Monday, December 24, 2007

NORAD Updates Santa Tracking Technology

It is Christmas Eve and my son and I are doing our annual ritual of tracking Santa's movements with the help of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) on their website NORAD started declassified Santa tracking in 1955 when a newspaper erroneously published the phone number to military command. The Air Force personnel on duty gave the children who called the latest radar information on Santa's location and a tradition was born.

This year's version is making use of Google technology. Google Maps is pinpointing Santa's location with updates every 5 minutes. Each spot marked is a link to a Google search page on the particular location Santa has visited. From here you can learn all about the cities Santa has visited. There is also a plug-in for Google Earth for those who want a better look at the terrain Santa and his reindeer are navigating. While it might be easy to criticize Google for finding a way to commercialize Santa, this actually could become a great lesson in geography. Thanks to the United States Air Force and the Canadian Air Force (who jointly run NORAD) and Google for making a fun holiday activity into fun lesson in geography.

Finally, I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Remedial Gaming

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of meeting Leslie Mabry of Houghton Mifflin, who came to our school to teach us Skills Tutor . Skills Tutor is a diagnostic and remediation application for Reading, Language Arts, Math, Writing, Information Skills, Language, and Workforce Readiness Skills. Students take pretests which are used to prescribe activities and assessments to help student weaknesses. Teachers can create various reports of student progress which can be shared with students, parents, and administrators. Leslie did a great job showing us how this worked.

However, while she was showing us the various multimedia activities and other parts of Skills Tutor, I wondered what the product would be like if the problems followed a story line like a game. Students could have a hero whose mission is to save the world, civilization, etc.... During the course of play, students would have to solve various interdisciplinary problems to achieve objectives set for them in the game based on pretest results. Teachers could access reports on how well the student is solving problems during game play.

Purists might think this is heresy but this could be more engaging for the students while making the problems more realistic. I have observed this with my son who just turned 13. Two of his favorite games are Animal Crossing and MySims. Both of these games allow the player to build, tear down, and rebuild towns and communities. Other skills such as economics, money management, trade with other towns are also part of the game. Needless to say, a career interest inventory he took earlier this school year showed he had a aptitude in architecture. Maybe the games he is playing are giving him a head start.