Reading Journal Assignment

Journal Entry #1

1. I have been playing video games since I was old enough to express an interest in such things to my parents. The first games I played were on an Apple II C, and included arcade-style blasting games, side-scrolling games and text-based adventure games. I have clear memories of my dad picking out as birthday present (at my request) a copy of __Conan, Halll of Volta__. I continued to play games mostly on the computer, though I did talk my parents into letting me get a Nintendo console when I was about 12. I enjoyed playing a wide range of games, but my favorites were always role-playing games with a strong story-telling element. This fit with my general bent toward other role-playing games as well. I should mention that despite my preference for role-playing games, I also enjoy and have played quite a few strategy games (RTS and non-) as well as FPS, puzzle games, etc. So while I can easily identify a preference, I tend to enjoy playing pretty much all games.

2. As with everyone, I play many ‘roles’ in my life. One of the main roles I play is as a science “expert” at school, where I teach a higher-level science course. I find it interesting to be in a role when, no matter how much I study and learn, I feel like a novice in my field. This is in addition to the fact that I am a teacher in general. But I feel like as an older brother, I have always taken on a teaching role with those willing to let me, and this personality trait is part of why teaching is such a good fit for me. In a related role, I often fill in as a tech expert for other teachers, students, friends and family. As far as the topic of ‘games’ goes, and video games in particular, I don’t really have a strong impression of how I play roles. I definitely like games where I can play a part, and enjoy doing so socially or just with the computer. But despite my long interest in a wide range of games, I have never delved particularly deeply into one game per se. I am usually content playing through a convenient role, whether this means being willing to be the missing healer in a group, or using a default character class to play through the storyline of a game.

3. In general, I definitely appreciated Gee’s take on literacy. As a science teacher, I have often felt that term was applied too narrowly. Hearing this detailed look at literacy as a way of knowing and understanding definitely helped me put some other ideas about literacy I have heard about in perspective. On the other hand, perhaps his use of specific examples related to science (which I still greatly appreciate) sparked more of a critical look on my part than might otherwise have been the case. I included a few of my thoughts about some of those details below.

It seems the the “problem of content” is more nuanced and harder to pin down than addressed in this chapter. As far as I can tell from analyzing my own gameplay, some of the motivation definitely comes from what is known or expected will happen through the use of processes being learned. It seems to me that no amount of “game” like approaches to learning physics will give the same type of experience of “game” like experience of exploring/settling a world, or creating and conquering an army. I don’t mean to be picky about the ideas being expressed, because they make a lot of sense to me, but the following passage after the “problem of content” is discussed, has it’s own set of issues. Being able to write down Newton’s laws, by itself, is not a skill that is necessary to describing motion. However, as a good physics teacher, I feel fairly strongly that the Aristotelian idea of “impetus” as well as gravity acting on a coin is a poor choice of example. I would hope and expect that most of the students in my physics class would quite clearly be able to understand situation of the coin with only gravity acting on it (constantly accelerating downward, during both up and down motion), a least as well as they could write down Newton’s laws. Better, actually. If a student does well in a physics class and cannot distinguish this correctly, I do not feel that the class is a very good class at all, video game learning principles aside. But I do agree that is very helpful to view knowledge and a subject as more than just a set of facts, and that situating knowledge can be very tricky. Perhaps a better physics example would be distinguishing between the use of forces Newton’s 2nd law (sum of forces acting on one object) and Newton’s 3rd law (action-reaction force pairs between objects interacting). However much I agree with the point about situating knowledge, though, I am even more unsure about his following point on pg 25. “The learner also needs to learn how to innovate in the domain - how to produce meanings that, while recognizable to experts in the domain, are seen as somehow novel or unpredictable.”


