Sunday, October 30, 2016

Killing Us Softly - Analyzing the Portrayal Women in Advertising

For Visual Literacy this week, we were asked to watch the Killing Us Softly videos below.

I think Jean Kilbourne did a great job of providing an overview of the way advertising affects us unconsciously not only as individuals, but also as a society. She focused a lot on the ways advertisements affect the self-esteem of women while mentioning other relevant topics (such as how those unrealistic women ideals affect men, how children are sexualized, how women of color are told to approximate to the white ideal, etc.). I think Kilbourne could have gone into further detail on any of those topics; she probably could create entire presentations dedicated to each. There are other media trends that I have noticed as well that were only briefly mentioned or not mentioned at all in her presentation. For example, what about the ways that drugs (including alcohol) are portrayed? How about the obsession with celebrities and celebrity culture? The lack of diversity (in all aspects, from skin color to sexual orientation to family structure... the list goes on)? I am not sure exactly why Kilbourne focused on these aspects of women in advertising specifically... perhaps because she is a woman, or because that was the topic she was asked to speak about. Just watching this presentation has made me think about the other aspects of my feelings, attitudes, and perceptions that advertisers have poked into and influenced!

Image used with permission from WikiMedia Commons - Notice that the ad claims the man has not said "I love you" because the woman is getting older.

Image used with permission from Classic Film on flikr - Do you think tan skin gives you a more colorful personality?

I think the part that struck the biggest chord with me was when Jean Kilbourne explained that the images of women in advertising not only affect women, they also affect men. Kilbourne's message that the standards of beauty portrayed in ads are not possible because the women pictured are not real (models have become impossibly thin, features are digitally altered, different aspects of multiple people can be merged together through technology, etc.) is not new. I had heard this message before, that it's impossible to become these ideals because they aren't real people. However, I hadn't really thought about how those advertisements affect men (perhaps because I am not a man). Not only is a woman's self-esteem affected, but a man's thoughts and feelings about the woman that he is with can be influenced by the ideals painted in these ads. I think that this fact puts more pressure on men (to find and be in a relationship with women who meet society's expectations of beauty), but also puts more pressure on women. For women, the pressure is not only to be like the models in the ads for our own ideals of beauty, but also to "win over" or attract men. The underlying affects that advertising can have on us are terrifying.

Can you think of any particular advertisements that have affected you (either consciously or subconsciously)? Are there ads you wouldn't want your kids (in the classroom or at home) to see? Share about it in the comments!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

ICONSPEAK - Communicate via T-Shirt

A friend and I were browsing Pinterest the other day when we stumbled upon this shirt:

Though she kept scrolling through the site, I was interested in this article of clothing. After searching the web, I discovered that this is an ICONSPEAK shirt.  Learn more about it in the video below.

The idea is that travelers can communicate basic ideas and questions with locals when they do not speak the same language by using the symbols on the shirt. I am sure you can think of many situations in which this might be helpful; for example, pointing to the toilet on your shirt may help you communicate your desire to find a restroom when chatting verbally or attempting to use hand gestures with another person proves ineffective. ICONSPEAK has created shirts that have forty different icons on them, expanding the number of ideas the user can communicate by pointing to the symbols. The idea has been featured on popular media sites such as Today, BuzzFeed, and CNN.

In Visual Literacy, we have been exploring the use of symbols since our first month in the class. One of the things that we discussed is that symbols can have different meanings for different people depending on each individual's frame of reference. This shirt tries to avoid that problem by using universal symbols, or "a word or object that most everyone agrees on the meaning" according to this blog.

I am curious about the process the creators used for designing this shirt. How did they determine which ideas they would like people to be able to express through the shirt? How did they decide which symbols to use (because it's possible to draw multiple symbols for the same idea, such as a full versus crescent moon still signifying the moon or night)? Did people test the shirt by traveling to other countries to see if they could effectively communicate with others who do not speak the same language? Would effective symbols differ based on the region someone was traveling to? (For example, toilets look different around the world, so is it possible that a local may not understand a symbol based on the region?) Do people find that they are able to communicate the ideas that they need to using the symbols on the shirt, or do they wish they had different symbols?

If you have ever seen this shirt used, or even used this shirt (or shirts like this) yourself, please comment about your experience! I'd love to be enlightened! It seems like a great idea, but I want to know if it's effective in practice.

Kingdom Rush Final Thoughts and Reflection

(This is the last post in a four-part series about the iPhone app Kingdom Rush. Feel free to read post 1, post 2, and post 3 before continuing through this reflection.)

Last night, I was frustrated; today, I am reinvigorated. I was able to pass not only level four, but also level five, with three stars by using a more deliberate strategy.

I decided that, instead of attempting to hit the enemies as many times as I possibly could, I should try to focus on hitting the enemies with the attacks that would do the most damage. Therefore, instead of building several basic towers, I built a few (in carefully chosen locations) that I then upgraded to be more destructive to my enemies. The towers in the image below were the only towers that I built; I simply kept using my money to upgrade their effectiveness. However, I was still conscious of where I placed the towers. For example, I placed the armies near cannons so that the army men would stop the enemies long enough for the cannonballs to hit them. I still placed the arrow-shooting tower at the exit of the paths to take down any enemies that were getting away. I also tried to keep the tower-power even on both sides of the circle so that regardless of if the enemy went right or left at the fork, they would encounter the same attacks (a batch of army men, a cannon, and the arrow-shooting tower at the end).

By arranging my towers this way and upgrading them as the money was available, I was able to earn three stars on the fourth level.

