Thursday, January 28, 2010

Playing History - History Games

Not a perfect site, but there are some interesting games for students.

Playing History - History Games: "Playing History is a collection of 128 games related to topics in US and World History as well as civics and geography. The games come from a variety of sources across the web. Feedback on every game and suggestions for future additions are welcomed by the hosts of the site. Visitors to Playing History can search for games by using the tag cloud, by using the search box, or just browse through the entire list. I clicked on the tag 'Supreme Court' and found nine games that I could use next fall in my US Civics course.

Applications for Education
Playing History offers a wide array of educational games for use in elementary, middle, and high school social studies course. Find a game that matches your curriculum and add it to your classroom website or blog to provide your students with fun review activity that they can use at home or at school.

Here are some related resources that may be of interest to you:
HeyZap - Strategy Games for Your Class Website
Think About History Trivia Game
200+ Free Games for Your Class Blog or Website


Seventh Circuit Rules Dungeons & Dragons A Threat to Prison Security

Finally, the true danger of d&d is revealed. It explains a lot.

Seventh Circuit Rules Dungeons & Dragons A Threat to Prison Security: "

Dungeons Dragons dice.JPGPredictably, I used to play Dungeons & Dragons in high school. Just as predictably, I didn't lose my virginity until I stopped. It's an established fact that Dungeons & Dragons is a bigger threat to human reproduction than all the gay marriages in the world.

But I did not know until this day that D&D could also pose a security risk. A Wisconsin prisoner, Kevin T. Singer, sued Wisconsin's Waupun Correctional Institution after the guards confiscated his D&D materials.

Why did the prison guards take away this guy's D&D paraphernalia? I'll let Judge John Tinder of the Seventh Circuit explain:

Waupun's long-serving Disruptive Group Coordinator, Captain Bruce Muraski, received an anonymous letter from an inmate. The letter expressed concern that Singer and three other inmates were forming a D&D gang and were trying to recruit others to join by passing around their D&D publications and touting the "rush" they got from playing the game. Muraski, Waupun's expert on gang activity, decided to heed the letter's advice and "check into this gang before it gets out of hand."

A gang? A gang that needs to be checked? I've never been to prison, but I have watched Oz. I'm forced to believe one of two things: (a) any D&D "gang" member would find themselves tossing salads faster than you can say "saving throw against horrific prison justice ... fails," or (b) if you could beat up the D&D kids in your high school, then you can go to Wisconsin, commit violent crimes with impunity, get sent to prison and live like a God.

Singer sued the prison for violating his First Amendment rights. The district court ruled with the correctional facility on summary judgment, and the Seventh Circuit affirmed.

Does that mean we get to hear the Seventh Circuit argue that D&D is gang-like? Yes it does. Will that be hilarious? More fun than hacking through an encampment of goblins with a dwarven ax of immolation.

Details after the jump.

Singer collected the affidavits of numerous prisoners and statements by three role playing game "experts" (i.e., eunuchs), who all stated that that Dungeons & Dragons is not a gang. The prison had the testimony of Captain Bruce Muraski, a gang specialist. His testimony makes me wish that we had better gang specialists:

[Muraski] explained that the policy was intended to promote prison security because cooperative games can mimic the organization of gangs and lead to the actual development thereof. Muraski elaborated that during D&D games, one player is denoted the "Dungeon Master." The Dungeon Master is tasked with giving directions to other players, which Muraski testified mimics the organization of a gang. At bottom, his testimony about this policy aim highlighted Waupun's worries about cooperative activity among inmates, particularly that carried out in an organized, hierarchical fashion.

Look, I know the title 'dungeon master' sounds scary and important. But don't let the words confuse you. We're talking about a guy who sits around all day drawing maps and debating whether a cloak of anti-venom can protect you from a fictional rat bite. (Note: It can't, rats have diseases, anti-venom contemplates poisons, those are two completely different things. Please don't tell my wife about this.)

But, the Seventh Circuit bought Muraski's logic:

Singer maintains that his fifteen affiants delivered compelling testimony challenging Muraski's assertion that D&D could promote gang-related activity. His eleven inmate affiants--who collectively served over 100 years in prison--all testified that they had never heard of any gang-related or other violent activity associated with D&D gameplay or paraphernalia. In Singer's view, this testimony adequately rebuts Muraski's testimony that D&D gameplay mimics the organization of a gang and as a consequence could lead to gang behavior. In our view, it does not.

Okay, 11 people who have been in prison for a hundred years say that linking D&D to gang behavior is ridiculous. In response, the court ignores them on the "silly criminals" theory of jurisprudence:

The question is not whether D&D has led to gang behavior in the past; the prison officials concede that it has not. The question is whether the prison officials are rational in their belief that, if left unchecked, D&D could lead to gang behavior among inmates and undermine prison security in the future. Singer's affiants demonstrate significant personal knowledge about D&D's rules and gameplay, and offer their own assessments that D&D does not lead to gang
behavior, but they lack the qualifications necessary to determine whether the relationship between the D&D ban and the maintenance of prison security is "so remote as to render the policy arbitrary or irrational." ...

