Creating a School That Teaches Through Games
Katie Salen is a game designer, interactive designer, animator, and design educator. In 2009 she founded the first ever digital school for grades 6-12, Quest 2 Learn (Q2L) in New York. She is the co-author of "Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals," a textbook on game design, as well as the "Game Design Reader." She writes extensively on game design, design education, and game culture.
Katie Salen: Quest2Learn is this new public school that we opened in New York City in the fall. It’ll eventually be a sixth grade through 12th grade public school. Right now we just have sixth graders. And it’s a school that has been designed from the ground up to try to pay attention to the notion that we have a whole generation of digital kids. And more specifically that... because my interest is in game design, and there’s been increasing kind of research around the fact that kids playing games today are learning to see the world in some pretty interesting way, that we wanted to not only tap into the digital generation in the design of the school, but also to think about, well, how can the structures of games be used to design a school in a way that was really engaging for kids, really got at content expertise, but also began to work on some of these 21st century skills that people are talking about—collaboration, working in teams, complex problem-solving, systems thinking, being able to kind of design and find resources. And so the school has really been designed as a school that uses games as a pedagogical kind of structure.
So, it’s not a school where kids are playing video games all day, which is a common misperception, but it’s a school that uses game-like learning.
Question: What's different about the teaching tools Quest2Learn uses?
Katie Salen: There’s many different kinds of tools that we use. So, sometimes we do board game design with kids, sometimes we have been doing mobile game design with kids, so kids designing games with cell phones. And so they may be using Bluetooth technology, they may be using something called QR code or Semi code technology, which are visual bar codes that cameras take pictures of. And they design games in the environment that use these bar codes.
Question: Why are games effective for teaching?
If you tell a kid, "Well you need to learn about predator/prey, and we’re going to like read about it in a textbook or we’re going to watch it on a film," you know, then they may get interested in it, they may feel like they’re "doing school." But if you tell them, "Listen, we’re going to—your challenge is to design a game about a predator and prey." Those kids will spend hours and hours researching what’s an interesting predator and prey they want to work with? What are the specific relationships that they know they need to develop? They start drawing the elements of the game so the characters, so that maybe they choose a rabbit and a wolf. They begin to really understand the landscape and they go deep, deep, deep into that content and really become experts at it. Because to design a game, you have to really know what you’re talking about in order to create a system that models that idea.
So kids got deep in the content when they design the games about something. The second thing is that, because games require a player, from the outset the designer has to think about their user. And this is actually very different than a lot of other different areas of design.
With a game, you bring a player in right away, even when you just have a paper prototype of it. And that player starts playing with your game and they tell you what they think. And for kids, this is a profound moment where they suddenly begin to understand the notions of point of view, they really begin to understand ideas and empathy. So, "How do I step outside of myself and what I want and begin to listen about what the player is telling me about their experience in this game?" And that for me also was a very eye-opening situation to begin to think about kinds of civics curriculum, ways for teachers to begin to use game design as a way to get kids to think more broadly about opinions outside their own, ways of collaborating... And those are the two really big things that I find game design gives kids when they have the opportunity to do it.
Question: How does game-based education equip students for the future?
Katie Salen: One of the arguments that we make around game design and also just the way that play happens in games, is that you have to learn how to problem-solve and iterate and things are constantly changing. So, I mean you try something out and it doesn’t quite work and so you try something new; you look for a certain kind of resource and it’s there, and then it’s gone, and so you have to find another kind of resource. And so that ability to resource intelligently; the ability to find stuff when you need it, knowing who to go to; the ability to understand that everything is in process, that nothing is really ever a final solution; that certain kinds of tools are effective in one moment and maybe less effective at another moment.
Technology is changing all the time. We have to constantly learn how to do new stuff every day. If we don’t equip kids with an ability to understand that and know how to do it, they’re not just going to, like, learn it on their own; schools actually have a pretty important role in helping kids do that.
Question: How did your own math and science education inspire you to become a game designer?
Katie Salen: I had some great math teachers in high school. And I was a kid that was interested in conceptual things and so I loved things like geometry and I loved things like trigonometry and calculus and doing proofs was something that I got incredible pleasure doing. And I think it was because it was about solving problems and it was about thinking through how you can sequence a set of ideas in such a way that you actually arrived at a pretty interesting conclusion.
I have a friend, a great game designer named Frank Lance, and he talks about game design as math sex. Because in essence, when you are designing a game, you are dealing with all kinds of issues of mathematics and programming. You’re trying to discover what combinations of resources, when combined together will lead to certain kinds of results and that when you work in computer games that eventually comes down to doing math. Developing algorithms, trying to figure out procedurally what might happen in a game, dealing with lots of "if then" statements. So, that work in calculus was actually a pretty great practice space for the kind of thing you do when you design games, which is again, trying to figure out, well, if my game player does this and then they do this, what kind of event does that give rise too? And then what new opportunities might be there to continue to build on that argument.
The designer founded a school in New York that organizes its curriculum around gaming and digital culture.
