Rise of Nations. Fit for the Classroom?

This week our Tech Task in my ECMP335 class was to find and play an educational game and write a short review about it.  I have always been a fan of RTS (real-time strategy) games, and thought that the historical context of Rise of Nations may make it suitable for classroom use.  The game itself is quite similar to the Civilizations franchise in that it allows you to start with a small group of nomadic people and slowly grow their colony into multiple cities, eventually advancing to the Information Age. The game includes historical information the the Wonder’s of the World and asks the players to find a balance between developing your economy, your military, and expanding the size of your nation.

While very entertaining and engaging, I found that I would not have noticed the connections to the historical world had I not been specifically looking for them.   While I feel that educational games (or games that include educational elements like Civilizations or Rise of Nations) can be used to teach while at the same time creating an exciting engaging environment, I don’t believe that this translates well into the classroom.  I think as a future educator I will need to look at everything I do with a critical lens and examine the best ways to teach.  I don’t think technology should be used simply because it is the ‘next greatest thing’ or that it will ‘make teaching easier’ but instead should be viewed as another tool.   A tool that needs to be used in a calculated way to maximize its affect on students.

As a teacher, I always want to be doing the best thing for my students and if I am being honest, I don’t think that games like Rise of Nations facilitate a deeper learning than researching a textbook. That said, I know different people learn differently, but I feel that a game like this is something that would teach students, but one that should be played in the home instead of some other games.  I also think that as educators, we need to look at what games are doing correctly that engages participants so deeply.  By understanding those elements, perhaps we will be able to create lessons that spur the same connection and ultimately, deeper learning and understanding.

More to ponder I suppose.



Pumpkins 2011

Every year, for the past 4 years, my wife and I have been getting together with a couple of friends to carve pumpkins. Each year things have gotten a little crazier. For my pumpkin this year, I decided to do Salad Fingers, a character from an animation of the same name by David Firth.  I would have embedded one of the episodes, but it’s a little creepy so if you feel brave enough, check it out here.

Now, we don’t carve pumpkins in the traditional way of making holes all the way through the pumpkin culminating in a scary face.  Instead, we cut of just the skin and shave the flesh from the inside of the pumpkin to allow light to come through.  It’s kind of hard to explain in written form, so I’ll just show you what I mean.

First, carve out an outline of your picture.

I then decided to work on the face.  This part is usually the hardest, mainly trying to decide which pieces to cut, and which to leave in order to make the eyes look right.

Once the face is complete, I like to start cleaning some of the area around the picture to make a frame of sorts.

And there you have it.  The completed pumpkin prior to lighting.

Here’s what it looks like all lit up. OOOooooOOOOoooo  creeeepppppy….

Here is just the group photo.  Starting from the left, we have Lady Gaga (sorry it’s so dark), Salad Fingers, Jack Layton, and Wayne Gretzsky.

Well, that’s pumpkin carving for this year. I’ll have to wait until next year to try out my next idea. What kind of Halloween traditions do you have? Have a safe and Happy Halloween!


Global Learning

Gnigel – he helps me at work sometimes.

This past week in my ECMP 355 class was treated to a presntation by Silvia Tolisano, an expert in the field of Global Learning.  She shared some interesting websites that facilitate global connections. My favourite of these was the Teddy Bears Around the World project which has people telling stories from the perspective of their teddy bears.  The amazing part about this is that the perspective change based on where the teddy bears are located around the world.   This led me to check if there are similar sites related to gnomes (I happen to love gnomes and have a couple in our garden/yard already).  I was able to find some interesting sites like Gnome on the Go, but nothing that really fostered any sort  of a community of gnome lovers.  Maybe this is something I should start.  Gnomes are typically stolen from gardens and eventually returned with pictures of where they have been.  It would be awesome if all of these stories could be compiled in one place.

I also am amazed at how the world has ‘shurnk’ because of technology.  When I was a kid, my dad did some long term work overseas and the only way we were able to communicate was through letters and phone calls.  I also remember sending one email the entire 10 weeks he was away. This week, with the use of Skype, I was able to have face to face conversation with my parents while they were travelling in Australlia. The relative ease that it is to communicate globally leaves little excuse for teachers not willing to connect their classroom to the global community.   The world is changing and it is time classrooms began to change as well.’

Have a great day!  D.

Mid-Semester Blues

As the school year continues on, I’m starting to feel tired, fed up and finished.  It’s that old familiar friend, the mid-semester blues. Mid-terms are finished, which is nice, but I am hit with the realization that finals (and due dates for final projects) are right around the corner.  This, mixed with the continued pressures of work, volunteer and home life commitments, can feel overwhelming to say the least.  My initial reaction to feeling overwhelmed is to completely shut down, which at this stage of the game would be devastating. In an attempt to rid myself of the blues and refocus, I felt that I should share some strategies that have helped me in the past, and that I have found online.