I suppose on some level I see the point about deepest learning involving novel creation, but cannot imagine this in an introductory physics class, or rather, I don’t fully know how to interpret what the author is referring to with “meanings that are novel or unpredictable to experts.” I have some exceptional physics students that have actively explored the subject at very deep levels (for an intro college course) including very creative experiments conducted independently and at the University, and still this does not seem to be to be creating ““meanings that are novel or unpredictable to experts.” But perhaps this is a matter of semantics, or I am being too picky about what is being asked…

4. One new “semiotic domain” I have recently gained experience with is having a leadership role at school. There are all sorts of aspects that go into the role I have found myself playing at our high school. There is the personal, direct relationships and needs that I try to address as department coordinator. There are various meetings, coordinating about students, school wide projects, district wide projects, and as always with teaching, the need to balance my own teaching life and personal life. I hadn't thought about it as it's own “semiotic domain” until this assignment, but it is it's own area of knowing and acting, and I think that thinking of it as such can provide a helpful perspective.

5.I played through the demo version of Ludwig, and I have to say, it really seems to reiterate the issues of content I mentioned above. I feel like I have played through much more effective intro’s to this type of game before. But maybe it was geared to a newbie or a much younger audience. What I did notice was that the game was really explicit about when it was teaching how to play (i..e. knowledge points, omniscient tutor, etc). But everything seemed too...basic. Even the setting selections seemed dumbed-down, with it’s descriptions of what good/fair/poor quality video settings meant. As far as game mechanics went, it seemed immediately a little weird that once could initiate forward and backward motion mid-jump. Honestly, I feel like I learned all of these things more directly in some other 3rd person games, and the “witty banter” between the robots mostly seemed like grouchy-seeming, not that well written… The biggest issue I might mention, though, is that the only “educational” aspect of the game was correctly identifying a burning tree as ‘fire’. While this may be geared towards way younger audience, the educational aspect still seems pretty low-level. I suppose this could be an issue that gets better once one gets past the demo stage, but I would think that if there was good content teaching to be done with the game, that would be demo’d as well.


Journal Entry #2

How might virtual and projective identities be important in your teaching?

I strongly identified with Gee’s descriptions of some very important aspects of identity in learning. His examples were largely science-based, and seemed to spot on as far as learning about “doing” science goes. I have seen much stronger success in students who more effectively identify as a “scientist”, and even more so from students who understand they are taking on such a role. Of course this is something I have come to encourage in students, but it is easy to overlook students who are successful in a conventional school sense, but do not see themselves as good scientists.

Because I teach physics, I have mostly “high-achieving” students. One interesting challenge this presents is that such students seem to have more entrenched identities as students, as science students, and as practitioners of science. I certainly see many students who identify as strong students, but weak in science. I also have students who do science fine, but identify as poor students generally. In both cases, I see more success when the student and I are able to grow an identity through successful experience in class.

Describe an experience you've had in teaching a student with a “damaged” identity.

One statement I always make to students before returning their first physics test is: “This test is not a reflection on you as a human being.” (Something I stole from Bob Bumstead). This is usually followed by a short class discussion about what success in this class means and looks like, and students reflecting on where they find themselves. A couple years ago, I made the mistake of bring up to the class the reality that some students have an easier time with physics than others. My intent was to provide students who struggled some space to feel that they were not alone, and that they needn’t compare themselves to others in the class to be successful. But some students heard me saying that they were not cut out for physics. At least, I know one girl heard that.

After that test, I met several times with this student who had not done well. She felt she hadn't really understood the material, and wasn’t sure about her reasons for taking the class. But what I heard most clearly was that she felt she had “one of those minds that isn’t cut out for science”. That isn’t what I’d said, but it was what she heard. It reinforced her previous experience, in this class and others, that she was not well-suited to this course of study. I did wind up convincing her to follow through with the class (for two years) and she did pass the end-of-course exam, but she never seemed to shake that uncertainty about herself.

Give an example of a situated meaning in your content area, and describe how you might help students gain a more embodied understanding of it.
In some sense, all “laws of physics” really only make sense to students in context. I think it is almost a stereotype to think of a bad physics class as just memorizing rules, and applying them in a well-defined set of circumstances, and not gaining any broader understanding of how the world works. Physicist Richard Feynman writes about this in his autobiography, __Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman__. In this he recounts meeting a physics student in Brazil who can recite “Brewster’s Law” verbatim from a textbook, but cannot explain in ordinary language, or even recognize, what it has to do with light’s polarization when reflected from a liquid surface.

