June 27, 2013

Guest Post: Why Don't You Game? by SammoBammo

Record-breaking features by SammoBammo. Two articles in two days. Wish I had the brain-power to write like this guy. Oh well, I can only be inspired. Anyway, I'm proud to call myself a gamer. Are you? Read on and enjoy!

Why Don't You Game? - SammoBammo

Apparently there are 1 billion gamers worldwide, according to Jane Mcgonigal. Being a gamer here is defined as someone who spends at least an hour a day playing a video game of some sort. It could be a highly complex, immersive and sophisticated game such as MGS or Starcraft 2 or something simple yet fun like Angry Birds or Candy Crush.

Metal Gear Solid 4
StarCraft 2
Angry Birds
Candy Crush Saga
1 billion of us. Gamers. That is a lot of people.

Games play a big part of our community. We just don't realize it. 
What does it mean? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Well according to Jane Mcgonigal it cuts both ways. Games like Call of Duty are highly addictive and a recent study claimed that the number of gaming hours devoted to CoD a year roughly equals a month's full time work. When CoD: Black Ops 2 was launched, employers and teachers noted abnormally high rates of absenteeism on launch day.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2
Not to mention the stories we hear, particularly in Asian countries of highly addicted gamers playing till they literally drop dead (read here!)

So maybe I should rename this posting, "Why haven't you stopped gaming, are you insane????"

Well, I am a gamer, and I love games, so for a little bit I am going to explore why that is, and I invite fellow gamers to do the same thing, ask yourself "why do YOU love games?". Well the obvious answer is it is fun. Definitely true, but let's take a closer look. Let's dive a little deeper, "what makes it fun for us?". After all, there are so many different types and genres of games out there, they might give different people something different to think about.

What was I thinking when I got into gaming?
I love primarily strategy and RPG games. This is because I find great satisfaction in creating something unique and wholly from my own intellect and skill. The gaming experience for me is entirely unique and non-repetitive. For example, an RPG typically involves a character you control that starts out as pretty weak and basic, but as the game progresses, it gets stronger and more powerful depending on maybe experience points, items or other factors that could or could not be within your control. Strategy games work similarly where you employ your own tactics to beat your enemy. Winning or losing is up to you and the learning curve is usually quite steep, which means that you can get better and learn from your mistakes. I love that aspect, as the saying goes in Starcraft 2, "more gg, more skill". This means, the more you lose, the more you learn, the better you get.

The Learning Curve
Yes that learning aspect. Gaming is an amazing way to learn without actually realising you are learning.  For the non-gamers, you would ask "Learn what? How to blast zombies?? (either with plants or rocket launchers depending what you're into, how amazing is that?)" So let's look at other media and see where, and if, learning takes place. Ask yourself, do you learn while watching movies/tv shows, reading, listening to music? If you answer, "hmm maybe, depends on what it is". The same thing applies to gaming!

The gaming industry is huge and expanding extremely fast, overlapping itself out of other entertainment medias even. USD5 billion revenue alone from North America in 2011. Simply put, there are a lot of games out there of different genres, platforms etc. So if it's perfectly normal in this day and age to assume someone watches movies/tv shows and listens to music, why not game as well?

The Global Games Market. Amazing statistics. 
Where does gaming and learning come together? I'm going to look at some of the games I play or used to play and see if I can figure this out.

Starcraft 2
Easily the game I most likely have spent the most hours playing. A few reasons why, is that its a family thing with my brothers and I. We have been into the game since I was in high school. Another strong reason is that I haven't mastered the game yet. No one has.  Average win rates are between 40-60%. That is the great thing about it, it is so well designed that the journey to mastering the game is the fun part in itself.

Terran vs Protoss
Zerglings rushing into a Terran base. 
The basic idea of the game is you collect resources, build an army with those resources and destroy your enemy's base with that army. It is quite straightforward. With 3 different races to choose from, each having their own strengths and weaknesses, adds another layer of complexity. You play on different maps that offer varied tactical scenarios depending on your own army's deployment and your opponents, and also the strength and composition of armies, adding on another layer of complexity. Questions that SC2 players have to deal with are like:
  • What units do I build?
Terran Units
Protoss Units
Zerg Units
  • Where do I attack?
An SC2 1v1 Map
  • What is my opponent doing and how can I turn that to my advantage?
A Terran vs Protoss battle
  • Should I obtain more resources or should I make more fighting units?
Mineral Fields
  • What strategy are my allies employing, how can I align our strategies for maximum effect?

Through answering these types of questions as the game is being played it  develops decision-making, teamwork, communication skills, analytical skills and critical thinking.

