Book Review: What Video Games Can Teach Us About Learning and Literacy

literacySometimes it’s good to read something outside your area of expertise and comfort zone. WHAT VIDEO GAMES HAVE TO TECH US ABOUT LEARNING AND LITERACY is first about the academic study of learning and education, second about linguistics, and a distant third about video games. I’m only knowledgeable about one of those things, but I still got a lot out of it.

The author, James Paul Gee, is as of now a 67 year old linguistics professor at Arizona State University and he essentially writes what the book’s title promises: an exploration of what good game design suggests for improving classroom education. He explores how the way players tackle new identities is similar to what they need to do to learn from texts and classroom lessons, for example. He explains how video games take players through tutorial levels illustrates the best kind of contextual learning of new material. He describes how cultural norms and models of “good” behavior vary from group to group the same way they do in some video games. He describes how learning and problem solving in video games is distributed and social in nature, just like how it is in real life but unlike how it usually is in classrooms.

Gee, by his own admission, came to appreciate video games late in life and that colors some of his discussion of games. All his examples are dated at this point and there’s little perspective on recent changes in the gaming landscape, such as casual games, mobile games, or serious games. As such, you shouldn’t come looking for any examination of games as a larger cultural force or a discussion of how their design has evolved. Gee is firmly focussed on the topics of pedagogy, often viewed through the lens of linguistics. The terms and models he uses are highly academic and usually took careful reading on my part to grasp. But Gee spell is all out if you’re willing to pause and mouth the words to yourself when needed.

So while not for a casual or general audience, it’s a book that’s full of interesting ideas that I may take and borrow from, especially as they relate to identity, roles, social learning, and communication in video games. But what you won’t get is a recipe or checklist approach for gamifying learning or any other activity. It’s all theory and very little practice. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I enjoyed the book, but I am glad I read it.

I Ran Another Half Marathon!

You guys! I totally ran another half marathon! I ran my first one back in April and decided to give it another go. It went better this go around. Final time was 13.1 miles in 2 hours 7 minutes 14 seconds (average pace 9:43 per mile). Here’s a link to the whole thing on Garmin’s website. Note that this is way better than my time last April by about 16 minutes, which is progress I’ll take.

Speaking of the Garmin GPS device, I’m super annoyed with myself because I was looking forward to using it on the run, but I made two substantial mistakes. First, I somehow accidentally changed the settings to show miles per hour instead of minutes per mile and I was used to using the latter to pace myself. I didn’t realize it until the race had started and I didn’t want to stop and fiddle with menus. Second, I had intended to use the “Lap” feature at each mile marker to measure my speed on each one, but at Mile 1 I accidentally hit the button to pause the timer instead of the button clearly marked “Lap.” This I failed to realize until about half a mile later, so I was never quite sure what my exact time or distance was until the finish. Alas, but I’ll know better next race and at least I was able to manually edit the race data on the website.

On the “things that went right” side of the house, there are several things that made this better than last April. First, the weather was perfect –about 60 degrees amd partly cloudy for most of the race. Couldn’t have asked for better, especially in St. Louis. Second, I was way more agressive about fuel on the run. Last time I felt the bottom drop out of my energey around mile #11, and I had to walk most of the rest of the way. This time I ate a big bowl of oatmeal and peanut butter in the morning, a banana on the drive to the race, a meal replacement bar about 5 minutes before start, some jelly beans at mile #4, a packet of Gu (think really expensive cake icing in a little tube) at mile #7, and some energy gummy candy things at mile #11. That and brief stops at all the aid stations for water or sports drinks kept me going no problem.

The other major thing I think I did right was doing my outside training in areas with lots of hills. The course in the 1/2 marathon was fairly flat, but there were a few hills, and my experience and mental attitude towards running uphill meant that I was able to keep a good pace instead of even thinking about stopping to walk. I passed people for almost the whole race, probably because I was in starting corral #16 out of 23, and should have been up further. In fact, I surprised myself for taking NO breaks to walk the whole time, except briefly to grab drinks at the aid station. I never did that for so long a run, even while training.

So it was a great race and I surpassed my own expecations with the time. During the last leg of the race I was really hoping I could come in UNDER 2 hours, but I guess I still have a bit of work to do. The thing is, this went well enough that I think I’m going to shoot for the full marathon next year. The idea of what I just wen through just being the halfway point is a bit crazy, but I think if I put in the training I could do it. Who dares me to?

Oh, also, pictures!

