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The second post in my series on teaching games in the classroom! I forgot to post this here when the blog went up, though, so the third is only a few days away!

This post is specifically about how games fit into a modern definition of literature, and it looks at a lot of research on using games in the classroom!

~Nathan
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I haven't blogged at all in YEARS, but I'm starting up again with my own teaching/gaming blog at www.larcenousdesigns.com!

I'm interested in hearing thoughts and feedback on the idea of using video games as texts in class; my first blog post in a series on this subject is about considering what 'literature' means in this context, and I'm happy to have disagreement or discussion on that, but the later posts will be more specifically about the use of games.

So, if you are interested in the idea, have negative or positive feedback, or even experience to share on the subject, I'd love to hear it! I'm especially interested in recommendations for games that might be used in a classroom, as my later posts will start to include critiques of such things.

Thanks, anyone-who-is-still-out-there.
~Nathan Rockwood
rockwood: (Smile)
Having been recently experimenting with a cake/bread recipe that calls for a box of instant pudding, I decided I wanted to bake the same thing but sans all the chemicals and artificial stuff from the pre-made pudding mixes. As a result, a little research and experimentation turned up the following recipe for instant pudding!

Actually, it's not QUITE instant pudding--it still requires heating in a saucepan, but it's really super-fast. Though I must admit I haven't yet tried mixing it straight with cold milk; that might work too.

Ingredients:
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup cornstarch
3/4 cup nonfat dry milk
1/4 tsp salt

Mix all the ingredients thoroughly and store them in an airtight container until you want to make pudding.

To use, heat 2 cups milk in a saucepan over low/medium-low heat. As it begins heating, add 1/2 cup of the pudding powder mix and any flavoring you might like:

Super-Chocolate: 4 tbs Hershey's special dark unsweetened cocoa powder. (1/2 tsp of orange extract, vanilla extract, or mint extract might make good additions to this!)
Vanilla Cinnamon: 1 tsp vanilla extract, 2 tsp powdered cinnamon.
Lemon: 1 tsp lemon extract.

Heat the mixture, stirring constantly with a squiggly plastic device (technical term, that) until it begins to thicken; be sure to scrape at the bottom to prevent layering. When you can lift a bit out and drip it back and still see the wrinkles it creates for a few seconds, the pudding is done!

Transfer the pudding to a heat-proof bowl and place in fridge (optionally, you can cover it with plastic wrap). Allow it to cool; it will almost certainly develop a thick skin on top as the surface dries out a bit, but that's okay, and the skin is perfectly edible (on chocolate pudding, it will be quite dark, almost black).

Suggested serving size is about half a cup of prepared pudding.

Blessed be,
~Nathan
rockwood: (Tome)
Well, I'm not sure about the crossposting deal, but I'm testing out my new DreamWidth account.

Testing... testing....

Blessed be,
~Nathan
rockwood: (Default)
Firstly, teacher training should go like this.

And secondly, Tesla Coils can be used to synthesize music...including the Doctor Who theme.

That is all.

Blessed be,
~Nathan

rockwood: (Smile)
Apparently, wayyyyy back, one of my ancestors was actually robbed of a company payroll by a trio of highwaymen who then placed him on railroad tracks. [Link to a PDF of the article]

Italian highwaymen. With revolvers. In 1904!

I love historical documents.

Blessed be,
~Nathan



rockwood: (Smile)
TED talks are awesome in general, but this one is spectacular! (URL below just in case link doesn't work)

http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/pattie_maes_demos_the_sixth_sense.html

Wearable computing and the 'sixth sense' technologies are definitely something I'd be interested in trying out someday.
Blessed be,
~Nathan

rockwood: (Smile)
Well, the tree is up and decorated, the presents are beneath it.... and the creche/nativity scene that my dad always insists on is arranged on a nearby table. However, in a change from most years, dad came out of the room where he was setting it up and informed us that:

The birth of baby Jesus is attended by three wise men, a cow that is smaller than the sheep, a snow globe, a snow man, a fire lizard, and a giant Easter bunny.

As my dad said, "It's a tradition. I don't know of what, but it's a tradition." Apparently, species come together from all across the galaxy to celebrate the opening of presents.

Our tree, by the way, includes the starship Defiant and a Klingon Bird-of-Prey.