Another game I loved to play when i was younger is Caesar 3
It's a pretty old game, released in the 90s but still very playable. I am in the midst of trying to find a copy, digital or physical, just to give it another go? In this game you play the role of a City Governor during the Roman times and your job is to manage the city's economy, trade, resources, jobs, living standards, security etc, like a real actual Mayor. Tons of games follow this formula, the most popular being the Sim City series, but I love this game in particular because I'm quite a history buff as well.

Caesar 3
So where is the learning in this game? Let's take a look.

Following a keynote by Steven Johnson, best selling author of books such as Where Good Ideas Come From, I realised these types of games teach not just 21st Century skills like in Starcraft 2, but teaches actual content and reveals real-world realities.

A scene from Caesar 3
For example, this game teaches: 

  • Agriculture: A governor needs to ensure his citizens are well fed. To do that he needs farms planting crops and a granary. 
  • Commerce: He will also need a market in which to distribute the foods, different foods are demanded by different neighborhoods based on income and affluence. 
  • Urban Planning: He needs to ensure that there is good transport available from the farms all the way to the homes of the citizens, but not like next door to each other that would harm the desirability of the area. 
  • International Trade: Some foods that are demanded may not be locally available, he has to trade for them.
  • Economics: Lastly, all of these different components, the farms, markets etc need workers for them to function.
This is just a fraction of the game. Other aspects such as taxes, military expenditure, diplomacy etc just add more complexity and sophistication, which then offer more learning opportunities over a wide range of subjects.

So from my two favourite games, I've developed 21st century skills and expanded my knowledge as well. I didn't step into a classroom, I didn't open a textbook and I certainly didn't sit for a test.

So to those non-gamers out there, why don't you game?


DancerGal Says: Okay. While I consider myself a gamer, the only real game I play is StarCraft 2. I would someday want to expand my gaming knowledge and I do want to start venturing into other games. Am very excited when I read this post. I am one of the 1 billion. Are you? 

Love always,
DancerGal Sheryl!

June 26, 2013

Guest Post: SammoBammo's Why I Hate Exams Part 2

Last year, SammoBammo blogged about his feelings about exams. This year, he continues to explain more as to why he hates exams and how he views the future of education. A very good read, I must say! Read on!

Why I Hate Exams Part 2 - by SammoBammo

Following up on my previous post about exam-centric education that I posted last year, I would like to expand upon what would or should happen in place of the exam orientated methods of teaching and assessment we are so used to.

Previously, I blogged about the problems of learning for exams, and why in fact, it wasn't really learning at all, but an exercise in memorisation and regurgitation of information. So the product of standardised testing are standardised students, which is not what we should be aiming for.

What then should we aim for and why is that good? So let us look at what the 21st Century is about. Undoubtedly technology drives everything we do, and it is moving faster than ever before, this we already know, but do we really appreciate it fully? With technology we have found the amount of knowledge and information at our fingertips has expanded enormously. Before, a prescribed textbook for a subject is supposed to tell you all you need to know, for the entire year. Now, the possibilities are limitless.

But this, we already know.

What we need to consider as the next step, is looking at the way we learn. The way we absorb all this information and knowledge. How do we make sense of it and make us want to ask more questions? This may not involve too much technology, but of course new ideas that may sometimes utilises new technology. New ideas that not only expose us to more content, but make us more curious about discovering even more and connects us to other eager learners. Put the hands of learning in the student's. True self-directed learning.

Okay, so you can learn what you want, when you want and in the way you want. Now what? What is the point? Our knee-jerk reaction maybe: "how does this help me get an A?". Well, to be honest, I don't know if it does, and I don't know if I, as your teacher, care if it does even. Should you be caring? You will say your parents do I suppose. Or this is what colleges want, to get the degree you want to get the job you want. That is what you were possible told (brainwashed).

Let us think of another possible reaction, "How does this help me be the person I want to be". Lets work with this notion, that you are learning to be the person you want to be, instead of the grades.  Okay, that whole idea of university places and jobs is still on your mind, and with good reason. Lets alter our question then to "How does this help me be the person that colleges/universities want", following the logic that this of course then would be the person we are aiming to be. The better the educational institution, the more they want from you, the more they expect from you. Everyone has a strong academic background, they want more. What else can you do? What else have you done? What kind of person are you? What are you interests/hobbies/passions? Are you a leader or a follower? Can you solve complex problems? None of which can be demonstrated through grades or exams. None of which is seriously developed or obtained by studying for grades or exams. To be honest I am not really sure what exams demonstrate.

So what now?

We need to break our mindset away from the incessant chase for higher grades and better exams. We need to start looking at "What kind of person do I want to be" again, or we can translate it to "What skills do I want to have that will help me get into college/university". The 21st Century Skills. Creativity. Innovation. Leadership. Collabaration. Global Awareness. Strong Communication. These are just a few.