Newton’s laws are a great example of this. They have a particular form that allows them to be “memorized” but that is fairly meaningless. Treating ‘F=Ma’, where a student just looks for what to plug in for ‘M’ and for ‘a’, is not physics! A situated meaning of Newton’s 2nd law could be the correct response to the question about motion of a projectile at the peak of it’s path. Being able to apply Newton’s second law here would involve a student describing that because there is a net force on the ball (gravity) there is a corresponding acceleration, regardless of the velocity at that time. And all physics laws are like this; they gain meaning in context.

Describe a recent learning experience that involved using the probe, hypothesize, re-probe, and rethink cycle.

As all learning involves this, I suppose I could describe any learning process here, even learning about how good video game principles apply to education! But I will focus on learning about the new format and content of the IB Physics test.

Guidelines were released about the updated test about a year ago. Over this last year, I have been reading various resources (data book, syllabus, guidelines) and thinking about how I would start incorporating these changes. I already had several ideas about this when I went to a workshop on this topic. At the workshop, I reviewed my ideas, got some new ones, and discussed/worked on these ideas with other teachers. After leaving the workshop, I have continued to revise my ideas about what will change with the new curriculum. I have made ample use to various IB Physics teacher online forums to keep track of what others think of the changes, what resources they recommend, how they go about trying out new ideas. All of these have given me a much clearer picture of what I will do differently next year regarding IB Physics curriculum.

Reflections on any games you played or examined during the week. Educational games for the week include: ReDistricting Game, Mission US, iCivics, and Crazy Plant Shop.

I played two games this week, Redistricting amd Crazy Plant Shop. They were both very fun and engaging, and I could see the obvious educational value. With Redistricting, the interface and story provided a great hook. I had no problem jumping in and playing as I saw fit, staring at an easy level and progressing to more complex, challenging levels. The game felt easy to figure out, and I was able to read text as needed, go back and forth between screens and option, and experiment a fair with various approaches. I already knew quite a bit about redistricting, but I still learned a lot. I can imagine this being a great tool to teach about this concept.

Crazy plant shop was also quite engaging. I may have been that I spent less time with the game, or that it involved tricker concepts (or concepts I was less familiar with) but the game didn't become “playable” quite as quickly. But it also seemed to have more depth, and I could imagine this game being one that students could use in conjunction with classroom support and pacing.