I was also more diligent in using my special attacks while operating under my new strategy. I used both the extra soldiers and the raining fire and brimstone as they became available; though the shower of fire took far longer to reload than the extra soldiers, I usually waited to use it until I placed the extra soldiers at the fork in the beginning of the path so that I could stop as many enemies as possible there before hitting them with the fire and brimstone. This was the strategy that helped me take care of the seemingly-unstoppable trolls.

Proof that I actually did earn three stars on this level!

It was this strategy that also helped me complete the fifth level. The curveballs in this level were notable. First, the enemies came from two different paths on this level; as seen in the photo below, enemies could come up from the path at the bottom of the screen, or they could come from the forest to the right. The enemies also got more difficult to wipe out. In particular, giant spiders graced my screen, moving quickly and dropping eggs that would explode into multiple smaller spiders. I'm glad I don't have arachnophobia!

Here is a screenshot of the layout of the fifth level in Kingdom Rush.

Despite these challenges, the strategy I used to complete level four worked well for the fifth level as well. I felt so much more competent after playing today! I'm glad I was able to work through my difficulties and discover a strategy that would help me succeed.

I was able to earn three stars on this level without a problem.

While playing Kingdom Rush, it was helpful to think about the reasons why I was spending coins when I did. When I was randomly putting non-upgraded towers all over the screen, I was doing it without much thought. However, when I took the time to think about where I should place the towers, which types of towers I should place, and whether I should place a new tower or upgrade an existing one, I was much more effective at beating the enemies. It also helped that I searched around the app to find the upgrade area and began using the special attacks. These allowed me to control the game and become more engaged in the activity during the waves; during the first couple of levels, I mostly sat there (and occasionally built new things) while the towers did all of the work of killing attackers. Lastly, it was helpful that I was able to pause the game and restart the level when I knew that finishing would not earn me three stars. I think it was beneficial for me to decide to scratch an attempt and start over instead of waiting it out when I knew I wouldn't receive the results I wanted; it made the game much more enjoyable and captivating.

As I was playing Kingdom Rush, I also made some choices that hindered my ability to earn three stars. For example, I refused to use the special attacks out of pride; I assumed I could get through the levels easily without the "help." I later found out that these attempts were necessary if I wanted to earn three stars on each level. Additionally, I chose not to seek help from online forums, strategy guides, or videos. Doing so would have allowed me to move through the game much more quickly and may have kept me from becoming so frustrated (and needing a break to cope with my frustration). However, I knew that if I looked up hints (for example, upgrading my towers instead of building a bunch of ineffective ones), I would not feel as accomplished when I did achieve my three-star goals.

How do I put into words the feeling of achievement I enjoyed when I earned three stars on a level I was struggling on? It was, as Magda Galloway likes to refer to it in class, an aha! moment. All of a sudden, I felt proficient and accomplished. The feeling was similar to the instant when something finally "clicks" in class. Many educators cherish that moment when a student's face lights up because he or she suddenly realizes that what is being taught makes sense. After a period of frustration and failed attempts, success in Kingdom Rush (and any game) was similar to success in the classroom. Earning three stars was the game's version of a teacher giving a "good job" as an indication that the student succeeded.

There are many other ways gaming relates to the classroom. The campaign of Kingdom Rush is a journey filled with smaller accomplishments, just like reaching the end of the academic year is a journey with multiple lessons and learning experiences. Each level and lesson presents challenges that students must overcome to make it to the end. The beginning of the game included some very simple directions, and explanations accompanied new enemies and upgrades. This is similar to teachers giving their students directions at the beginning of a task and new challenges/hints throughout the task as needed to refine the experience. Additionally, playing the game helped build skills that students also cultivate while learning, such as problem solving, perseverance, attention to detail, and critical thinking.

Kingdom Rush and classroom learning are both epic journeys.

I think that students who truly enjoy this game could experience flow while playing. (I blogged about flow and how it relates to learning in the classroom.) In this way, playing Kingdom Rush is related to learning; it would be ideal for students and gamers to "get lost" in the experience. I personally did not reach flow as I was playing Kingdom Rush. Part of the reason was because each level was so long (because each had multiple waves of enemies) that I became bored during the level and just wanted it to be over. Additionally, I spent a lot of time feeling frustrated and stuck (before I discovered the strategy that works better) so I was desperately searching for the answers as I played. While we want our students to be in the flow and have opportune learning experiences, I think my testament from Kingdom Rush also reflects how some students feel when they are struggling in class. The goal for teachers is to appropriately challenge our students so that they can learn from the experience but also enjoy the process.

Playing Kingdom Rush just reinforced my opinion that gaming and learning are very similar, so gaming can be an effective way to make learning fun for my future students. I still think that creating a learning experience in the form of a game will take an incredibly large amount of time on the front end for the teacher, and I am not confident that I will be able to do this in my first year in the classroom (as much as I want to). However, I am dedicated to trying to create the most beneficial, appropriately challenging, and exciting learning opportunities in my classroom, and I hope gaming can be incorporated into that mission. As an elementary educator, I can already see ways to use gaming in my classroom (especially if I have an abundance of resources, particularly technology, to use); however, I think using gaming might be more difficult to incorporate for older students taking more specialized classes (such as literature or calculus). I suppose I feel lucky to have more flexibility in the ways I can use gaming in the classroom because I have so many different disciplines to teach at the same time. Right now, it is somewhat difficult to reflect exactly on how gaming impacts me as a teacher because I am not yet a teacher! However, I believe that once I land my first real teaching job in a classroom, I will only be able to make more parallels between gaming and learning.

Current or past educators: How are learning and gaming similar? How are they different? Has any gaming experience impacted how you perceive yourself as a teacher? Please share about it in the comments!

