Archives for September 2008

National Survey on Teens and Video Games

The MacArthur Foundation reports on the results of a new national survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project on kids video gaming habits. The main finding is in Pew’s headline: “Teens’ gaming experiences are diverse and include significant social interaction and civic engagement.”

My favorite finding:

Game playing can incorporate many aspects of civic and political life.

We’ve been banking on this in some recent work we’re doing for the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center to develop a physically and socially immersive video game experience that teaches young visitors about the impact they can have on society and the differences their actions can make.

posted September 16, 2008 by matt | permalink | Add comment

Cool new physics game

It’s interesting to see what folks are doing with Flash these days. This one touches on video game nostalgia as well as the whole educational game genre, so I thought it was appropriate to mention it:

FantasticContraption is a physics-based game where you create very simple physics devices in order to accomplish a goal ala the old “The Incredible Machine”. But it’s Flash-based, so you don’t have to download anything. And there are some interesting twists with water rods and wooden rods as construction pieces. Check it out, it’s very addictive!

Way back when we were developing the Progress Portfolio in the mid-90s, The Incredible Machine was a candidate investigation environment. We were looking for software environments where students were conducting extended investigations and would need to create annotated records of the work they were doing. The Incredible Machine almost fit the bill, but while it was based on Newtonian physics, it was difficult to get students to connect what they were trying to physics principles. Instead it just encouraged endless tweaking until something worked. While it may have been interesting to see how visual annotations (e.g. being able to point to something while talking/writing about it) would make it easier to create a record of your work in The Incredible Machine, we ended up working with investigations in Interactive Physics, which was much more connected to physics principals and less game-like. Interestingly, students had the same tendency to endlessly tweak.

posted September 11, 2008 by ben | permalink | Add comment

A rare glimpse into design rationale: Our GIS for History Project

Josh Radinsky just published a paper describing some of the design rationale for the GIS (Geographic Information Systems) for History project that we worked on together. He does a really nice job of explaining why the tool is the way it is. If you’re a hard-core GIS person, you might look at the web site and wonder why it seems so simple. But given our goal of designing a web-based tool that could be used by high school students in a one-week course, there was a strong need to cut back on many of the more advanced features that GIS provides and focus instead on a few key features that guide students to think about particular historical concepts.

The paper is published in the August 2008 issue of the Journal of the Association for History and Computing, and is available online.

If you’d like to check out the GIS for History web site and mapping tool that we created, it’s live at:

Disclosure: I’m listed as a co-author.

posted September 10, 2008 by ben | permalink | Add comment