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The COVID-19 pandemic is making health disparities in the United States crystal clear. It is a clarion call for health care systems to double their efforts in vulnerable communities.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated America's health disparities, widening the divide between the haves and have nots.
- Studies show disparities in wealth, race, and online access have disproportionately harmed underserved U.S. communities during the pandemic.
- To begin curing this social aliment, health systems like Northwell Health are establishing relationships of trust in these communities so that the post-COVID world looks different than the pre-COVID one.
COVID-19 deepens U.S. health disparities<p>Communities on the pernicious side of America's health disparities have their unique histories, environments, and social structures. They are spread across the United States, but they all have one thing in common.</p><p>"There is one common divide in American communities, and that is poverty," said <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/about/leadership/debbie-salas-lopez" target="_blank">Debbie Salas-Lopez, MD, MPH</a>, senior vice president of community and population health at Northwell Health. "That is the undercurrent that manifests poor health, poor health outcomes, or poor health prognoses for future wellbeing."</p><p>Social determinants have far-reaching effects on health, and poor communities have unfavorable social determinants. To pick one of many examples, <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/09/27/913612554/a-crisis-within-a-crisis-food-insecurity-and-covid-19" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">food insecurity</a> reduces access to quality food, leading to poor health and communal endemics of chronic medical conditions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified some of these conditions, such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes, as increasing the risk of developing a severe case of coronavirus.</p><p>The pandemic didn't create poverty or food insecurity, but it exacerbated both, and the results have been catastrophic. A study published this summer in the <em><a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-020-05971-3" target="_blank">Journal of General Internal Medicine</a></em> suggested that "social factors such as income inequality may explain why some parts of the USA are hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than others."</p><p>That's not to say better-off families in the U.S. weren't harmed. A <a href="https://voxeu.org/article/poverty-inequality-and-covid-19-us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper from the Centre for Economic Policy Research</a> noted that families in counties with a higher median income experienced adjustment costs associated with the pandemic—for example, lowering income-earning interactions to align with social distancing policies. However, the paper found that the costs of social distancing were much greater for poorer families, who cannot easily alter their living circumstances, which often include more individuals living in one home and a reliance on mass transit to reach work and grocery stores. They are also disproportionately represented in essential jobs, such as retail, transportation, and health care, where maintaining physical distance can be all but impossible.</p><p>The paper also cited a positive correlation between higher income inequality and higher rates of coronavirus infection. "Our interpretation is that poorer people are less able to protect themselves, which leads them to different choices—they face a steeper trade-off between their health and their economic welfare in the context of the threats posed by COVID-19," the authors wrote.</p><p>"There are so many pandemics that this pandemic has exacerbated," Dr. Salas-Lopez noted.</p><p>One example is the health-wealth gap. The mental stressors of maintaining a low socioeconomic status, especially in the face of extreme affluence, can have a physically degrading impact on health. <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/index.cfm/_api/render/file/?method=inline&fileID=123ECD96-EF81-46F6-983D2AE9A45FA354" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Writing on this gap</a>, Robert Sapolsky, professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University, notes that socioeconomic stressors can increase blood pressure, reduce insulin response, increase chronic inflammation, and impair the prefrontal cortex and other brain functions through anxiety, depression, and cognitive load. </p><p>"Thus, from the macro level of entire body systems to the micro level of individual chromosomes, poverty finds a way to produce wear and tear," Sapolsky writes. "It is outrageous that if children are born into the wrong family, they will be predisposed toward poor health by the time they start to learn the alphabet."</p>Research on the economic and mental health fallout of COVID-19 is showing two things: That unemployment is hitting <a href="https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2020/09/24/economic-fallout-from-covid-19-continues-to-hit-lower-income-americans-the-hardest/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">low-income and young Americans</a> most during the pandemic, potentially widening the health-wealth gap further; and that the pandemic not only exacerbates mental health stressors, but is doing so at clinically relevant levels. As <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7413844/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the authors of one review</a> wrote, the pandemic's effects on mental health is itself an international public health priority.
Working to close the health gap<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDc5MDk1MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTYyMzQzMn0.KSFpXH7yHYrfVPtfgcxZqAHHYzCnC2bFxwSrJqBbH4I/img.jpg?width=980" id="b40e2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1b9035370ab7b02a0dc00758e494412b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Northwell Health coronavirus testing center at Greater Springfield Community Church.