And how do we develop these skills? To a certain extent we have, in CempakaConnect, RAG Day and CBL, but those are just glimpses into a world which we must explore further. Ask yourself do you have a favourite subject? Do you have a least favourite (most hated?) subject? Why do you dislike some subjects over others? I ask myself, why do we have subjects??

The old idea is that subjects break up teaching to more easily digestible or categorised content, which is easier for students to absorb. Also it helps students specialise into certain areas that develop into degrees, which in turn lead into professional jobs. For example, high school biology leads to a degree in biology which leads to a career as a biologist. It’s all quite nice and neat. But is the 21st Century nice and neat? The career of biologist itself hardly exists anymore, after being merged and combined with other fields. The most successful in those fields aren't merely scientists anymore, but are entrepreneurs.

Yes, that word again. You've heard it many times. An entrepreneur has many definitions, mine is a person who utilises technology and 21st century skills to make a difference. Tell me which subject teaches that. You have no choice about it, in the 21st Century, whatever degree you do, whatever career or field you enter, you will be an entrepreneur. Subjects are a way of you being told what to learn. Let’s change that, let’s have you students, tell us teachers what you want to learn. No, better yet show us what you want to learn, or even better direct us to where you want to take your learning! Let’s have our class time be about you achieving objectives you set for yourself.

It’s difficult to think of learning without formal subjects and formal exams, but that is really what learning is, at its core. You actually learn best without being taught. Cempakans that are involved in gaming like me can relate to this, have you had to learn and master a game all by yourself without any direct formal instruction? Maybe it wasn't easy but it definitely was a lot of fun and you certainly loved reaching the end right?

Imagine that feeling in school, everyday. Learning that is across subjects, without too much formal assessment. Learning that is continuous, worldwide and actually matters to your future. Interested?


DancerGal Says: This is a pretty lengthy but interesting read. It has come to my attention that the students these days aren't interested in studies because they don't see what's the point. If our education system continues at this rate, we may be seeing a higher level of dropouts simply because the children aren't interested. But that's my humble opinion. Thanks for reading! 

Love always, 
DancerGal Sheryl! 

June 25, 2013

In the Life of DancerGal: Anglican Sports Carnival 2013

Waking up at 6am in the morning to get to church by 7am on a Saturday morning doesn’t necessarily make us jump up and down with joy, but spirits were soaring high when the youths of St. Paul’s Church, PJ (SPC) gathered at the church compound that one fine Saturday morning.

This was it. Tony Pushpan, the main coordinator that got each and every one of us there, started to hand out the jerseys that were specially made for this particular occasion. Decked in bright blue, the boys and girls of St. Paul’s Church were ready to face youths from other churches at the annual Anglican Youth Sports Carnival 2013, held at University Malaya and organized by St James Anglican Church.

We met youths from many other Anglican churches, just as amped as us! The Lord blessed the day with great and shiny day. To begin the day, we started off with a prayer and we got down to business. Starting off with the athletics, the boys and girls of SPC ran their hearts out. Star runners included Kennedy Amadi , Jovenne Lai, and Alyssa Benny, led by Jeremy Joseph.

After athletics, we moved on to tug-of-war, held at the stadium as well, where a great team spirit story was born.  Our tug-of-war team, led by Andrew Jacob, were strong in strength and spirit. However, the team also included a large group of men who were playing badminton and futsal straight after. Tirelessly, they pushed on despite multiple times of losing due to a slippery end. On the side, those that were not involved pushed on their spirits by singing our victory march:

Oh when St. Paul’s…
Oh when St. Paul’s…
Oh when St. Paul’s goes marching in…
Oh Lord I want to be in that number
Oh when St. Paul’s goes marching in!

By the time the semis came about, the team could not carry on as they were exhausted and needed to use what was left of their energy for their upcoming events. But our team spirit was not dampened. A group of 9 boys and 2 girls stepped up to the plate and volunteered to play on! With spirits flying high, after what seemed like hours of screaming and shouting, we actually won 3rd place! All in God’s grace! Seemingly pleased with those results, we separated into multiple groups, playing multiple sports.

Futsal, Badminton, Ping Pong, Scrabble and tele-match were some of the other games that we played. The two futsal teams (St Paul’s A and B) both reached the semi-finals with St Paul’s A (consisting of the BM congregation members) winning the silver medal. Uncle Fang & Patrick Walliams led the ping pong and carom team to silver medals while Padmini led a group of 10 to our very first group Gold medal at the end of the evening.

The best part of the day was obviously, collecting the medals!!! Each and every one of us took home at least one medal. By the end of the day, while everyone was tired and exhausted physically, we all left feeling happy and proud that our unity and teamwork made this all possible. The next day, we were complaining of muscle aches whilst showing off our medals. With God, truly all things are possible!