PS - If you read all the way through my experience with Kingdom Rush, thank you for following me in this journey!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

"Live Blogging" through Kingdom Rush - Day 3

(This is the third post of a series examining my attempt at the iPhone gaming app Kingdom Rush. I recommend you read post one and post two before this post.)

I am frustrated.

I played Kingdom Rush for over an hour tonight, and I have yet to achieve all three stars on the fourth level; each time I play until the end, I just lose too many lives. The best I have done is finished with 16 lives. Unfortunately, that still resulted in two stars.

I collected tons of gems, but only two stars today.

My extreme struggle on only the fourth level of the easy version of Kingdom Rush makes me think that I am missing some very important aspect of the game. (Otherwise, I am just really awful at Kingdom Rush! It's possible that this is the case.) Because I felt this way, I exited the level-playing area and began exploring the other "pages" of the app. I was looking for areas with features I hadn't noticed or utilized before.

As I was looking around in the app (outside of the levels I was playing), I stumbled upon an upgrade area. It seems like the highest number of stars the player earns on each level (not each time the level is finished, just the highest star score for each level) is collected. These stars can then be traded in for upgrades. The upgrades differ depending on the aspect of the game that is being upgraded; in the example below, the upgrade increases the number of coins the player receives by selling a tower.

Here is the upgrade page within the Kingdom Rush app.

I don't ever sell my buildings, so I didn't want to buy that upgrade. However, I did upgrade some of my towers so that they would be more effective in causing damage to my enemies. Please see all of the upgrades I purchased in the photo below.

I upgraded the cannonball, army men, and magic towers, as well as the resiliency of the fighters.

I returned to the fourth level of the game with my upgrades to find that, while my enemies were more readily defeated, I still could not end the level with more than 16 lives (and therefore, I only earned two stars each time).

The best outcomes I had resulted from when I stuck to army men and cannonball towers (with one arrow-flinging tower to defend the path into my kingdom). In the past attempts, I had been using mostly army men with any of the other towers around them; I changed that strategy to just put cannonball towers near the army men. I thought that, if the army men held up the enemies for the cannonballs to reload, they could get another attack on those enemies (and hit multiple in one shot). This was substantially more effective when the cannonball towers were upgraded because their explosives were more damaging and they didn't take as long to reload and fire. Unfortunately, upgrading the cannonball towers is extremely costly (over 200 coins), so it's hard to save the money to be able to do that.

Another thing I started doing today was using the special attacks. As you can see in the lower left hand corner of the image below, there are two circular icons. These are the special attacks I have been instructed to use so far.

See the icons in the lower left corner that represent the special attacks in Kingdom Rush.

The first one (which is a blacked out fiery rock; I used it just before taking this screen shot) shoots down "fire and brimstone" on the enemies. This does substantial damage, but the attack takes an incredibly long time to reload. The second disk (with the clashing swords) calls on two additional army men (placed wherever the player would like) to help defend the kingdom. In my experience, these fighters have not been particularly tough or bright; they are destroyed quickly. Again, the game requires the user to wait before allowing another use of the special attack.

I knew about the special attacks before playing Kingdom Rush today; however, I allowed my pride to get the best of me and told myself I would be able to defeat the enemies in the level sufficiently without the special attacks. It was those special attacks that allowed me to make it out of the level with a whopping 16 lives. (Because there are two trolls, and each troll costs three lives, this means that I had to defeat a troll in the game or else the number of my lives would be 14 or less!) It was the special attacks that enabled me to better my score (in lives) of each game, so I am glad I got over my pride and used them.

My frustration clouded my ability to strategically play the game today. Normally, I would sit and think about the ways I could approach the level, record my attempts and what went wrong, then try to resolve the issues in the next try at the level. However, tonight I just tried different ways to play the game with none of this prior thought or reflection. The next time I feel the urge to try again, I hope I have a better mindset and a determination to try multiple combinations of tower placements and then learn from those experiences.

When some people get frustrated while gaming, they turn to a strategy guide that includes hints or hacks for moving forward. I can completely understand why this occurs - many people play games to relax and have fun, and being stressed or anxious over getting stuck might ruin the joy of the experience. I don't personally feel like looking up hints or strategies is wrong, but I do not do this myself (unless I become desperate and stuck for days, but I usually ask a friend for help before turning to the web). To me, part of the appeal of gaming is working through those challenging times and being rewarded by the intense feeling of accomplishment when I figure something out.

Though I am frustrated in my gameplay right now, I am not in a state that I feel the need to look up strategies or hints. There is a Kingdom Rush Strategy Guide, Wiki, and plenty of walkthrough videos to be found on YouTube. For just about any game, typing "<game name> help" will bring up some great resources (especially blogs and videos) in a search engine. It's so easy to access these materials, which makes it difficult to resist finding the answers to my problems online. However, I'd really like to work through my frustration on my own! Therefore, I am committed to ploughing onward in the game and working on my own merit.

Have you ever gotten frustrated in the middle of a game? What did you do about it? Do you have any suggestions for me moving forward? Please share in the comments!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

"Live Blogging" through Kingdom Rush - Day 2

Yesterday, I began playing Kingdom Rush as part of an assignment for my digital and social media class. To recap, I learned about the game and how to play, I discovered that each level is "graded" on a three-star system (and, as expected of my perfectionism, I have resolved to achieve three stars on each level), and I completed the first two levels before giving up on the third. (Read about my experience from my first day of play here.)

I attempted the third level refreshed today, and I was victorious! To be honest, I did not come up with any sort of strategy (to my knowledge) during this attempt; I just "got out of the rut" I was in and arranged the towers in ways I hadn't tried last night. Going to bed and waking up with a rejuvenated mind definitely helped! I felt relieved to beat the third level after so many attempts at it, and I was ready for a new challenge.