(Of course, many of Singer's affiants are present or former inmates, but their experiential 'expertise' in prison security is from the wrong side of the bars and fails to match Muraski's perspective.) The expertise critical here is that relating to prisons, their security, and the prevention of prison gang activity. Singer's affiants conspicuously lack such expertise.

The Seventh Circuit conspicuously lacks the expertise in Dungeons & Dragons or role-playing games, but they get to wear the robes. I just hope they're happy when, stripped of their D&D responsibilities, Singer and his merry band of players join the Nation of Islam, become radicalized, and trade in their multi-sided dice for singled-edged blades.

I mean, let's be clear, it's not like Singer is a peaceful man. Singer is in jail on a life sentence for first degree murder. He killed his sister's boyfriend with a sledgehammer (and now you see why I suggested that Singer probably plays a Dwarf, warrior class). If he's found an outlet for some of his more violent tenancies, isn't that a good thing?

The court says that it is not a good thing, not necessarily:

While Cardwell and his other affiants, including a literacy tutor and a role-playing game analyst, testified to a positive relationship between D&D and rehabilitation, none disputed or even acknowledged the prison officials' assertions that there are valid reasons to fear a relationship running in the opposite direction. The prison officials pointed to a few published circuit court cases to give traction to their views. We view these cases as persuasive evidence that for some individuals, games like D&D can impede rehabilitation, lead to escapist tendencies, or result in more dire consequences.

More dire consequences than what, precisely? He's already beaten somebody to death with a freaking sledgehammer; what the hell else can he do?

Sorry, obviously, this is where my bleeding heart gets the best of me. Because all this is about is punishment. It's not about rehabilitation, it's not about security, it's about old-school vengeance carried out by state actors. He killed somebody, and we as a society found something else he liked that we can take away. So we're going to take it away. It's Christopher Lloyd playing a Klingon in Star Trek 3 telling Kirk he won't beam up Spock 'because you wish it.'

I guess that is our right. I guess there is no compelling interest in making the life imprisonment of a murderer a little less horrible. But vengeance, even when legal, is still ugly. The Seventh Circuit just made a Lawful Evil decision here.

Singer v. Raemisch [U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (PDF)]

Game Over: Inmate Can't Play Dungeons & Dragons [New York Times]

Dungeons & Dragons - Crime - Dungeon Master - Crime and Justice - Prison"

High School, College Instructors Differ on Students' Readiness

High School, College Instructors Differ on Students' Readiness: "

What does it mean when far more high school teachers think their students are ready for college than do the college instructors who teach them? It means we have a pretty big disconnect between what high schools think is needed for success in college and what actually is needed.

This is not exactly news. We know there are many reasons that high school students fail to make it to college, or fail to thrive once they're there. But a new survey of thousands of high school and college teachers, conducted by ACT Inc., fleshes out a few of the key reasons why.

One reason is that high school teachers and college instructors have differing views of what skills are important in college. High school teachers, for instance, rate things like media literacy and financial literacy as far more important than do college professors, who value the content areas of math, English, and science more.

Another is that high school teachers think they've prepared their students for the rigorous types of reading they will encounter in college, but college professors disagree. Science and math teachers in high school say it's important for students to master reading strategies in those subjects, but they spend little or no time teaching such things.

Expectations play a role, too. High school teachers say that they or their colleagues have lower expectations for students who are perceived as not being college-bound.

These are key new findings of the survey. The report also reiterates many other interesting findings from earlier ACT curriculum surveys that are worth examining. For example, high school teachers tend to see as crucial for college a very wide swath of content and skills, compared with college professors, who believe in a shorter list of essential skills and knowledge.

This is interesting stuff to keep in mind as the debate about defining and measuring college readiness rolls on. The full survey is packed with data; a shorter version that highlights the findings and focuses on their policy implications is also available.


How Madden is Raising a New Generation of Football Player [Sports]

How Madden is Raising a New Generation of Football Player [Sports]: "

When Denver's Brandon Stokely caught a game-winning pass against Cincinnati earlier this year, he veered parallel to the goal line en route to the end zone, to both burn time and celebrate. He told Wired it was a Madden-inspired move.

It's one of the more jaw-dropping anecdotal instances of how sports video games - specifically Madden - have raised a different generation of competitor, especially in American football. Increasingly, kids are reporting to the gridiron better versed in football terminology and more perceptive of circumstances on field, like disguised coverages and tricks to expose them.

