Conversation Piece For THATCamp

This is just a quick post to get out a first pass at a rubric for assessing games for use in history classrooms for THATCamp. Click the image to see a bigger, more readable version.
History Games Rubric First Draft

Most approaches to evaluating games, or at least most of the approaches I have come across are not discipline specific, and I think that is a really bad thing. Even within the humanities each discipline has a distinct epistemology, distinct set of goals for teaching, and a distinct role to play in curricula.

The rubric is my attempt to bring together existing models of reviewing both games and historical works and adapting them to needs of a history classroom. Most videogame reviews are written for the consumer. They answer the question, should I buy this game? Historical book reviews serve a different propose. First, like the game reviews they tell the historian whether or not they need to buy the book. Beyond that the reviews are a forum for critiquing the work, often the original author will respond to the criticism. In the altruistic sense the reviews are a critical tool in refining our understanding of the past, helping define future paths for scholarship.

In reviewing games as educational tools we are fundamentally asking a different set of questions. For the purpose of Playing history the most direct audience is teachers and the question the review should answer is should I use this in my classroom, and if so in what capacity and how should it be integrated.

Many of the issues in games reviews come into play in a sideways sort of way. One of the biggest values of games is in the literature is the notion that they are engaging, a rich way to get kids involved in learning. I think much of that richness comes from the very features that make a game commercially viable. The story line, the graphics, difficulty, soundtrack etc. are all relevant to the value of the game.

Similarly the historical book review offers some good functions. The viewpoint of the work, its historicity. Beyond a resource for teachers, one of the ultimate goals of Playing History is to build a network that can offer substantive feedback for developers. In this capacity it would be ideal for these reviews to comment on what the game does in relation to other games and where it takes the field.

Hectic times make for great memories

April flowers have brought May showers to our neck of the woods. A balmy April somehow turned into rainy May days.
Zelda wore the weather well…
what a mug

….but our two guests this month, Marie and Dave, had to be willing to put up with some muddiness. That worked out pretty well in both cases. Marie joined us for a pretty fantastic Mother’s Day breakfast (if I may say so my self!) and some small-town site seeing:
kinda looks like a doll house
We did get to see some fantastic “wildlife”!
last snake
Zelda graduated from her puppy obedience class:
perfect pup
…and we got a little bit closer to finalizing our wedding plans:
does it make you hungry

1934: A Better Time to Be A Girl Interested in Science?

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Nature Study was the cutting edge approach in American science education. Educational scholars claimed students should “study nature, not books” and education took on a much more practical bent. Some scholars have noted that this approach to science education was much more gender inclusive, that nature study invited more women and girls into the sphere of science. The following images from Science Stories, a 1934 American science textbook, would seem to support the argument that nature study was more inviting to girls. In the past fifty years various science textbooks have come under scrutiny for including only pictures of boys and men in the book’s illustrations. Take a look at the following set of pictures from the book, these representative selections show boys and girls working together, something later books have largely failed to do. If this book is at all indicative of other texts and approaches from the time it would seem to be incontrovertible that Nature Study brought about a much more gender neutral approach for presenting science to children.

Science Stories follows a group of students and their teacher through the four seasons. Almost every page includes a picture, and almost every picture that includes a boy includes a girl as well. In the picture above we can see students in Autumn looking at leaves and twigs. Many of the stories focus on students activities outside. It is also worth mentioning that the science teacher is female.

The gender equity in the pictures follows the students back into the classroom. Many images like the one above show boys and girls workign together, in this case on some sort of diorama. Almost every single image shows boys and girls working together.

Beyond dioramas the gender equity extended to working with scientific equipment (see above) and children working on their homework.

Throughout the book boys and girls work together, collaborating and exploring their natural world. Aside from being a pleasant read, filled with beautiful illustrations, the Science Stories book is an interesting example of a gender inclusive curriculum. While we like to think that science and science education have become increasingly open to women these images, work like Kimberly Tolley’s Science Education of American Girls and explorations of the nature study movement suggests otherwise. It seems that the history of gender in science and science education is much more dynamic than we previously thought.