I finally earned three stars on the third level!

My mouth may have fallen open when I saw the path structure of the fourth level. That circle meant I essentially had to defend two paths into the kingdom! The stream also broke up the attacks; I had to be strategic about what I put next to the bridge, because I wanted the range to cover while the enemies were on the bridge. I was also keenly aware of the 13 waves of enemies; my biggest complaint about this game so far is how long each level is.

Here's an overview of level four; the enemies come from the bottom and move towards the top of the screen.

This time, I developed some strategies regarding where I placed my towers. The tower locations were close enough together that on some path locations, two different towers could be attacking the same enemy at once. Also, the army men held the enemies in the same location as they fought with their swords. Therefore, I placed the army men between two tower locations so that they could hold the enemy in place for multiple towers to attack them. I also adjusted where the army men stood on the path so that they held the enemies within range of the other towers (which were then able to hit those stopped enemies the largest number of times).

The blue ring indicates the area in which I could direct my army men to stand (but only along the path).

As you can see in the above photo, another strategy I used was to put cannonball towers near the army men. The cannonballs are able to hit multiple enemies at the same time, and the army men keep the enemies held around the same area. If the cannonball attacks the enemies that the army men are working on, the cannonball is able to do damage to multiple enemies at once. I also specifically put a cannonball tower at the front of the path, right where it diverges. This is where the enemies are in the biggest group, and again, the cannonball attack can do damage to multiple enemies at the same time when they are within range. The downside of the cannonball tower is that it takes a painfully long time to reload; however, this downside is compensated by the fact that the army men hold the enemies in place long enough for the cannonball to reload, and the cannonball is able to hit multiple targets at once.

Another strategy that I adopted was to put arrow-shooters on the tower spaces closest to the exit path. My goal was that none of the enemies would make it to that tower, but if they did, hopefully they would have low enough health that the arrow-shooters could finish them off. I placed the arrow-shooters here because their ranges are large and able to extend up the exit path the most. Additionally, the arrow shooters are fairly accurate (especially compared to the cannonballs, which seem to just aim in the general vicinity of the enemies).

The range of the arrow-shooting towers extends the most up the path, in order to safeguard my kingdom from the attackers!

The mistakes and realizations I made throughout the gameplay definitely aided in my survival in the game. Unfortunately, the best score I was able to get on the fourth level was two stars. I was doomed by the two trolls that appear at the same time (and with other enemies!) in wave 9 of this level; I haven't figured out a way to defeat them both yet. Besides my inability to kill the trolls, though, I think the strategies I have developed are valid.

I've only managed to receive two stars on this level, but I am determined to work it out!

As you can see at the top of this image, those two trolls are getting to my kingdom. It's devastating because each troll costs me three hearts as opposed to the one that is typical for other enemies.

One thing I have been doing to maintain my sanity in this game is restarting if I lose too many lives. At this point, I have obtained two stars; I am playing now to earn all three. If I allow too many enemies through the path and to my kingdom (enough to bump me down from three to two stars) before the level is over, I hit the pause button in the upper right corner and restart the level. This saves me time because I am not playing all of the waves of the level just to find out that I didn't earn three stars (which, at that point, I already knew would be the outcome). As I was playing, this most often occurred on wave 9 because of the trolls. It is frustrating to have to restart, but it would be more frustrating if I hate to "wait out the waves" before I was able to try again.

Tower defense games are not my favorite (I like RPGs that involve storylines the best), but this one has not felt too tedious/monotonous yet. I'm still motivated to keep playing! My goal for tomorrow is to work on how to defeat those trolls. Let's see what progress I can make with another hour of gaming under my belt! Stay tuned for my next post!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

"Live Blogging" through Kingdom Rush - Day 1

For my digital and social media class, we are now looking at gaming! As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am an average gamer... I wouldn't call myself a beginner because I have gamed before (Sims, the Uncharted series, The Last of Us, Worms Forts Under Siege, Age of Empires, and Insaniquarium are the non-iPhone games I know best, besides the educational ones I played as a kid by Humongous Entertainment and JumpStart), but anyone who has watched me play knows that my skill level is poor compared to the number of hours I have spent playing games. Hand-eye coordination has never been a talent of mine.

Here I am playing The Last of Us on PS4. (Please don't mind my college-student boyfriend's setup and messy room :D.)

In order to explore gaming, my professor has asked us to play Kingdom Rush. Kingdom Rush is a medieval tower defense game; it is similar to the popular Bloons Tower Defense, though there are many other tower defense-type games out there. In Kingdom Rush, the player's goal is to strategically place different towers (each with their own specific attacks) along a stretch of road to defend the kingdom from enemies. The enemies walk along the path from one end of the screen to another, and if an enemy makes it down the path without being killed, the player loses a life. Killing enemies earns the player money, which can be used to build and upgrade towers.

Our assignment for class is to play three total hours of Kingdom Rush. I decided to split my gaming into three different one-hour sessions, then reflect after each session on this blog. This will not only help me accurately remember and record what I was feeling during gameplay, but also prevent me from continuing to play when I should be productive and do other homework. (Unfortunately, I am an average college student taking multiple credits, so I can't devote all day to gaming.)

I was surprised and thankful to see that Kingdom Rush can be played in multiple difficulty levels: casual, normal, and veteran. I chose to play on casual because I thought that if it was too easy, I could always increase the difficulty. (I also didn't want to risk feeling bad if I had to decrease the difficulty.)

Kingdom Rush can be played on casual, normal, or veteran mode.