And now I should go finish up one or two other things; I have a piece of writing I hope to post online tomorrow in honor of the holiday, and there be food to consume (making own herb butter = fun times).

Blessed be,
~Nathan

rockwood: (Default)
Everything I need to know about a sense of patience and delayed gratification, I learned from Sam Vimes and Moist von Lipwig. Hope, they teach, is the greatest gift a person can receive. Jam today just leads to a distinct lack of jam tomorrow, but even the most wretched peasant can live happily if they live in hope of jam tomorrow.

This holiday message has been brought to you by....

Seriously, though, I've recently begun noticing a substantial increase in the sense of satisfaction I derive from the knowledge of jam tomorrow. It also helps save money. Rather than buying a new computer game in the last month or so, I just browsed reviews, looked at critical evaluations, and enjoyed thinking about which ones might be more fun to try sometime in the future. And I've been planning to head into town to get a slice of fancy cake or similar at a coffee shop; first I planned to make that trip at the beginning of Thanksgiving Break, and then when I finished my writing contract, and then when classes were over for the semester (today). Now I'm planning to go get it when I finish my last exam next Thursday. 

This is probably a good thing, considering that teaching is a profession big on jam tomorrow. When you provide education and try to encourage a sense of success and personal worth in kids, you don't actually get to see how you changed their futures until---surprise, surprise---the future, and even then, 99% of them won't be in touch.

And the saving-money bit will be helpful too, considering the pay....

Blessed be,
~Nathan

PS: Also, a good substitute for jam is homemade chocolate covered popcorn.

rockwood: (Smile)
Well, I may have to incorporate this particular trick into my novel; I just love the idea of stealing a structure like the Empire State Building as part of a plot...

Truth: It's Stranger than Fiction. It is, as Fox Mulder says, "Out there."

Blessed be,
~Nathan

rockwood: (Tome)
Well, I probably can't elaborate on what's actually in it, but I'm happy to say the Serenity RPG supplement, Big Damn Heroes Handbook, is pretty much done with the writing phase and is moving into development. Doesn't mean it's about to hit the shelves or anything, but it's moving! And I've gotta say that I'm really happy with the way it's looking. I liked the recent Serenity Adventures and Six-Shooters & Spaceships, but this one is gonna have all manner of new Traits, optional/updated rules, and so forth. Perhaps I'm biased because I wrote chunks of this one, but it really does move the game along nicely, while the other two supplements mostly provided new content.

Also, this video is amazing (but unrelated); be sure to watch til the end, especially if you're not a fan of Windows:


Video link in case the embed doesn't work.

Blessed be,
~Nathan

rockwood: (Default)
Just completed my 33-page, 4-lesson unit plan---assuming I can find paper and get it to print. The professor is a real pain on formatting, so I can't afford to transfer it to a school computer and print it there, lest something change in the middle; if the margins are even slightly less than 1 inch, if the space between the lines changes to be less than 1.5, or if the font style, size, or settings change, I could lose 20% of the grade automatically.

Fortunately, I seem to have gotten everything in place for now.

Writing a full unit plan like this is definitely good practice for lesson planning, but I'm doubtful that I'll ever produce something like this for my own use in the future. Yes, for my portfolio, when I'm being observed, or for a substitute, but not for myself. I'm glad I know how to do it right, and I don't begrudge the teacher the assignment here, but a big part of being a successful and effective teacher is the ability to modify and adjust on the fly. The point of learning how to produce these plans is pretty much to simply ensure that you CAN each individual part of it, since you might have to use those skills to make partial plans in the future---but the amount of time it requires to craft them with this level of detail would be prohibitive during a schoolyear.

I do think I could see myself making a few up each summer/break in order to have them on hand for future reference, for just the same reason that I might look some up online or borrow them from other teachers: they can be useful, sometimes. You just shouldn't make yourself beholden to every detail, lest you wind up teaching yourself into a corner, so to speak.

Blessed be,
~Nathan

rockwood: (Default)
I like tomato sauce for pasta (among other sauces), but I always feel it's not really a solid meal unless it's a thick tomato sauce---usually one with ground beef or turkey---rather than a thin marinara type.

Now, I'm not vegetarian myself, but I like to cook for one in particular, so this posed a bit of a conundrum. More so, since beyond just being less tasty, a thin tomato sauce offers zilch in the way of protein.  Fortunately, a little bit of experimentation with myself as the guinea pig has proven that Morningstar Farms brand 'griller' crumbles make an acceptable substitute, at least as far as I can tell.