And it's not just innate knowledge. Madden and other sims are increasingly used in preparation for actual games, Wired says:

At the Pop Warner Super Bowl in 2006, the winning team had 30 offensive plays, which it had learned through Madden. ('I programmed our offense into Madden to help me memorize our plays,' one 11-year-old told Sports Illustrated. 'It was easier than homework.') Dezmon Briscoe, an all-conference wide receiver for the University of Kansas, credited Madden 2009 with teaching him how to read when defenses 'roll their coverages' - move their defensive backs to disguise their strategy. Chuck Kyle, a high school coach who has won 10 state championships in football-mad Ohio, has programmed his team USA playbook into Madden and uses it to teach players their assignments. So have coaches at Colorado State, Penn State, and the University of Missouri, among other schools.

I can tell you that Madden's effect isn't limited to performers. Simulation-quality Madden taught me to recognize certain formations and coverages, and how I wrote about high school football is noticeably different before and after my exposure to the game. It may not have as profound an impact as 22 players on the field, all growing up playing Madden, but it too influences the public's knowledge and appreciation of a very complicated sport.

Game Changers: How Videogames Trained a Generation of Athletes [Wired]


U.S. Navy: Video Games Improve Brains, "Fluid Intelligence" [Effects]

Welcome to the new world:

U.S. Navy: Video Games Improve Brains, "Fluid Intelligence" [Effects]: "

The cognitive effects of certain video-game-style activities are not only impressive but can last a couple of years, a researcher for the Navy recently explained.

If gamers don't want to believe that video games have an effect on them — at least any effect that will cause them to do antisocial things — will they accept research that suggests games make their brains work better?

Here's Ray Perez, program officer for the Office of Naval Research's warfighter performance department:

'We have discovered that video game players perform 10 to 20 percent higher in terms of perceptual and cognitive ability than normal people that are non-game players,' s


'We know that video games can increase perceptual abilities and short-term memory,' he said. They allow the player to focus longer and expand the player's field of vision compared to people who don't play video games, he added.

While there is empirical evidence of increased brain plasticity in video gamers, Perez said, the process behind it is not well understood. His belief, he said, is that the neural networks involved in video gaming become more pronounced, have increased blood flow, and become more synchronized with other neural networks in the brain.

Perez credits games and game-like simulations with giving people the ability to more quickly adapt new mental strategies for problem-solving. He says that, for 50 years, it was believed that no training could improve a person's "fluid intelligence" — the ability "to work outside your present mindset, to think beyond what you have been taught, to go beyond your experience to solve problems in new and different ways."

But video games, the Navy researcher believes, are proving to be able to improve fluid intelligence, for two to two-and-a-half years. To get the nuances here, be sure to read this report in full.

Adults Benefit from Playing Video Games
[U.S. Department of Defense's Armed With Science site] [PIC: Brain made of lime jello]


Study: Not All Kids Are Computer Whizzes

Is this really all that shocking to anyone who is even slightly fluent in the use of tech? From NPR:

Study: Not All Kids Are Computer Whizzes: "

A study reveals that kids have more trouble searching on the Internet than we may think. Guest host Audie Cornish speaks with Allison Druin, the director of the human-computer interaction lab at the University of Maryland. Durin discusses ways to help kids search more effectively online.

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New, deeper AP program

This eases my mind a bit about the AP program...

New, deeper AP program: "[This is my Local Living column for Jan. 28, 2010.] If someone told you the College Board was about to rip apart the SAT and rebuild it, would that excite/surprise/aggravate/frighten you? Me too. It’s about to happen, not to the SAT, but to our nation’s second-most influential test, Advanced Placement, with large consequences for our high schools and colleges. The AP program has such a tight grip on the school curriculums of suburban areas such as ours that it has come close to inspiring the same fear and consternation as the SAT and ACT. [See my new rankings of all Washington area schools, based on AP and International Baccalaureate test participation, this Monday on this blog and in the Post.] I think that’s good. AP is better than the SAT or ACT. It is a challenging series of courses in three dozen subjects ending in three-hour exams, independently written


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

US Navy: Gamers '10 to 20%' better at fighting terror

From Joystiq:

US Navy: Gamers '10 to 20%' better at fighting terror: "

The Office of Naval Research is currently conducting research in video game training that it says has 'surprising' results in regards to military personnel reaction time and adaptability in the fight against terror. According to an article available on the Department of Defense's official website, doctor of educational psychology and program officer Ray Perez said the research has discovered that video game players perform '10 to 20 percent higher in terms of perceptual and cognitive ability' than non-gamers.

Citing a need for soldiers to be 'agile problem solvers' and 'agile thinkers,' Perez notes that video game training can help field adaptability and the 'cognitive advances' derived from the training can last up to two and a half years.

'We know that video games can increase perceptual abilities and short-term memory,' Perez said, adding games allow players to focus longer and expand the field of vision compared to non-gamers. If it means the brave men and women serving have a better chance of coming home, we're all for it.

[Via GamePolitics]

JoystiqUS Navy: Gamers '10 to 20%' better at fighting terror originally appeared on Joystiq on Wed, 27 Jan 2010 04:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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