Next, the game shows you a map of the kingdom you have been recruited to defend. I assumed (correctly) that this map would fill up with posts of the "levels" you have solved throughout gameplay so that you could see your progress and re-attempt levels again later. 

Those mountains look treacherous.

Each level (campaign, as the game calls it, though it could also be referred to as a battle) begins with a description of the level, a map of the path you'll be defending, and a choice of difficulties (though the more difficulties of my game were locked because I had not yet defeated this campaign). 

A preview of your next battle!

Once I was ready for battle, instructions popped up to detail how to play Kingdom Rush. I found the explanations at the beginning of the game particularly helpful; I don't like when the player is thrown into a game and expected to figure out the controls on her own. 

A few simple diagrams with directions can make all of the difference in ease of gameplay.

Once those were through, I was ready to begin playing the game! As you can see below, I am defending a path that begins from the top of the screen (where the game shows the enemies will appear) and finishes on the right. I have to build defensive towers on the posts marked in the game so that my army will protect my kingdom. You can see in the upper left corner that I have 20 lives (as shown by the heart), 265 coins (to use to protect the kingdom), and 7 waves (or groups) of enemies to conquer before the level is complete. 

Here's what a defenseless path looks like.

The towers that I can build have different costs, special skills, hit points, and reload times. It is important to think about these factors when deciding where the towers will go.

I can spend varying amounts of money to place towers on the posts along the path.

Once I had my original towers placed, I started the battle. Immediately, I received a prompt that explained the type of enemy that was on my screen. The game starts out with goblins and orcs. 

Here is a short explanation of the goblins that appeared on my path.

I'm glad the game explains what an orc is, because I would not have known.

The first level was fairly easy. I spent my money to create towers that were capable of defending the path. As you can see at the bottom of this screenshot, I have a little army attacking an orc before it reaches the end of my path (marked by the blue flags).

Here is a screenshot of my defenses in action!

Kingdom Rush awards you stars that signify your mastery of the level. I earned three stars on the first level and was victorious! I also collected 71 gems (which are also earned by killing enemies).

I claimed my victory of the first level!

Sadly, level two was much more difficult. I let too many enemies through my defenses on the first go at it, and I was defeated.

In level two, the enemies are more difficult to kill and come in larger groups.

The enemies defeated me on level two! I felt so pathetic!

I realized at this point that I could build towers while the waves of enemies were moving across the screen, so as I was accumulating money from killing the enemies I could also use the money to upgrade my defenses. I absolutely needed to do this in order to make it to the end of the level. On my next try, I stayed under the limit of the number of enemies I was allowed to let into the kingdom; however, on this level, I only obtained one out of three stars. This was a defeat for me; as a proclaimed perfectionist, I knew I would not be able to move on until I earned three out of three stars. So I repeatedly played level two until I beat it with all three stars.

Though I was happy to survive through the level, I needed to get three stars.

Eventually I was able to earn three stars for the level (and almost double the number of diamonds)!

In the third level, I was exposed to two different entry paths (and I'll admit, when I saw that I exclaimed, "I thought this was on easy mode!") and new, more resilient enemies. The best I was able to do before the end of my hour of gaming was achieve two out of three stars.

Look at all of those enemies! And there were 11 waves of them!

I was able to get two stars before I called it quits for the night.

Tonight's gaming experience was spent trying to figure out how to play Kingdom Rush as well as developing my strategy for placing towers in the game. I don't think I have any true strategies yet, but that is something I would like to work on during my next hour of gaming. I was helped by the choice of an "easy" difficulty mode, explanations for playing the game, and various little tips that would appear onscreen. I was hindered in my play by the fact that I didn't know precisely what I was doing or why I was doing it, but I hope that experience playing the game will help me make that frustrated feeling go away. 

Stay tuned this week for more on my Kingdom Rush gaming experience, as well as how I feel this may be applicable to my future classroom! And if you have any tips or points of discussion you'd like to bring up related to gaming or Kingdom Rush specifically, feel free to leave them in the comments!

Monday, October 17, 2016

This Is Halloween (in Typeface)

One of my favorite parts of being a resident assistant is helping instill and grow my residents' leadership abilities. In order to foster leadership in my house, I create house committees that allow my residents to take on certain tasks within our community. For example, our birthday committee is responsible for decorating each resident's door on her birthday and making sure she feels special on her momentous day. Another popular committee is the bathroom stall committee who redecorates our community bathroom each month to give a little character to the stark white walls.

Because it is October, my bathroom stalls committee decided they wanted to do themed Halloween decorations. The stalls this month incorporate everything from ghosts telling jokes to murderous zombies. A lot of work went into brainstorming stall themes, collecting and creating the materials, and hanging the decor in the bathroom; my residents did a phenomenal job. It was only after a couple of trips to the bathroom before I realized that some of the ideas we have been talking about in Visual Literacy were reflected in this month's decorations.

A couple of weeks ago, I watched the movie Helvetica and reflected on my thoughts about the movie. I even added a follow up post to discuss my realization of the typeface's invasion in my life. But in this post, I'd like to move away from the Helvetica typeface and further examine the impact font choices can have on text.

I highly encourage you to watch the TEDx Talk embedded below of Sarah Hyndman exploring typography:

In this video, Sarah says that "fonts tell a story." She says, "A font can completely transform the meaning of a word. It can give it a backstory. It can give it a personality." My favorite quote from the whole video was when Sarah described words in specific fonts as "multisensory, imagination grenades." Basically, Sarah discusses the impact that various typefaces have on our interpretation of the text. She says that fonts can elicit emotions, and that we all build up a context about what emotion each typeface is supposed to convey based off of how we have seen it used in the past. (If you're interested in the history of typefaces and the feelings they were supposed to portray, leading up to recent changes in the fonts used on our highway signs, I suggest this short video of Shelley Gruendler discussing typography.)