Journal Entry #3

  • Give an example of 'Just in Time' information presentation in a classroom activity.
One example of ‘Just in Time’ information that comes to mind is when I have students learn about the phenomenon of “persistence of vision” and __strobe effect__. I don’t think this is a big enough topic in its own right to spend much time on in class. And I have always felt there isn’t a whole lot of point in teaching the equations that govern the effect, as it is not applied much outside a direct study of the phenomenon. But it fits nicely in one spot of another unit, the study of waves. Specifically, it has an application when students study 2-dimensional wave phenomena with __ripple tanks__. When students are trying to examine the effects of “traveling waves”, the waves can be made to appear to stop through the use of strobes. Various other wave behavior, including reflection and refraction, are also made more visible this way.
When the time for this lesson arrives, I usually start with a physical demonstration of a lighted ball on a string. When the ball is stationary, the light appears solid. When spun on a circle while I hold the string, though, it is obvious it is flashing. I segue through this and a few other examples of the effect, eventually tying it to the use of strobes in our lab. One of the first things students must do in the lab is to use this effect to examine the relative speeds of various waves, something which is only easily done with strobing. Thus, this is an instance where students are only exposed to an idea when it becomes immediately necessary for use. I should note that while this is definitely an example of students learning about something only when it is relevant and necessary, I don’t have students do a whole lot with this topic later...
  • In a content area of your choice, how might you incorporate teaching in a 'subdomain' of the 'real' domain?
  • AND
  • Describe a technique that you might use to help students 'transfer' early learning to more complex problems.
One example which occurs to me that gets at both these ideas is how we teach about certain skills and ideas through lab experiences that are introductory, though well planned out, in nature. For instance, very early on in the physics class students are exposed to __motion detectors__. These are electronic devices, operating through echolocation, that make graphs on a screen relating to an object’s position, speed or acceleration. Before students work with motion graphs, they are given a specific set of video-game like conditions to work with these. They attempt to move (in front of the detector) in certain ways so as to match pre-determined position vs time and velocity vs time graphs.
I consider this an example of learning in a ‘subdomain’ in the sense that motion graphs are an important part of how students are to know about and represent motion. Moreover, this activity builds an intuitive feeling about concepts that otherwise can feel abstract and hard to distinguish. Students are guided through a “concentrated sample” as well, as this activity requires building relationships between aspects of graphs and aspects of motion, and also has students confront and process what they think they know or understand with what they can actually do. When the graphs switch from position to velocity, students have to deal with moving in a way that should produce the correct pattern on the screen, except now it’s their velocity is being displayed. They are repeatedly faced with these sorts of increasingly complex tasks all geared towards building familiarity with the motion detectors and motion graphs.
All of this is an introduction to the lab tool (motion detector), the representational tool/skill (motion graphs) and the physical quantities and their relationships (position, velocity, acceleration and time). These are all used throughout the study of motion, and the skills and knowledge are transferred through the use of these motion detectors in other experiments. From measuring the acceleration of free-fall to examining momentum and energy on collisions, nearly all future labs for this term rely in some part on things taught and grounded in this lab. Students need to use the motion detectors and graphs in different, various ways, but all of those instances build on the initial experience.

  • Describe a learning experience you've had where one of your 'cultural models' was challenged.
One cultural model I thought about, which is touched on quite a bit in this reading, has to do with learning about teaching. My initial thoughts about teaching and learning came from a student’s perspective, where I naturally gravitated towards a discussion-based, non-direct instruction form of teaching like that I experienced at St. John’s College. But then I had great experience with traditional, teacher-focused physics and math courses at the University of Oregon. This conundrum swung again in the opposite direction while at Pacific University, where a constructivist approach to teaching and learning was heavily emphasized. And then again I recieved pull back towards direct instruction when I started teaching at South Eugene High School. The science department there was a) very traditional and b) very good. It was hard for me initially to make sense of these seemingly contradictory views on what ‘good’ teaching looks like. But I have recently had a better timae trying to resolve this, and Gee perfectly identifies how. It is not a matter of which is the ‘correct’ way to teach, but it is necessary to understand the range of teaching modes, and to know when to apply which. But I found it quite timely to be thinking of this ‘culture’ just after I read ‘teaching and doing’.
  • Reflections on any games you played or examined during the week. Educational games for the week include: Villainy, Inc.,CSI: The Experience, Oncology, and the Sports Network 2.
I decided to play Villainy, Inc for a bit, though it’s geared towards younger students / more basic content than what I typically teach. I thought it was a clever idea for a game, but found myself with some doubts. The story/animation was fairly engaging, but I couldn’t tell if the game was more about skill practice vs learning. There didn’t seem like enough opportunities for practice, but it definitely didn’t appear to teach the concepts of area, etc, either. Thus, I was not quite sure how this would fit in lesson, though as I said, this isn’t a topic I teach. This seemed perhaps characteristic of educational “games” that don’t capture important aspects of game design well. It seemed like a pretty non-interactive intro (a lot of reading/listening to back-story), though it was engaging enough. But i found myself skipping all the cutscenes so I could actually do something, which is not really characteristic of my normal style of gameplay. Basically it seemed like a lot of work to read/watch in order to get a little practice with basic skills.


Journal Entry #4


  1. In a content area of your choice, give an example of a way in which the 'affinity group' "enforces certain patterns as ideal norms".