Happy Birthday, Me

So, last weekend had a pretty big milestone birthday. Apparently I am now at the age where it is expected that people send me birthday cards featuring dogs in sunglasses and funny hats. This is, quite frankly, awesome because dogs in sunglasses and funny hats are hilarious. Here’s a rundown of how the day went:

6:00 am: Dog needs to go out, wife gets up to do it BECAUSE IT’S MY BIRTHDAY!
7:00 am: Kids come in screaming “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” Bound from floor to bed and from bed straight onto my diaphragm and windpipe.
7:45 am: Wife takes kids to soccer games and dance lessons; I stay home. BECAUSE IT’S MY BIRTHDAY!
7:46 am: Video games! (Horde mode in Gears 3, to be exact.)
10:30 am: Family returns, bearing a box of assorted donuts. Wife puts candles on one. Better than cake.
10:45: am: Presents! Handmade cards, new luggage, and a new Garmin 350 wrist GPS workout thingie
11:00 am: Make kids play outside. I stay inside and more video games!
12:00 pm: What’s for lunch? Donuts! BECAUSE IT’S MY BIRTHDAY!
2:30 pm: Head out for 5-mile tun to test out new Garmin device.
2:45 pm: Oh, god, maybe I shouldn’t have eaten so many donuts before this run…
5:00 pm: babysitter arrives.
6:00 pm: Steak dinner with lovely wife! Nice glass of Malbec!
7:30 pm: Buying pants and slippers at JC Pennys. (Hey, the opportunity presented itself.)
8:00 pm: Drinking beer out of huge plastic tumblers on the patio of local bar.
10:00 pm: Home again. Watch some tv with the wife before heading to bed.

Others might have wanted a big party with streamers and elephants and fireworks, but the above was much more my speed and I count it all as pretty awesome.

The next day, with Geralyn’s permission (heck, practically with her urging I returned the nice piece of luggage, took that and the birthday money from her aunt, and bought a brand new Playstation 3!

My collection is now complete, in that I now own all the modern gaming consoles –PC, Xbox, Wii, PS3. Looking forward to catching up on all those PS3 exclusive games that I’ve heard about. I think Little Big Planet is going to be a particular hit with the girls. And the PS3 is a Blu-Ray player as well, so I just updated my Netflix subscription to include those. You know, now that I’m old, I’ve got to get caught up on all this technology.

And while we’re on the topic, I really like the Garmin 350 as well. It’s basically a tool to help runners measure pace and distance using GPS technology. I really like being able to see what my current and average min/mile pace is at any point, and it’s great to be able to rely on the GPS to measure my distance on outdoor runs. It also came with a heart rate monitor, which I still don’t quite see the point of, but okay. I also love how you can connect the device to your computer and upload all your run data to and That’s pretty slick.

Anyway, great birthday and here are some additional pictures. Enjoy.

November 2010 Photo Dump

A quick dump of photos for November. This includes, of course, Thanksgiving for which we got to experience both hosting and traveling out of town to visit relatives. We had dinner on the day of for Geralyn’s dad and godmother, the latter of whom brought the children the gift of a three-quarters sized stuffed white tiger. We can only assume that on Christmas she will return to complete the set with two flamboyantly glittery magicians. Prior to that, Mandy’s preschool had its vaguely racist “First Thanksgiving” recital where she and her classmates wore traditional garb of painted grocery bags and construction paper feathers. Or as the Indians called it, “maize.”

The day after Thanksgiving we piled into the minivan and drove to Tulsa, Oklahoma to visit my mom and sister. The act of simply pulling into my mom’s driveway exhausted half of the cold-weather attractions that Tulsa has to offer, but we did manage to break away one day to visit a local “children’s museum.” Which is as much a museum as anything built in space annexed from the neighboring self-storage lot can be. As far as I can tell the proprietors slapped some brightly colored paint on the cinderblock walls and then raided the toys section of every Goodwill store in town before charging people $6 a head to visit. Oh, and they had a blacklight room, but I’m pretty sure one of the employees was smoking weed in there just prior to opening up for the day.

Well, to be fair, they did have one nice attraction: one large room had a stage complete with microphone, curtains, and a backstage wardrobe department. Mandy is turning out to be a bit of a ham and willing to oblige requests for song and dance in more mundane settings, so she took to the stage right away. Sam, to her credit, was willing to act as Mandy’s backup dancer, though on the one occasion where she tried to stand in the limelight Mandy burst in on the scene and set her straight. Drama!