Here's tonight's version:
Dice a medium or large sweet onion. Heat 2-3 tablespoons of oil in a deep frying/sauce pan (I like the ones with vertical sides, rather than the bowl-shaped ones) over medium-high heat; add in 3 cloves of mashed/pressed/diced garlic and 2 bay leaves, and stir gently until the bay leaves start to brown. Add the onion, and cook until the onion is gone mostly transparent and JUST starting to fry, stirring constantly. This can take a bit.

Then add 3 teaspoons of dried basil, 2 teaspoons dried oregano, 2 teaspoons dried thyme, and a little more oil if it's going dry. Mix thoroughly, and then add one 12oz package of the Morningstar crumbles and mix again. The crumbles should cook/thaw pretty fast; as they start to, reduce the heat to medium. After stirring for about 2-3 minutes, dump in one jar of your tomato sauce of choice (I recommend a basil or olive oil & garlic variety). Grind some peppercorn into the mix, about five or six twists of a hand grinder or similar, and 3-5 tablespoons of grated parmesean cheese, and mix everything thoroughly. Let it continue cooking until it's as thick as you prefer, and serve on a pasta of your choice.

Came out quite well, though if you don't let the crumbles cook long enough they can be a bit chewy.

Blessed be,
~Nathan
rockwood: (Default)
There's an old saying:
Actions speak louder than words. Or:

Your actions are speaking so loudly that I cannot hear what you say. Or:

I'm sorry, I can't hear you over the sound of your actions. Or:

....well, the list goes on. But it comes down to the idea that the only real way to see what a person will do is to, in fact, see what they do. So go out and vote; we've been talking about it for a long while, and now it is time to do.

My motto:

Do what you Say, Say what you Mean, Mean what you Do.

I just got back from voting, and there's been a larger-than-expected turnout so far. Let's keep it up!

Blessed be,
~Nathan

rockwood: (Smile)
Though it's been available for a little while in 'prerelease' format, yesterday the Cortex Role Playing Game PDF was updated to the full version. Anyone who bought the prerelease PDF gets this one for free as an updated download.

The differences are significant, but not mind-bendingly so: Slightly more art, substantially revised Traits in some cases, lots of typos fixed, a second version of the character sheet, an index (short, but fairly complete).

There are still a few typos to be fixed before printing---and, of course, anything that gets fixed will become a free update to those with the PDF---but otherwise the game is looking amazingly solid. I can't wait to play something with it!

....and publish my own sourcebook, too :-)

Blessed be,
~Nathan

rockwood: (Default)
One thing I've been reading and thinking about lately is the use of 'bell work;' bell work is, essentially, an assignment that is already written on the board/placed at their seats for students to start as soon as they enter your classroom. This minimizes the transition time from "student enters room" --> "class is quiet and ready to start." If possible, it also gives the teacher a chance to take roll or similar without having to waste class time while students sit on their hands and wait.

This is important because students without a clear purpose and goal are much more likely to start causing trouble or acting out. The time saved is not just the time spent taking roll, but also the time spent disciplining students or getting everyone back on track. Time is already in short enough supply, so finding ways to conserve it is always a plus.

This can be especially true on the first day of school, according to Harry and Rosemary Wong, a super-widely-read husband-wife team who teach about teaching. On the first day of school, you have to make a first impression, get to know your students, introduce your discipline and classroom management systems, and get everything started for the rest of the year. Do that right and everything else will be much, much easier to handle.

Pondering this, I've come up with a few thoughts about how to start off my own classes. Assuming I'm teaching high school English, I want to have an initial bell work assignment prepped that will both introduce me/the course and do something useful. So here's what I'd do:

When they arrive on the first day of my class, each student will find on their desk an envelope addressed to them. Inside will be a short letter from me, introducing myself and explaining what to do with the rest of the contents of the envelope.

Once they've read the letter, students will write a letter of their own. I'll include a form for a letter very much like the one I wrote, allowing the students to introduce themselves to me that way. The letter will cover some basic preferences and factoids, and will also get them to give me a little information about their reading and writing experiences. Hopefully, beyond the simple benefit of getting to know my students more substantially,  this will help give me a pre-assessment of their writing ability (not just from what they say, but also from how well they say it), it might teach them a bit about letter writing for correspondence (something not everyone knows how to do), and it will give them the immediate impression that this class involves both reading and writing for specific, visible purposes.