Many words have colloquial use definitions that are somewhat or quite different from their precise usage in a science/physics class. For example, velocity, force, acceleration, work, energy, power, momentum, and impulse. In everyday usage these terms are related, and sometimes even used interchangeably with each other. In a physics context, however, these all have very precise, distinct meanings. When Newton wrote his Principia Mathematica four hundred years ago, none of these terms were as precisely defined. Newton and his contemporaries, as they tried to define and develop the field of physics, were also not very specific when they used these terms. This led to much confusion, and required formally equating each of these ideas with a specific mathematical aspect of motion.

Thus, one particular way ‘physics’ treats this terminology is in how each term has a precise meaning, often distinct from a meaning that would be quite appropriate in another setting. A related way in which this affinity group treats these terms differently is that each has a mathematical meaning at root. This is, of course, because the laws of physics are mathematical in nature, and therefore it requires a fundamentally mathematical language to work with these ideas. But in any case, this requires students to use language in a distinct, particular way to be successful in this field.

  1. Describe a classroom activity where students are able to 'leverage' the 'distributed' knowledge of their peers.

One large project that is a requirement of the IB Physics course is a 10-hour group research activity/presentation. Once over the two year course students are supposed to work on a cross-discipline project that addresses an application of physics to some other field. This project can take on a variety of forms, but requires research, a report, and a presentation. When done well, these projects have a lot of personal interest aspects as well, and use the strengths of the different group members. For example, one group last year made use of the programing skills of one member to write a model/simulation, and used the musical training of another member to play an instrument in a variety of settings. Other groups drew on their background knowledge and interest in Biology or Environmental science, or interest or knowledge in other measurement techniques. I have always been impressed with the range of what students come up with for this project. Honestly I don’t feel that I’ve done a very effective job of integrating this sort of “leveraging distributed knowledge” in many of the class activities, but it is a goal of mine (see below).

  1. How might you give students more direct control (as an 'insider' or 'producer') over their own learning?

I have thought a fair amount about this, and have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I fully realize that students know, remember and find meaning in things which they have more interest in, and where they have more agency and responsibility. On the other hand, there is a fairly large amount of content that seems a) unfamiliar to most students and b) hard to efficiently bring out of individual prior knowledge. While I have seen what appear to be good program-wide shifts out there (here and here), they all try to strike some balance of reducing content taught to emphasize process, usually heavy on the process. I have not yet decided what the appropriate tradeoff is, and am left focusing on smaller, though hopefully meaningful other attempts. For example, I try to train students early in the year to develop procedures and appropriate data tables on their own, rather than having them fill out as many “worksheet-like” labs. I try adjust pacing and feedback based on class and individual needs, though this is not always easy or possible. One idea I have played with that I really like is giving students a bit more choice in which labs to conduct, as well as which aspects of the lab to focus on. While this requires a certain type of scaffolding, I think this kind of opportunity really resonates with students.

  1. Which Principle of Learning do you feel is most-applicable to your teaching, and why?

It would be impossible to pick a single learning principle as the most applicable, but I think that the probing principle is at least as relevant and important as any others. The feedback loop, and getting opportunities to develop and use ideas in different contexts and from different angles, is so essential to science as a process that it seems like the most obvious, and most important, choice. This also seems like such a key piece part of what good video games do to give experience and mastery with different ideas.

  1. Reflections on any games you played or examined during the week. Educational games for the week include: Peacemaker Game, Global Conflicts: Palestine, and On the Ground Reporter.

I tried playing Peacemaker Game, but it had a few technology issues (quicktime), so I looked elsewhere. I then played through the first mission of “On the Ground Reporter: Darfur”. This was a web-based game that was mostly composed of short, informative cutscenes and written dialogue from various people encountered along the reporter’s trip. While it had many of the hallmarks of educational games that don’t use game learning very effectively, I still found myself compelled and informed by the experience. But there was the classic multiple choice question where “wrong choices” just prompted text explaining why it was wrong, until the correct choice was made. And the progress was incredibly linear. I can’t imagine many people playing this game outside of an assignment, but in that context it could have been a valuable addition. It certainly made more relevant and meaningful what might otherwise come across as dry textbook material. It still felt like “enhanced textbook” mode of learning rather than full-blown game, though.