In our community bathroom, my residents chose to use fonts that portrayed the feelings of Halloween: creepy, fearful, terrifying, ghastly, hideous, menacing, etc. I feel a sense of danger when I look at these words, regardless of what they say. (Would you want to enter the Haunted Forest or Zombie Apocalypse stalls? Only if you've really got to go, I suppose...) Take a look at my residents' creations below. (Some of them are up high, so it was hard to take good photos. Click the images to zoom in!)

These fonts are well matched to the Halloween theme my residents were trying to portray. While "snowballs" and "toys" (as can be seen in the last image) are not menacing words themselves, they are given a scary personality due to the typeface choice. I get an eerie sense of dread reading these words. Halloween is about tricks and treats - and I see the trick my residents employed by reinforcing their creepy messages with ominous, sinister fonts.

How have you seen certain fonts used to portray a personality or feeling? Have you ever seen this done ineffectively? Please share your experiences in the comments!

(PS - Though only somewhat related to my focus, in my search for resources to supplement this post I found the article Google's Quest to Design a Typeface for Every Language on Earth. It's a fascinating read that describes Google and Monotype's efforts to create an enormous typeface family that supports as many languages as possible. Check it out, and let me know your thoughts by commenting on this post!)

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Rethinking Learning and Gaming

This week, I have been working my way through Dr. Z's RWLD about using gaming in education. I highly recommend that you check it out and learn a little about the topic before continuing through this blog post, as this is a reflection of my thoughts on gaming application based on what I experienced in the RWLD.

One of the first concepts that was introduced in the RWLD was flow. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi developed the concept of flow and described it on Edutopia as "...when a person is completely involved in what he or she is doing, when the concentration is very high, when the person knows moment by moment what the next steps should be... concentration, clear goals, feedback, there is the feeling that what you can do is more or less in balance with what needs to be done." Mark McGuinness nicely lists some elements of flow here, but you can hear the expert talk about it himself in the TED Talk below.

Learning about flow caused me to realize that I have experienced this sensation myself. I think of flow as being "in the zone." When I am in the zone, I am not consciously thinking about the task I am completing or the time it is taking me to do it; generally, I am just getting the job done. Flow occasionally happens when I am working on homework. For example, the other night I sat down and wrote an 8-page, single-spaced math paper all in one sitting; granted, there were moments during that time that I came "back to reality" and lamented about how awful the experience was, but most of the time I was just writing. While I have experienced flow in my work, I think it is more likely to happen when I am doing a fun activity like gaming. For example, in the summer I play Sims pretty avidly, and I could waste three hours on the computer without realizing it. Today I spent some time playing The Last of Us (though flow is sometimes difficult for me to experience in that game; the appearance of enemies generally makes me panic and question my choice to play in the first place). I also love to read and can "lose myself" in a good book, especially if it is a book I have chosen to read for fun as opposed to a textbook. Now that you know a little about flow, I encourage you to reflect upon the activities in your life that can get you "in the zone!"

Of course, it is important for me to think about how the concepts I encounter in my classes will impact me as a future educator. It would be incredible if I could get my students "flowing" in school. We all know that sitting in a desk for multiple hours a day listening to the teacher lead a class, even if the topic is interesting, is a dreadful experience. I truly believe that only by making the classroom experience student-centered will we be able to engage our students. However, there is a difference between engaging our students and totally hooking them through this flow state. How can we bring this flow to the learning process?

The option that we explored this week was gaming. Gaming and learning (in an engaged way - the way we hope learning to occur) are actually pretty similar! Dr. Z compiled a list of gaming elements that make for good learning, including choice, failure, progress bars, multiple long- and short-term aims, rewarding all successful efforts, prompt and meaningful feedback, elements of uncertainty/awards, and socialization. I don't think I could explain these any more informatively yet succinctly like Dr. Z did, so please check out his post. Because gaming and learning are compatible, it seems sensible that gaming could be effectively utilized in the learning environment.

When I chatted with my boyfriend about my ideas and insights related to bringing gaming to the classroom, he suggested I watch this Extra Credit video. If you enjoy it, I encourage you to check out their channel on YouTube; they did a series on gamifying education beyond this single video.

The Extra Credit video brings up another similarity between gaming and learning: agency. In a nutshell, agency is a student's drive to take learning into their own hands. Students with agency not only complete the learning tasks assigned to them by their teacher, they also seek out learning opportunities and attempt to make meaning from what they are learning. If you're curious about student agency and how to build it in your classroom, check out 10 Tips for Developing Student Agency. Gamers also have to seek out the tasks associated with the game, whether that be clicking onto the next level or hunting down the character who gives them the next task. And in many of the games I play, I can seek to fulfill tasks I set for myself, whether that be collecting all of the treasures hidden in the game or completing side-jobs that aren't directly associated with the main game plot.

As I thought about the possibility of incorporating gaming into school, Ender's Game repeatedly returned to my brain. Ender's Game (a book that has been adapted into a movie and comic) involves children going to battle school and learning about how to fight buggers (invading aliens) from role-played battles and a video game that adapts to the choices they make. The students are on teams that accumulate points, so each child's efforts in battle school affect their team points (similar to Harry Potter's house competition as well). Though these stories are fictional examples of gamifying the classroom in their own ways, it is clear that this concept is not new. Yet, only a few teachers (to my knowledge) have actually undertaken turning their classes into games, such as Lee Sheldon and Liz Kolb.