Photo by: anna guttermuth

First, I think it is important to make lists of what has to be done and then check off the tasks that are complete (this was one my wife told me about).  I often find myself making mental lists of everything I have to do, and then simply repeating this list over and over in my head, the whole time thinking that I have SO MUCH to do and no time to do it.  When I wrote everything down on paper, I was able to get it out of my head and see that I really only had 8 different tasks to accomplish, which felt a lot more manageable than the seemingly endless tasks running through my mind. Then, once I had completed a task, I put a check mark beside it and would see my progression and how much I had accomplished.  This works particularly well when you have set aside a weekend to work on papers.

Photo by: mysza831

As I have mentioned before, I think it is vitally important to continue exercise and healthy eating habits.  It is even harder to stay focused when my body is coming down from a carb or sugar high, so keeping these to a minimal helps maintain balance in my emotional state, which makes me a better student. I also like to clean, do yardwork, or laundry as a means of helping to stay sane. School can often feel like a task that never has an end, and doing smaller jobs that I can start and finish in an hour helps to lift my spirits. It also keeps my house clean, which is a nice perk.

Photo by: jovike

Also, I always make sure I take time for myself.  The hardest part about this is feeling guilty before, during, and afterwords.  Don’t though.  If you are organized (using your list from the first tip) you will know that you have some free time to NOT think about school work.  I hope some of these can help you.  If you would like to have some further reading, check out these great resources:




Have a great day! D.

Education Rehash

Before I begin this post, a quick disclaimer:  The ideas presented and discussed in this blog post are coming from my own brain and are based on the learning I have been experiencing this semester.  If any ideas are presented here were yours first, I apologize for not recognizing you (and please feel free to post a comment stating that this thought was yours first).

Photo by: kharied

Ok. This semester I have been learning a lot about how the current system of education in Saskatchewan may be failing the majority of the student population.  The bulk of instruction has been based on the fact that change needs to occur, but very little has been said about how this change will occur or what it will look like.  I have learnt, through lecturers like Sir Ken Robinson, that the education system we are using is largely the same as one that was used 100 years ago and that a paradigm shift is needed to administer better education.  This disproportion leads me to believe that we do not have an answer to this question quite yet (perhaps answers come in years 3 and/or 4).

Now I know some questions simply do not have answers, but my gut tells me that this one does. I asked myself this question (how can the education system change to better suit the needs of the majority of students?) in conjunction with another; if the I could recreate the education system from the ground-up, what would it look like? Now, before I proceed, I want to be clear that I’m still not entirely convinced that the old system is wrong.  I mean, I learnt the traditional way and have turned into a functioning member of society.  So I’m not saying that these changes are ones I desire to see, just simply another way of looking at eduction.

In my recreation, schools would no longer be organized by age.  Instead, they would be organized by levels, much like the current University system.  I imagine there would need to be at least 9 different levels.   Requirements for graduation would also change to something like needing 20 classes of each level (I know that only gives 180 classes but work with me here… make it 30 of each level if that makes you happy).  Let’s say that a student would need 3 Math classes of each level.  At the different levels you could have “Math 501: Mathematics of Cooking” and “Math 502: Mathematics of Woodworking” where each class would offer instruction in the basic skills of math (i.e. fractions, algebra) but they give the students the option to choose the math that they want to learn that is relevent to them (Side Note:  As I start to transpose my ideas from my brain to my computer I realize that they look a little silly but I still want to flesh this out… even just to prove to myself that it is nonsense).

Students would also be able to choose how and when they would like the take the required classes.  If I am an early riser (or if Tuesdays happen to be a very busy sports day or something), I would be able to choose classes that we in the morning (or avoid classes on Tuesdays).  I know this sounds a lot like University, but I feel this type of  a system would work well in the school system as well.the increase of access to online, it is also possible that classes would be administered online, where students from around the globe would be able to learn from the best of the best in their selected subjects.

Photo by: ~Aphrodite

Just by writing this all out, I can see some major flaws with this type of system.  How would this work for younger students (5-10) who wouldn’t know how/what to choose, or how to participate appropriately in online classes (or maybe I’m not giving them enough credit).   Also, we would need to have teachers who have diverse skills and perhaps many more teachers.  This would be solved by the use of the online classroom, but that has its flaws as well.  Not all people yet have access to the internet and it would be a grave mistake to give greater opportunity to those students who have access to technology. Children also need to be given some structure, and this system has the potential to give too much freedom.

The type of system I have described also has many advantages.  Students who are given choice may find their subjects to be more relevent and may be able to develop a deeper understanding.  Students also have many more commitments outside of school and would be able to organize their school schedule to better match their extra-curricular schedule.

