concept of proportions more clearly.

Dylan was quick to point out that the narrative was secondary to the mechanics of play here, and that mastery of the scientific concepts would be ancillary and unnecessary to successful experience of play. The primary goals, after all, were helping students understand fractional divisions and combinations. Personally having had many of my students describe experiencing a variety of role playing games like Art of War involving real time strategy in an often richly historical context, and Bioshock involving relatively advanced scientific concepts, I feel that the language might actually be less threatening in the realm of play.

An interesting aside here, other than Dylan, the Hive is entirely made up of former or current Hostos media students. During the brainstorming of the planet game I had a block in searching for the word for the concept of developing atmospheres on other planets in order to make them habitable for humans. The word, of course, was terraforming. When I asked the group what the word for this was more than half the room simultaneously blurted the word at me – none of them were unfamiliar with the term. None of these students were particularly interested in science – as we discovered later in the day – I instead attribute their familiarity with such a term with the pervasiveness of science-fiction in modern media. Thank you, Star Trek.

Once the morning’s work had been discussed with professors Cannon, Disanto, Fernandez, & Nuñez-Rodriguez (professor Baker could not attend), we returned to the Faculty assignment of clarifying the SLOs raised by the courses Biology 110 & Environmental Science 110 and a first draft of associated issues students normally encounter with them. We first divided the term into three levels focusing on the outcomes of each section, and Nelson & Francisco were able to chart out the following for us:

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We discussed the following SLOs

We discussed the following SLOs

One of the primary outcomes of this conversation as well as the mapping of the SLOs and student issues was that we were made aware of the profound inefficiency of not having students first explore chemistry when studying biology. According to our colleagues, the primary issues students had with both Biology and Environmental Science (which is largely a applied chemistry course) was the understanding of how foundational chemistry is to the sciences. Most importantly: many of the student issues in Biology centered on lack of understanding of chemistry.

Discussions then turned to possible methods of gamifying chemistry concepts. Francisco introduced the group to an ionic bond game concept where students had to match anions and cations on a graph to score points. They are awarded more points when they provide specifics about the resulting bonds.

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Prof Fernandez's Bond Game

Prof Fernandez’s Bond Game

The energy in the room picked up palpably as the game was explained, and Dylan suggested that it could be made more competitive by the introduction of a Four Square approach where players work to connect four positions on a grid in a row, column, or diagonal.

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18th Century version of Captain’s Mistress an early version of Connect Four (pictured right)

18th Century version of Captain’s Mistress an early version of Connect Four (pictured right)

These positions, the team surmised, could be won over by opponents with secondary information on the chemicals such as what objects in everyday life they were involved in or common uses it had. This would give an element of strategy to the game that would make it more entertaining while also engaging students in a deeper understanding of the subject matter. This brought Professor Catherine Cannon to consider an image element, which Jacqueline strongly supported. Associating images with the subject matter gives a secondary tacit knowledge base for a student to relate to the subject.

This lead to the concept of a more social and physical game where the graph could be placed on a wall and Velcro tiles could be applied to the graph by students to show the compounds in their scientific abbreviations (such as AlCl3), their English names (Aluminum Chloride), and images of their application (Antiperspirants & industrial detergents).

The concept of throwing VelcroTM balls at a fiber wall graph to command positions was briefly discussed, although it later was felt that strategic command of the board should be more selective and non-athletic students might be at a disadvantage to strategy were they to have to throw a ball at the desired position. However, the concept of physical activity in relation to the game was deemed highly advantageous by Professor Disanto who noted several studies that had proven physical movement in the learning process was extremely advantageous to college age students. The group received this emphasis on physical movement with excitement, and we all agreed to work on introducing physical activities to provide this in our game designs when plausible.

Jacqueline did agree that the act of moving around the room reaching up and velcroing images and content to a graph board wall would be an excellent numatic (WC?) element.

With that the group dispersed with the Hive members beginning to research the science SLOs to have a better understanding of what they were to deal with. By the end of the afternoon the team was getting frustrated with Chemistry they had not studied in school, and the lack of enthusiasm was palpable. I pulled the students off of their research and asked them to playtest games we had previously deemed potentially viable. Chris, Dylan, and Elijah dug into Strain, while Kidany and Waleska began putting together the elements for an open source game they found on the Internet called Octet. The rest of the afternoon was spent gaining an understanding of and playtesting the games.

My take away from the afternoon’s session with the Hive was that much of the science was going to need to be explained to them in order for them to actually get a grip on the topics and begin to brainstorm concepts with us. This would put a great deal more pressure on Francisco and Nelson, but I believe will pay off in spades as the students also double as an excellent test audience for the data points. If we can get them to have mastery of the concepts while designing, building, and playtesting games around them, we are mirroring the proposed learning environment we came together to build.

At the close of the day members of the Hive sat and discussed a briefly voiced concept by Chris and Dylan that a good many games involve methods of acquiring information that mirror or replicate the Scientific method. Modifying games like Guess Who (which involves a series of questions refining and focusing characteristics until a fictitious person is revealed), or Clue (where elements of a Agatha Christie like murder mystery are revealed through play until a hypothesis can be developed regarding the killer, their method, and where in a great mansion the act was done) could well be a road to teaching the scientific method. As we parted company we agreed that when we reconvened on the 11th we would pursue this more.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

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