If gamifying the classroom is not new, and it seems to be conducive to student learning and creating flow, why isn't it more popular? There are many ways in which gaming and learning are similar, and I think it could be effectively incorporated into the classroom with success (provided you have taken the time to create the gaming system well, explained your different approach to parents and back it up using appropriate research, etc.). However, to incorporate gaming in the classroom would take a complete overhaul of the classroom experience, and I'm not convinced that it is flawless. I think that the hurdles that must be overcome to incorporate gaming in the classroom disheartens teachers and discourages them from using gaming in their classrooms.

First, if learning is to be changed so that students complete tasks in order to make progress in their games (and "check off" skills that they know and are able to do), the learning experience is personalized. Students can work at their own pace, make multiple attempts at concepts or quests they don't completely understand, adapt their learning to their own individual needs, etc. That is a good thing, but according to our current school system, the personalization that occurs is limited. I think of this gamification idea as a progression of scaffolded quests and tasks that students have to complete to get from point A (whether that be the start of a unit, the start of the school year, etc.) to point B (the end of the unit, school year, etc.). If we truly want students to be able to be able to progress through the learning at their own pace, though, we can't have "roadblocks" that are our conventional classroom grade levels based on students' age. (Ken Robinson has a great video about changing educational paradigms, that discusses this idea a little further; the whole video is insightful, but skip ahead to 6:30-7:40 if you just want to watch the part that I'm referencing.) For example, the class I am completing this assignment for is a combined undergrad-graduate student class, and even though I am an undergrad I feel like I can contribute useful insights to the class (more about social media, less about actually using it in the classroom). However, there is also a worry that if school opens itself completely and does not structure by grade levels, students may be grouped together intellectually yet struggle socially. This whole issue is complex and something that I would like to continue thinking about and refine my ideas further, yet it is relevant to the conversation of gaming in the classroom.

I also struggle with the idea that learning is extrinsically motivated. I understand that the current grading system involves extrinsic motivation with its letter-grade system, but I have never truly liked this concept. How can we change the classroom environment so that students want to learn and are not "bribed" by extrinsic motivators? Changing the class so that gaming, with its points/badges/trophies/etc., is not completely intrinsic motivation either. Intrinsic motivation is another concept I have struggled with; I grappled with the idea in one of my earlier blog posts this year. However, I believe gamification continues to propagate extrinsic motivation in the classroom, which is something we're trying to work away from.

Another thing I question about this process is the competition that is involved. If there is a leaderboard involved in the game, students' self-worth becomes a concern. What if the classroom community decides you should be shamed if you're at the top of the leaderboard? Then students are being punished by high achievement. Additionally, students may feel ashamed, embarrassed, or not good enough if they never hit the leaderboard and are able to see how far behind they are compared to their peers. I think that for some students, this may diminish their self-concepts. Even if the students use alternate usernames that makes the leaderboard "anonymous," students can still compare the class to themselves (or they could spill who they are so that everyone knows everyone else's names anyway). I don't think that some students would be invested in the competitive aspect of it; how do you spark competitive drive in the students that just don't care about the game? I personally am extremely competitive when it comes to my grade, and I would put in the effort all day and night to be the best, but I don't think most kids are like that. Lastly, the Extra Credit video (and some of the other resources I explored in this assignment) perpetuated the idea that if students are on teams (or there was somehow an incentive for certain classmates reaching certain points or achievements), they would root for and help each other to boost the team as a whole. However, it would take a lot of effort on the teacher's part to foster a community of co-learners in that way, and I'm not sure that the students would actually do that.

Am I missing the point entirely? Do you believe that gaming should be used in the classroom, or are you skeptical? What are your ideas about flow - have you ever experienced it? Please share your ideas with me in the comments!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Reporting on My Personal Learning Network (PLN)

I was tasked with mapping out my personal learning network (PLN) this week. First, I had to learn what a PLN is. In case you're also unsure, check out the two short videos below!

Next, to assess my own PLN, I mapped it out (to the best of my ability - I'm sure there are things I am missing that will be added throughout the year!). Please view my PLN below. (Click the image to make it larger!)

To map my PLN, I used an online tool called, which allows you to create 3 mind maps if you sign up for a free account. It was extremely user-friendly; the only complaint I have is that without purchasing an upgraded account, I was unable to add links or attachments within my bubbles. However, this was still a great tool and one that I plan to use again in the future. I liked how I was able to drag my bubbles wherever I wanted them and change their colors to aid in the organization of the map.

My first reaction to this map was that I was surprised at all of the ways I learn as an educator! I couldn't even put all of my resources and connections on this map! While some of the resources are more influential than others (for example, my schoolwork takes up a large majority of my time right now), each node on this map has taught me a valuable lesson and affected me as a teacher. 

That being said, there are also ways that I could expand my PLN. I have outlined three ways I would like to continue to grow my PLN:

One way that I would like to expand my network is to socialize more when I take part in professional development opportunities. I enjoy attending conferences and workshops, especially those that UNI students can attend for free. However, I tend to keep to myself at these events. I can easily grow my PLN by networking with the other educators who attend these conferences and making sure to connect with them via social media. I would like to do this at the upcoming annual conferences UNI will offer this year, including the Elementary Literacy Conference, the African American Children and Families Conference, and the Educating Educators Conference. 

Another way I would like to grow my PLN is to connect with more education professionals and resources specific to Iowa. I plan to live and teach in Iowa long-term; that is the reason why I chose to complete my student teaching in Iowa as opposed to going out of state or abroad. I would like to learn more about "who's-who" in the Iowa schools and connect with them on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Blogger. Additionally, I would like to follow more educational resources specific to our state; I follow Grant Wood AEA on Twitter, but that's the extent of my specific Iowan resources. My goal is to research and reach out to those individuals and resources and have 10 new connections before the end of the semester.