The envelope will also include a copy of my classroom discipline plan and procedures, which I'll go over with the students soon after their bell work is complete and I've introduced myself orally to the whole class (though I'm still working on what, exactly, my discipline plan and procedures will be). Of course, while bell work is under way, I'll need to be doing more than simply taking roll. I'll stand at the door to guide and greet students until the bell rings/everyone arrives, and once I've taken roll by seeing which seats and envelopes are unoccupied, I'll circulate through the classroom and keep track of how things are going.

Or, alternatively, I suppose once everyone arrives I could stop the bell work before the letters are complete (making that a homework assignment), and then move straight on from there to a direct introduction.

I'll have to think about it some more, but I like the idea of bell work. I agree completely with all the sources I've read who say that an unoccupied student is a danger to the whole class's concentration. I'm not exactly sure that this is the perfect bell work assignment with which to start the year, but I like the idea of incorporating letter-writing into class in one or more ways, and encouraging students to write outside of class at all: first the letters, than hopefully their own fiction, if they're so inclined.

Blessed be,
~Nathan

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Seeing the second episode has given me more of a read on the show.

The basic premise is still potentially interesting. Ancient, pseudo-scientifically-genetically-magically modified monster hunters who put themselves slightly above the law and hunt or save creatures based on their own gut feelings at the time. The graphics are generally very pretty, but an inordinate amount of them are CG; they're good for TV effects, but they're still visibly computer generated. I don't really understand why so much of the intro is CG, considering that it could be shots of a real old mansion or even just a real dusty library, but...eh. It's not terrible. The CG-ified shot of a highway and cars on it is a bit much, though.

The music is also really quite good, so that gets a few points. Nice combination of sound effects and instrument tones.The acting and writing of dialogue could use some work, though. A lot of work. Especially the gun fighting; it's like watching a bunch of high school students doing a stiff-armed, too-slow Matrix mimicry.

Wait a second. That premise, plus good graphics and visual design, plus great music, plus poor character movement and often-bad dialogue backed up by often-bad delivery of same? We seem to have stumbled onto The Witcher, the TV show, minus the lead character. That would explain things somewhat.

Still not impressed, though slightly amused. I'll edit this post to add a bit more once I have some thoughts on the plot.

EDIT: OMG, I found the good actor. The computer tech/repair guy of the bunch, Henry, is both well written and well acted. Of course, he only shows up for about 30 seconds.

Henry, after an explosion: "You know how when stuff blows up, and I say, "Man, this is gonna cost you," and you say, "Henry, stop being so dramatic?"
Woman: "Henry..."
Henry: "This is gonna cost you."
Woman from Stargate in bad English Accent: "What was affected?"
Henry: "Well, central lab mostly---diagnostics, MRIs are gonzo... Oh, and I think the internet is down.
Woman from Stargate in bad English accent: "What about security protocals?"
Henry: "Well, redundancies kicked in, so nothing mean and ugly got out, which is good, but the perimeter alarm systems are fried, which is bad."
Woman from Stargate: "Focus on restoring the external defenses. Leave the lab for later."
Henry: "Why? We expecting more trouble?" Beat. Shakes his head. "No, that was a stupid question. Never mind, I'm outside..."

Other good quotes: "These guys are one James Bond film away from global domination!"

and

"I'm fine---did you get them out?"
"Yeah---if they can read Googlemaps, they should be well on their way."

Which leads to a plot commentary: There is some interesting possibility of global-monster-hunting conspiracy, but the terrible dialogue is terrible. I'm pretty sure this is yet another fantasy show on SciFi that is going to die off JUST before the writers figure it out, and we'll see yet another good concept go bye-bye.

Blessed be,
~Nathan
rockwood: (Smile)
Stand back, Scientology; you've got competition in the I-can't-believe-it's-not-dismissed category. Though, I must admit, I think this one is funnier; there are fewer potential evils here, and no brain-washing scam that I can detect thus far.

According to the BBC, the Czech Wallachian Kingdom is under attack.

Founded in 1997 in a mountainous area in southeast Moravia, Wallachia is a real place with a real hat. It also has real restaurants, hotels, and a traditional plum brandy. However, the the currency (the Jurovalsar), the University of the Wallachian Kingdom, and the passports are NOT real.