Credit: Northwell Health<p>Novel coronavirus may spread and infect indiscriminately, but pre-existing conditions, environmental stressors, and a lack of access to care and resources increase the risk of infection. These social determinants make the pandemic more dangerous, and erode communities' and families' abilities to heal from health crises that pre-date the pandemic.</p><p>How do we eliminate these divides? Dr. Salas-Lopez says the first step is recognition. "We have to open our eyes to see the suffering around us," she said. "Northwell has not shied away from that."</p><p>"We are steadfast in improving health outcomes for our vulnerable and underrepresented communities that have suffered because of the prevalence of chronic disease, a problem that led to the disproportionately higher death rate among African-Americans and Latinos during the COVID-19 pandemic," said Michael Dowling, Northwell's president and CEO. "We are committed to using every tool at our disposal—as a provider of health care, employer, purchaser and investor—to combat disparities and ensure the <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/education-and-resources/community-engagement/center-for-equity-of-care" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">equity of care</a> that everyone deserves." </p><p>With the need recognized, Dr. Salas-Lopez calls for health care systems to travel upstream and be proactive in those hard-hit communities. This requires health care systems to play a strong role, but not a unilateral one. They must build <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/news/insights/faith-based-leaders-are-the-key-to-improving-community-health" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">partnerships with leaders in those communities</a> and utilize those to ensure relationships last beyond the current crisis. </p><p>"We must meet with community leaders and talk to them to get their perspective on what they believe the community needs are and should be for the future. Together, we can co-create a plan to measurably improve [community] health and also to be ready for whatever comes next," she said.</p><p>Northwell has built relationships with local faith-based and community organizations in underserved communities of color. Those partnerships enabled Northwell to test more than 65,000 people across the metro New York region. The health system also offered education on coronavirus and precautions to curb its spread.</p><p>These initiatives began the process of building trust—trust that Northwell has counted on to return to these communities to administer flu vaccines to prepare for what experts fear may be a difficult flu season.</p><p>While Northwell has begun building bridges across the divides of the New York area, much will still need to be done to cure U.S. health care overall. There is hope that the COVID pandemic will awaken us to the deep disparities in the US.</p><p>"COVID has changed our world. We have to seize this opportunity, this pandemic, this crisis to do better," Dr. Salas-Lopez said. "Provide better care. Provide better health. Be better partners. Be better community citizens. And treat each other with respect and dignity.</p><p>"We need to find ways to unify this country because we're all human beings. We're all created equal, and we believe that health is one of those important rights."</p>
Shannon Lee shares lessons from her father in her new book, "Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee."
- Bruce Lee would have turned 80 years old on November 27, 2020. The legendary actor and martial artist's daughter, Shannon Lee, shares some of his wisdom and his philosophy on self help in a new book titled "Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee."
- In this video, Shannon shares a story of the fight that led to her father beginning a deeper philosophical journey, and how that informed his unique expression of martial arts called Jeet Kune Do.
- One lesson passed down from Bruce Lee was his use and placement of physical symbols as a way to help "cement for yourself this new way of being, or this new lesson you've learned." By working on ourselves (with the right tools), we can develop the skills necessary to rise and conquer new challenges.
How to deal with "epistemic exhaustion."
Philosopher Nick Bostrom's "singleton hypothesis" predicts the future of human societies.
- Nick Bostrom's "singleton hypothesis" says that intelligent life on Earth will eventually form a "singleton".
- The "singleton" could be a single government or an artificial intelligence that runs everything.
- Whether the singleton will be positive or negative depends on numerous factors and is not certain.
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A strange object found in Utah desert has prompted worldwide speculation about its origins.
- A monolithic object found in a remote part of Utah caused worldwide speculation about its origins.
- The object is very similar to the famous monolith from Stanley Kubrick's "2001: Space Odyssey".
- The object could be work of an artist or even have extraterrestrial origins.
1. ART OBJECT<p>Chances are, this is an art object. The shiny "monolith" appears to be bolted to the ground and made of metal. It also seems to be fastened with rivets, rather being a uniform block of more unexplainable production origin. Deserts are great places for unusual art installations as has been evidenced by art projects you can discover wondering through the desert ghost towns and faraway canyons of Nevada, California, Utah and New Mexico. Certainly, an artist with a sense of humor and an appreciation of Kubrick's genius could have installed such "sculpture" in hopes of exactly what is happening right now – viral fame.</p><p>On the other hand, there is evidence, courtesy of eagle-eyed <a href="https://www.reddit.com/r/news/comments/jzkpad/helicopter_pilot_finds_strange_monolith_in_remote/gdg9qfi?utm_source=share&utm_medium=web2x&context=3" target="_blank">Google Earth sleuths</a>, that the object appeared in that location (somewhere near <a href="https://www.nps.gov/cany/index.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Canyonlands National Park</a>) in 2015-2016. So it's possibly been there for a few years. Would an artist have placed it there so long ago with the aim of having this type of success eventually?</p><p>A gallery owner <a href="https://www.9news.com.au/world/utah-monolith-desert-mystery-solved-john-mccracken-sculptor-artist-2001-a-space-odyssey/0bae1a27-5bd2-451e-90a6-393928d9ed02" target="_blank">claimed</a> the work may be a tribute to the art of the late artist John McCracken, who created similar-looking objects before he died in 2011. McCracken was part of the Light and Space movement with such artists as James Turrell, and was known to make his sculptures from plywood forms that were coated with fiberglass and polyester resin.</p><p>While the theory that the monolith was the work of a McCracken aficionado (or the artist himself) may hold some water due to the object's similarity, the fact that the artist died so long ago and the lack of clear incentive for anyone to have planted this years ago only to reveal it now work against this theory.</p>
John McCracken sculptures.