Lastly, I'd like to get more involved with podcasts. I have podcasts loaded on my phone and planned to listen to them when I went running, but I usually run in the rec center and it's so loud that it's hard to hear. Therefore, I haven't been listening to them as much as I'd like. In the future, I want to not only investigate and find more podcasts to follow, but also actually listen to these resources. My goal is to listen to one podcast a week and follow two more podcasts before the end of the semester.

Do you have any ideas about how I could expand my PLN? Please feel free to give me recommendations in the comments!

Posters in the Classroom

In Visual Literacy this week, we talked about visuals that are specifically used in the realm of education. When I think about educational visuals, my mind immediately envisions posters. A person who is not involved in education may not know that posters are actually a topic of debate in this field.

An example of a poster that may hang in a classroom or library; image used with permission from Enokson on flickr

The anti-poster argument is that posters and other hanging visuals can disrupt attention and learning in the classroom. So far, studies on the topic have shown that students in more heavily-decorated classrooms tend to spend more time off-task and underperform in the class because they are too visually stimulated to focus. Additionally, this argument states that posters and other visuals are hung more for the parents and teachers as opposed to the students, as evidenced by displayed posters that do not address content that the students have been taught (yet).

The pro-poster argument is that these visuals are learning tools that help students engage in the content of the class. Posters can succinctly summarize content so that students can glance at them and quickly recall what they are supposed to know about that topic. Posters are also decorative and can break up the monotony of bare, boring walls.

I personally believe that posters can be powerful learning tools, as long as they are used correctly. As this article states, posters must be rotated to specifically address the content the students are learning. This involves rotating posters between units as well as within a unit (depending on how long students are learning about a particular topic). I believe there are a few posters that should be kept throughout the year (such as the alphabet in a kindergarten classroom), but teachers need to be mindful of what they are hanging at what point in their students' learning. Additionally, teachers must be selective in the posters that they hang. Posters should be visually appealing and purposeful. Too many posters is overstimulating.

We borrow an anthropology classroom for our educational technology class.

There are far too many visuals in here, and they are all hung in a row around the classroom! Ah!

In class, we briefly discussed the use of QR codes in the classroom. I think this is a brilliant idea. QR codes can be scanned by students to learn more information about an identified topic. For example, if a student forgets how to estimate, he or she can walk over to the appropriate QR code, scan it, and refresh themselves on the process before returning to their problem. QR codes are not as visually impactful as a poster, but using them would keep the class from becoming overwhelmed with posters. If you'd like information about using QR codes in your class, I'd recommend Kathy Schrock's guide.

This QR Code links to my blog, but you could create codes that show a poster or informational website!

I also really like the idea of students creating posters that are beneficial to them. Students must use their critical thinking and reasoning skills to create posters that will help others learn about or recall information that is important. Additionally, they must think about visual aspects of their poster such as organization, design, and flow. Students take ownership of their learning when they create posters about topics they are studying in class.

Student-created poster on natural selection; image used with permission by Enokson on flickr

For a great example of a teacher implementing poster creation in the classroom, see the video below:

What are your thoughts on using posters in the classroom? Do you think there are more beneficial ways to incorporate visuals in the learning space? How can we optimally design our classrooms to be the best for our students? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Reporting on My Digital Presence - Part 3

Through part 1 and part 2 of my investigation over the past week, I have been able to explore my digital footprint and "clean it up." By performing a Google search for myself, I was able to see what anyone who searches me might find. (Honestly, super sleuths may be able to find more about me than I was able to!) How I represent myself online could be the first impression I make on future employers and colleagues, as well as my students and the family members of those students. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that I not only maintain a clean digital presence, but also continue to grow and create a stronger online identity.

It's important to thoroughly review and preserve your online presence!

This exploration also helped me comprehend why it is important for students to understand the impact of their actions online. Before doing any sort of work online, students should know that the internet is a public place with an incredibly large audience, and nothing they put into cyberspace can be taken back. (Once it's online, it's there forever, even if you try to delete it or take it back!) Students should be taught that before they type (or say, write, etc.) anything, they should THINK about it.

Image used with permission by Thomas Galvez on flickr.

There are some points within THINK that I believe are important to bring up specifically with students. For example, children are easy internet prey, and they need to be taught to protect their personal information. (While some personal information may seem harmless to share, such as photos and birthdays, hackers can breach children's data. This may even make the children discoverable, risking their physical safety.) Keeping personal details private and off the internet (and not sharing these details about others) allows us to use digital tools safely.

Additionally, all people are responsible for their digital footprints. Children should be taught what a digital footprint is, as well as what behaviors promote a positive digital footprint. It should be explained to children that their online reputations are extremely important and that the things they do online can either help or harm their reputations. For example, calling someone a mean name over Twitter not only hurts that person's feelings, but is also lasting evidence that you said that; it can never be taken back once it's online. I really like Common Craft's video explaining why it is important to protect one's online reputation.

Lastly, students should understand that digital footprints can be searched or shared. I can search myself to show my students what information appears about me on the internet. I can also show them screenshots of information I found on the internet about another teacher in the school or a well-known public figure. I will tell students that before they post anything online, they should think about if they would want me, the principal, their parents, or even their grandparents to see it. If not, it should not be posted!

There are many resources teachers and parents can use to learn about children's internet safety. Here are just a few:

There are also many resources actually created for kids so that they can learn about their own internet safety:

And here are some lesson plans for teachers to use to introduce the idea of a digital presence to their students:

Lastly, I wanted to include a short, cute video related to students' "digital trails."

What ideas do you have for introducing online safety and the digital presence to your students or children? Please share in the comments!