Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Games in Schools and Libraries

Announcing ‘Games in Schools and Libraries’, THE show about board, card and digital games, and the ways in which they can find a place in the classroom or at the local library.

Donald Dennis (from the wonderful On Board Games podcast) and myself are the hosts of Games in Schools and Libraries (GSL).  Don is the young adult games and technology librarian for Georgetown county SC, and I am a teacher at St Georges Rd Primary School in Shepparton, Victoria.  

In Games and Schools and Libraries, Don and I review and talk about specific games we’ve used in our respective settings, but each episode is also themed around a particular topic.  So far we’ve recorded shows on story telling games, spatial games, game themes (and more) and we have a huge list of topics we want to cover in future episodes. We hope the listening is as enjoyable as the recording has been!

Our mission with the Games in Schools and Libraries podcast is to provide a short podcast dealing with the various issues and potentials of providing and running game based programs in libraries and schools.  The podcast will seek to inform, inspire and generate conversation around the use of games as a medium for socialisation, interaction, communication and education.  This also gives an indication as to why we are partnering up with the fantastic Games for Educators website.  These are lofty goals to be sure, but with all the podcasts out there covering the wonderful world of board, card and digital games we hoped there might be room for one more with a specific goal in mind.

The release schedule for the next month or so is designed to quickly build up a level of content.  In the next week you’ll hear 3 episodes go live - one introducing ourselves and the show, one covering board games and the last discussing digital games.  Beyond that we’ll fall back to a weekly schedule of releases for a month or two, and then back again to a fortnightly release schedule.  While this might seem scatalogical (and probably quite rightly), the aim is for us to get a quantity of content out there in the short term, and then ease back into what will be our intended rhythm (that is a show that goes out fortnightly).

If you have any questions or comments you will be able to find us over at the Games for Educators website, where the inestimable Pat has been kind enough to host our show.  You will also be able to find us in our guild over on boardgamegeek, here.  Alternatively we have an email address which we announce on our show, and we’d love to read any and all feedback.

Don and I are excited about Games in Schools and Libraries, and we hope you find it as interesting and useful as we have found it enjoyable!


Oh - and you can find the feed here.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Once Upon A Time...

Once Upon A Time is a story-telling game published by Atlas Games, and designed by Richard Lambert, Andrew Rilstone and James Wallis.

In Once Upon a Time players each have a hand of cards, representing items, characters, places and other things.  The object of the game is to collectively create a story, and in so doing get rid of the cards in your hand.  For each sentence a player may play one card from their hand - so I might begin with: Once upon a time there was a tower hidden in the depths of a dark forest. As I say this sentence I play a card from my hand - the tower card.  I am allowed to continue telling the story and playing cards unless another player takes over (and there are rules for this).  Players also each have a single ‘ending’ card in hand - which is the story ending they are personally angling to manipulate the story into.

It is a simple game, almost loose enough to be deemed more of an activity than a game.  But it can be a lot of fun, and the zany stories that rise from the game can be quite amusing - especially with a group of creative individuals.

I’ve been using it recently as a starting activity in class - something that precedes a creative writing session.  My class is 27 students - so playing by the normal rules won’t work.  What we’ve been doing instead is this: each student has a hand of three cards, I draw their names randomly, as their name is drawn they must add a single sentence to the story at the same time as playing one of their cards.  We do this for a set time - say 15 minutes, and the students go back to their books and take up the incomplete tale from there - each continuing and finishing the story as they see fit.

It has been a lot of fun so far - and provides a welcome aid to creativity.  The stories are fun and zany. It is equally interesting to see the differences in how the stories unfold as the individual students take over in their books.

There are many ways in which this game can be used in class - and the students (so far) are really enjoying it.  The need to tailor the story to the cards makes for just enough confinement to make the stories crazy and amusing, but the cards are also loose enough to allow for a great deal of creativity and control.  A great little game.

For a cheap game - this has been a great addition to our school game collection.  I’m adding it as one of the possible writing activities to my literacy rotations - a happily ever after indeed!


Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Curiouser and Curiouser

More than 500 years ago Western scientific thought supposed the Earth to be at the center of a created universe and the planets but wandering stars.  Today the picture of the universe is far bigger, far more beautiful, and far more amazing.  Today there are robots on the surface of another planet that is, on average, about 225 million kilometers away.  Robots that are taking photos, analyzing and sending back information from the surface of Mars.

News of the touchdown of the Mars Science Laboratory ‘Curiosity’ in the Gale Crater on the surface of Mars has made headlines and news stations the globe over.  Well it should, as amazing as this car sized rover is, and as bountiful as the findings of its many instruments are likely to be, the landing itself is one of the most spectacular and amazing feats of planning, and as of earlier today: astounding execution.


I was lucky enough to be able to watch the live feed from NASA TV in the buildup and moment of Curiosity's landing, and the technically difficult and amazingly creative fashion in which this rover made it from Earth to the surface of another planet in our solar system was both exciting and stunning.

Kudos to NASA and the people at JPL who managed this feat, it is truly one of the great triumphs of technical expertise, science, mathematics and engineering.  It is also so creative and audacious that it seems too unreal to even fit comfortably in the pages of a science fiction novel.  Luckily, truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.

My mind boggles at the comparatively simple mathematics involved with launching a rocket from Earth that will, 8 months later, collide with Mars - all of these being moving objects.  But the multi-stage landing, combining aerobraking with parachute deployment, the ejection of the parachute and use of powered descent, and then the amazing crane to lower this giant rover to the surface is one of the great triumphs of scientific endeavor.

Well done to all those involved - to the people at JPL who created and managed this amazing feat, and to all those supporting around the world - from the ESA to the radio telescopes of Australia.  Here’s hoping for an amazing array of discoveries from Curiosity.  Thanks to Curiosity the story of our solar system is about to increase in definition and quality.  We live in amazing times.

From the surface of Mars earlier today (and the NASA website).

An amazing video that neatly encapsulates why this landing is so amazing: