IF-Blogging: Video Games on my mind

Delayed posting by 4 days
11582m (38,000ft) above sea level
837km/h (520mph)
Middle of the Indian Ocean
Heading West by Southwest
3450km (2,143 miles) to Johannesburg

There are many different kinds of blogging. You have your:

Mo-blogging = Mobile Blogging
V-blogging= Video Blogging
RT-blogging = Blogging in real time at a function

I’m sure there are others I haven’t heard of but I’m starting a new kind of blogging today.

IF-blogging = In Flight Blogging

That’s right I’m writing from 11582 meters over the Indian Ocean cruising at 837 km/h and heading west by southwest on our way to Johannesburg, South Africa.

IF-Blogging is easy to spot because if you are IF blogging you should put as much information as you know about your location at the beginning of the article. IF-blogging is an open-source word and if I’m the first to use it I won’t charge or put a patent on the word just yet. :)

I’m flying on my favorite airplane a Boeing 777 on my favorite airlines Singapore Air. The Boeing 777 is a great plane with plenty of leg room and Singapore Air has On-Demand movies and music for each passenger via an individual 5×5 inch screen in the seat back in front of you.

I’ve always found airplanes fascinating and some day I will get my real pilots licenses. I only own two computer games Sim City 4 and my favorite Flight Simulator. Even thought I have my Flight Simulator pilots license they don’t consider me a real pilot yet. As my wife reminds me each time we set foot on a plane. “OK, now Jeff if they ask ‘Is there a pilot on board?’ you can’t raise your hand, because honey you’re not a real pilot yet.”

Of course I always have some smart comeback like “Yeah, but what if …..” It’s become our own little airplane ritual.

Flight Simulator is an amazing game. I have learned so much about flying and how the whole flight planning and traffic patterns work. I use to fly every route before we flew it in real time. That was before we started taking these 11 hour flights. In Flight Simulator you fly in real time so it would take 11 hours in Flight Simulator to fly the same route I’m flying now. I just don’t have that much time anymore. I still like to fly the short routes and I have the Spokane, WA to Seattle, WA route down pat. Landing on runway 34R at SEA-TAC International and pulling into my personal gate 12A.

Flight Simulator I know would not be that appealing to most students but the skills and concepts that you learn while playing this game are amazing.

Math:
Degrees of headings/angles
Calculating weight (with and without fuel)
Take off speed
Landing speed

Reading:
Flight Plans
Approach Maps
Lessons while getting license

Science:
Reading weather radars
Learning different cloud formations
Understanding weather patterns
Understanding weather lingo

Geography:
Longitude and Latitude readings
Picking spots on a map
Understanding terrain and the affect it has on weather and air

Listening:
Take off instructions
Instructions for landing approach
Flight Path instructions

There are so many skills built into this game. Skills that are not the purpose of the game, but are needed to be successful if you are going to complete your mission of arriving safely at your destination.

The reality of flight simulator is quite amazing. I have a friend who flies a Cesena 172. Every summer he takes us up for a spin. It amazes my wife every time we crawl into the cockpit that I can go through the pre-flight check list with him: pointing out instrument on the panel, setting the radio, etc. The reality in Flight Simulator has allowed me to know exactly where everything is. I’ve also been able to peak into some cockpits as I’ve been flying and been amazed at how realistic the instrument panels are. I know they are not exact but I wonder how long it would take me to find everything I need to actually fly the plane.

I have another friend who is an F18 pilot in the Marines. He just returned 3 weeks ago from a tour of Iraq. A couple years ago he got me clearance (I like that word!) to fly in an F-18 simulator on his base. The only thing better would have been to fly the real thing. He was pretty amazed when he said. “OK, take off and turn right to a heading of 172.” He would give me commands and I would execute them. It was just like playing Flight Simulator on my computer, only I was in a real cockpit with a screen that sprawled out 180 degrees in front of me.

I know Marc Prensky creates games like this for different corporations and even for the military and I can see how they work. It is almost scary how realistic the game can be and how much one will learn to be successful at it. I have spent countless hours reading and practicing different maneuvers. Of course you have to have some fun to, like flying under the Golden Gate Bridge or between the antennas on the Sears towers. Flight Simulator even allows you to download real world weather information so you can fly in real time conditions. With the latest release you can even fly with others online. I never had a fast enough connection in Saudi Arabia (28.8kbps) and haven’t had time to try it out yet in Shanghai. For awhile I did belong to a virtual airline. That was fun, even though my wife made fun of me. Saying I had truly gone geek. What is she going to say when she learns I’ve got a Second Life account?

There is power in these games for teaching and learning. Why aren’t Sim City, Sim Tycoon, and every other Sim game available to students in the classroom? All these games offer a great learning experience. Most of them include a lot of math skills that are in real world context. At some point education needs to start embracing these games and new ones being created. Last night we were having dinner with some Singaporean friends of ours who work at our school. We were in conversation when her 5th grade daughter grabbed her cell phone and started playing a game.

Mom: “Are you playing that game again?”
Daughter: “Yeah, I’m on level four and I’m about ready to beat it!”

Can we harness this power in the classroom? Wouldn’t it be cool if education could pair up with cell phone game manufacturers to create some great educational games for the cell phone? Let’s face it…this is the future. Talk about anywhere learning. Being able to whip out your cell phone and play number crunchers, or Carmon SanDiego. Could you imagine assigning your students homework to play a game on their cell phone and to text you their score to your school e-mail address when they finish a level. Or better yet a teacher could log onto a web site where scores are kept and kids could compete against each other. Teachers could then evaluate the data see that students are struggling with fractions or understanding how to do long division and cover those skills in class. A teacher could also individualize a student’s education based on what skills they need to pass the next level. These students need work on fractions and these students need work on long division. The teacher becomes the HELP button for the game. A friend the student can count on to help overcome obstacles or levels in the game.

There are all sorts of possibilities with these games. We just need to find out how to ‘hook’ the students and then let them learn. They love this stuff, we just have to get out of their way and let them learn.

1 Comment

  1. You are so right! Video games are an incredible resource for teaching in the classroom. My fifth grader received a submarine game for Christmas had had learned degrees and vectors after playing for an hour. He thinks its fun but I know that it is doing a lot for his geometry skills. Through playing Civilization, he has learned a lot about countries, governmental systems, management of bureaucracies, and the delicate balance of economic stability within a nation. It is a great game for a civics class. Through rollercoaster tycoon, my daughter has learned a lot about marketing and money management. Many games are great resources.

    I think many educators misunderstand games and think that the fact that it is called a game means that it is mind numbing nonsense! There is great opportunity in harnessing video games for use in the classroom. I have been following the educator in England who uses MYST to energize the writing of his students. His boys have responded typically well. When I blogged about it, I had an educator chide me for suggesting we sit around and “play video games all day” in school. Don’t we know school is supposed to be boring?

    I think such educators are missing the point of the true engagement and excitement that can emerge through the effective use of video games as a component of the teacher technology toolchest!

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