As Tomas Harabis, creator (co-creator, really) and foreign minister of Wallachia says of the passports, "They are fake. But I did get into Alaska with one."

Apparently, 90,000 people have such passports.

Unfortunately, a clown (literally, actual clown) had himself crowned "Wallachian King, Boleslav I the Gracious, Forever" on his TV show in 1993, four years PRIOR to the creation of the kingdom. At first there was a successful relationship between the two, with King Boleslav being crowned, his signature appearing on passports, and similar---but when he decided to try and control the financial aspects of the kingdom, Harabis declared a 'Palace Coup' and installed a Queen Mother instead.

The clown-king sued the kingdom, and lost, in 2007; the Czech court in Olomouc is now ruling on the final verdict of an appeal. King Boleslav wants the copyright to the Kingdom of Wallachia....

And in the meantime, I appeal to all good people of Wallachia and holders of Wallachian passports: GO TO ALASKA. PLEASE. And then appear on American talkshows and discuss Palin's border security.

Blessed be,
~Nathan

rockwood: (Default)
Last week, as part of a class on Curriculum Development and Instruction, I attended a lecture by Todd Zakrajsek. The lecture covered several ideas, but one stood out particularly: how to praise students in a helpful manner.

Apparently drawn from a study discussed in Carol Dweck's book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Todd explained that there are several different ways to praise a student, and that they mostly boil down to:
1. "Good job; you're clearly very smart!"
2. "Good job!"
3. "Good job; you clearly worked very hard!"

A study conducted on three groups of students went something like this. All students were given a set of simple anagrams to solve, consistening of three-five letter words that were pretty obvious. Most of the students completed about 50-75% of the anagrams, and all the students were praised (each group of students given a different form of praise from the above list).

Next, all three groups were given an extremely difficult set of anagrams to solve, using eight-ten letter words with much less obvious solutions. Almost all of the students failed, completing only one or two anagrams; no praise was administered (neither were any consequences).

The last part of the study was to give each group a final set of anagrams, this one of comparable difficulty to the first. Theoretically, they should have been able to complete 50-75% of them easily.

That's where the interesting stuff comes in. The middle group---the ones who had simply been told "Good job!"---performed at the expected baseline. Their results were the same as after the first round of anagrams.

The third group, who had been told "Good job; you clearly worked very hard," improved their performance significantly. More of them completed all or almost all of the anagrams.

The first group, who had been told "Good job; you're clearly very smart," actually performed significantly worse than they had initially, many of them failing despite the fact that they'd done well on the first round.

The reasoning here is pretty simple. When you praise someone by telling them "You are smart," you are assigning a value to THEM. They are smart, which is an intangible thing they can't control, even if it makes them feel good at the time. However, when you then challenge such a student, their reaction is to shut down. They will cease to try, even after the challenging part is over, because they feel they must not be smart enough to continue. Since the value you gave them is inherent to their nature, it's all-or-nothing situation; things are either easy, or impossible.

On the other hand, when you praise the student by telling them "You worked hard," you are assigning value to the WORK, which is something they can control. When you then challenge these students (for example, by giving them work they cannot complete), rather than shutting down, their response is to work harder and put more effort into their work, even on easy assignments. They feel they can improve, and so they do.

This is something that has come up in several of my classes---praise the work, not the student---but this is the first time I've seen direct study on the subject. And I didn't realize what a negative effect praise could have. Henceforth, my personal policy will be to be extremely careful to talk to students about the work they've done and what they've succeeded at---not about intelligence. This is the kind of error that causes students to (like me) get stuck in a rut such as: "I can't do math; I'm just not a math person." In all actuality, while math might be HARD for me, I would have a much more positive attitude towards it if I'd been praised, while learning it, on the basis of my effort and not my intelligence.

Of course, that doesn't mean you should never comment to students that you think they're gifted in a certain area---but you need to be sure to tie it in to effort, regardless. I'll never tell a student, for example, "This paper is amazing! You really have a talent for persuasive essays," because then---psychologically speaking---if they ever have an 'off day' and turn in a poor paper, they will begin shutting down. They'll know they're talented, but they'll feel they've hit the limits of their talent, and can progress no further. Instead, I'll say, "This paper is amazing! When you work this hard, your talent really shines through."

Blessed be,
~Nathan

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