Wow.. it feels good to get that out of my brain.  I hope this post has at least made you think about the current system and how you would change it if you could.  Thank you for letting me unload my thoughts on you.  Have a great day!


The Simple Life

As the semester continues to pick up steam and work on assignments or studying for mid-terms consumes more and more of my time, I like to take time for myself.  I use this time to unwind and, for a short moment, pretend that I have not a care in the world.  The recent addition of a smart phone (Android, not Blackberry… PTL) to my arsenal of technology has made my life more convenient but at the same time increasingly more complex.   Never before have I had so much to check, look at, or be involved in.

Photo by: Augapfel

It wasn’t too long ago (about 3 months) that I only possessed a flip phone with its only features being texting and phonecalls.   I would often leave it at home when I went out, or if its battery was dead, I wouldn’t charge it for a week or so. My reasoning?  If someone really had something important to say to me, they would call, text, or email and if something REALLY important happened, I would find out eventually.

With my new phone, I am connected 24/7.  Connected to work and to school, but also to news, family, friends, sports, entertainment (and the list goes on).  If someone tweets, emails, comments, or posts anything to me, the assumption is that I will have seen or read and will respond shortly.  I had one situation where a person actually emailed to ask if he had done something to offend me (which he hadn’t… I just hadn’t checked my phone yet).

Photo by: David Schmidt - http://www.LastMountainPhotography.com

All I’m trying to say is that while this new technology is amazing and wonderful, there is still nothing as presious as getting lost in a good book, or walking in a park hearing nothing but birds and the rustle of leaves.  There are now two worlds on this earth.  One that is digital (that exists on monitors, phones, and T.V screens while floating somewhere unseen through the air or cable) and one that is real and natural.  I think to be a functioning person in today’s society requires a working knowledge of both.  Like most things in life, balance is the key.

Just my two cents for this morning 🙂


Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary, How Does Your Garden Grow?

Early this past Sunday morning I received a call from my dad that my Grandma Mary had passed away.  Sad as it was to hear this news, in many ways her death can be seen as a blessing.  For the last number of years, Grandma had a long, hard battle with Alzheimer’s, which crippled her ability to remember anyone or anything.  In spite of her illness, I enjoyed visiting with her in her nursing home and looked forward to giving her a hug, getting to hear her laugh and (if I was lucky) getting to hear her sing some random Polish song.

Grandma Mary was a farm girl at heart and could always be found in the garden picking peas or tending to the flowers around her house. She was also one heck of a cribbage player (she even got a ‘29’ once), and made the world’s best paska, perogies, and cinnamon buns. My earliest memories of Grandma were getting up early to watch the Queen get up and playing a game of cribbage before getting ready for school. She always cleaned up house and defiantly didn’t take it easy on me and my brothers because we were kids.

Dad and I used to take Grandma to A&W for burgers and onion rings on a fairly regular basis.  I remember one time in particular.  While we were eating, a young man walked in with big muscles covered in tattoo’s. He was wearing a muscle shirt, combat boots  and had a rather large crucifix hanging from his neck (aka ‘bling‘).  Grandma (who also happened to be a very devout Catholic) saw the young man and a huge smile grew on her face.  She yelled out (as I attempted to divert my eyes from this intimidating individual) “What a nice young Christian man!” She then made an effort to introduce herself to this man, but was held back by dad.  (As I reflect on this, I notice that I judge this man without even knowing who he was. Who knows, he could have been a priest-in-training or something like that. Note to self: don’t judge.)

Even though Alzheimer’s had damaged Grandma’s ability to process and remember, she sometimes had moments of perfect clarity. One such time happened once while visiting grandma in her nursing home. The times we spent visiting usually had a similar pattern.  We would go to her room, get Grandma, and wheel her down to one of the homes common areas.  We would then bring out some of the snacks (usually cookies or chocolate to satisfy grandmas sweet tooth) we had brought and have coffee with her.  One time Grandma, who had been singing to herself in Polish, noticed my wedding ring and with perfect conviction and clarity stopped singing, looked me right in the eyes, and said “Now that you’re married, you better keep your eyes off those other women!” Good advice.  Then she went back to singing.

Grandma Mary has taught me a lot of different lessons.  She taught me that life isn’t always going to be easy but that if you work hard, live a life of love, and keep your faith, you will be blessed.  She was a wonderful woman and though I will miss her for the time being, I am happy that she is now in a place where she has her mind back and she can be with her husband and those who have gone before her.  She is probably kicking butt at cribbage, working on her garden, and laughing. I love you Grandma.


If you would like to see Grandma’s obituary, it can be found here.