The Evilness of Devices for Learning

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Yes, I wrote the title as part link bait and part reflection on what has become a common theme to many conversations I am having these days. As we enter our 3rd year of an iPad program which has been recognized as a distinguished program by Apple. Yes, I realize that is sort of like being a preferred customer at the Toyota dealership because you bought so many cars. However, I do know we are moving our school’s learning forward while also allowing for aspects to remain as we find value in them or because change is hard and slow. There is nothing wrong with moving slowly towards the future as long as movement is happening. I prefer to move faster then my institution but that is how I roll and may not be the best solution for our school. However, I had hoped we were past the notion that playing games is bad and a waste of time given that we have explored all sorts of platforms with our students including hosting our own Minecraft servers. Alas, that is not the case although sometimes games and screen time are mixed together.

I wrote this as part of a position statement about gaming at DA.

While some adults see playing games as a “waste of time” or a way to escape into a virtual coma, many of the skills and standards listed above are found in the act of playing or creating games. For instance, Minecraft, is often seen by adults as just a bunch of chopping and blowing up of a virtual space. What is missed when observed as such is the collaboration that must take place to create worlds, the knowledge base needed to understand the game, and how a community of players have created a wealth of tutorials and information on how to play.

Gaming in classrooms and learning has been gaining momentum for years. Durham Academy has explored using games in the Middle School over the years with software like; Gamestar Mechanic, and Evolver (Pre-Algebra). Research shows that game principles are a way to better engage students. and Jane McGonigal has many resources about games. Watch her TEDX talk about SuperBetter.

Advocacy groups like, Common Sense Media provide resources on what games parents can say yes to after-school. Davis has a nice article on Edutopia on game based learning.

As I continue to brace myself for the discussions that are coming, I keep saying to myself this is not a problem with devices or technology. These are human behavior problems which need human solutions that are not just banning or blocking. This is an educational problem that needs to be addressed with our colleagues, students and parents. If a small percentage of students have problems with impulse control so they play games instead of listening to a lecture, do we not help the student? What about the other larger percentage of students who are not having the problem? I help to write the Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) each year which was redone to not be Though Shall Not document into a more Though Shall type document. This came about after reading the book From Fear To Facebook by Matt Levinson who at the time was at Nueva School.  It is way too long and still causes my eyes to glaze over. I even created a companion website called iPad Passport to help the Middle School students and faculty understand the concepts and language used. I think we need to be focus on having fewer AUPs and more User Policy. To that end I am adding some links to this post that are shaping my learning evolution on this topic.

Edutopia – and

Providence Day School’s Parenting in the Digital Age site: This site is full of useful and practical resources for starting a school-wide conversation. We are reaching out to Matt Scully and Derrick Willard to get advice.

Shameless Summer Camps Plug


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For the past number of years, I have conducted camps with the help of students whom I have taught. This year we are offering Scratch and Gamestar Mechanic. If you are interested in having your children attend a camp where they will be challenged in a nurturing environment to either extend what they already know or begin the process of learning how to create games with computer programming language.


To register please go to the Durham Academy Summer Program website.

Scratch Computer Programming with Mr. Schaefer

Rising Grades: 2-9
Week/Time: Week 5 Afternoon  (WK 5 PM IS FULL); Week 6 Afternoon
Location: US Computer Lab
Max Enrollment: 19
Price: $190

Imagine, Program and Share are the key elements of what the free Scratch software can allow campers to create. The software is free, the application is logical and campers will be supported in their learning of the programming language by a seasoned crew of instructors. Young people need to be exposed to programming at an early level to learn how the technology behind computers and games actually work and this is a great camp for that exposure. Come to this camp and “scratch” the programming itch!

From the Scratch website:
“Scratch is a programming language that makes it easy to create your own interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art — and share your creations on the web.
As young people create and share Scratch projects, they learn important mathematical and computational ideas, while also learning to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively.”

Get Your Game On with Mr. Schaefer

Instructor:         Karl Schaefer
Rising Grades:    3-9
Week/Time:     Week 6 Morning
Location:           US Computer Lab
Max Enrollment:  19
Price:                $190
Get Your Game On with Mr. Schaefer will take you from a player of games to a creator of games. Using the amazing online community of Gamestar Mechanic, campers will solve quests to earn sprites and other game resources. Campers will learn to build their own games which can be shared into Game Alley for play by other gamers. Campers will be instructed in building games based on challenges provided to them by the talented team of instructors. Gamestar is a wonderful introduction to game design and drag and drop computer programming. All campers will receive a lifetime membership to Gamestar Mechanic for use after camp.

Quote from website:
Gamestar Mechanic is a game and online community that teaches kids how to design their own games. Designing games builds Systems Thinking, 21st Century Skills, Creative Problem Solving, Art and Aesthetics, Writing and Storytelling, and creates a motivation for STEM learning.”