Category Archives: Education

How Games Can Influence Learning

By Nathan Maton

What do games have anything to do with learning? We spoke to
nationally recognized researchers, teachers, game-based schools and
companies that develop educational games and asked how they see games
fitting into the education landscape.

of the day, a game is successful only if each individual gamer has an
interaction with it that makes him or her want to come back for more,”
says Nt Etuk, CEO of Dimension U, an educational games company.  “Even
the massively multi-player games [such as World of Warcaft] are
successful only because they have tapped into a million individual need
to interact, or to compete, or to form groups.”

GAMES CAN HELP STRUGGLING STUDENTS.  “[Games] don’t cause behavior problems but eliminate them,” Ananth Pai says. Pai teaches students from second to fifth grade in Parkview/Center Point Elementary school in Maplewood, Minnesota. Pai
took the time to develop a game-based curricula, and says he’s seen the
rewards of his efforts.

In his gamified classroom, students who performed below proficiency
contributed the most to the double-digit growth in achievement. “These
are the students that make up the whole education reform debate.
Gamification helps them from falling through the ever widening
achievement gap as they move forward from third grade,” he said.

IT’S HIGHLY PERSONALIZED. With the best games, the
player is challenged at exactly the right level and in the right way to
keep the player playing. “Maybe the question we need to ask is what
about games causes youth to engage that our traditional approach to
education lacks,” says Brian Alspach, Executive Vice President of E-Line
Media, an educational games publisher well known for their game Gamestar Mechanic. “Perhaps applying games to classes is hard because they work on a
different educational philosophy than our current education system.
Classes are designed to get the lowest common denominator engaged, while
games are an interactive, ‘lean-forward’ medium in which players can
progress at their own pace while trying and failing in a safe
environment. A well-designed game offers an intricate balance of
challenges and rewards that continually pushes players to, and then
beyond, the limits of their knowledge and skill.”

a school led by renowned game designer Katie Salen that integrates
games across all classes and subjects, is one of the leading examples of
how games fit into schools. Yet even there, according to Rebecca
Rufo-Tepper, Director of Integrated Learning, none of their teachers
teach exclusively through games.  Even when they do use games, they’re
frequently not what you’d imagine.

“Games are very flexible and can be used in different ways,”
Rufo-Tepper says. “It’s not like they’re in the classroom playing a
video game or playing cards everyday but there is this larger contextual
experience that is game like. We use the word ‘game-like’ a lot instead
of ‘game.'”

She gives an example of how the school’s seventh-grade literacy class, in which they read a book called Chains
by Laurie Halse Anderson, about New York City during the American
Revolution. Students are asked to write about the different types of
power represented in the book, to give literary examples, and to write a
literary essay with multiple drafts. Sounds like a typical English
class, except the small twist here is that Oprah Winfrey has “visited”
them in a video created by game designers and the teacher, and asked
them to join her book club. “There’s a fictionalized game-like
experience and the kids know that it isn’t really Oprah but it is all
couched in this game like experience,” she said.

fact is, many of the games out there suck,” said Ralph Vacca, a
doctoral student at New York University’s Educational Communications and
Technology Program. “They don’t tackle genuine learning needs as
teachers see them, they don’t address practical limitations, as teachers
see them, and they don’t live up to the hype around them, as teachers
see them.” Those who design games need to recognize the “logistical,
organizational, and cultural obstacles teachers have to deal with that
underlie lots of perceived ‘resistance’ to innovations in the
classroom.” For busy teachers, spending days or weeks prepping to use a
game in just one or two classes is not the best use of time, he said.

Even Quest To Learn, which hopes to be a leading example in
implementing games in schools in game design, admits to the challenge of
developing useful games. They’ve pulled together the best and brightest
of both the teaching and game-design worlds and carefully thought
through their plan. Even so, some of their games, particularly in their
first year, were frequently over-designed and over-complicated.

“We’ll have designed a board game where we realize that it has taken
45 minutes of class for the kids just to understand how to play it,”
Rebecca says.  “And we’ll have said we’ll take 15 minutes to explain it
and then they’ll play around and then we’re in a classroom. Forty-five
minutes have gone by and the kids are still trying to figure out how to
play it.” Add to that the fact that it was a Friday, by the time student
return on Monday, “they’ve forgotten everything that you’ve talked

Social Entrepreneurship and Non-Linear Dynamics: Chaos Theory in Service of Social Change

 By Ale Carvalho

174-holmes.jpgSocial Entrepreneurship and Non-Linear Dynamics: Chaos Theory in Service of Social Change

(and while at it, let’s borrow Heisenberg’s Principle of Uncertainty too)

Main thesis –   Powerful ideas implemented in the simplest form and in the smallest contexts possible have the potential to produce butterfly effects either by themselves or with the aid of a minimum set of enablers.

Today I was at the United Nations Development Programme talking amenities to Charles, a senior staff member from the Environment and Energy Group. Very cool guy. The topic of my upcoming Haiti trip came about, and we started discussing innovative approaches to care after a harsh disaster. Our conversation revolved around the care for the soul, care for the heart, and care for the spirit – not only the body as mainstream efforts so narrowly focus on. Music popped up as a venue, and we exchanged ideas for at least 20 minutes.

Charles then mentioned a small grassroots group in Kenya that started a soccer league and was using soccer as a way to bring self-esteem and life guidance to underprivileged kids. And he went on to say that they eventually became something big, with recognition and reach outside of the borders of Kenya.

That thought amazed me. How can such a tiny little effort, in such a tiny little place in Kenya, somehow reached the voices of two people at the United Nations in New York? and suddenly their work was being cherished and discussed by two people miles and miles away?

Eureka. That’s the Butterfly Effect through a lens of Social Change. When powerful ideas with sufficient key enablers grow and reach the Tipping Point of Social Breakthrough (TPSB), oh my! they spread like wildfire around the community, city and sometimes world, changing mindsets and influencing new initiatives that will further positive impact.

Good ideas are highly contagious, resilient, and only perish when one stops believing on them, either because they weren’t successful in producing the desired measurable effects or simply because the brain that generated the thought stop believing in it. And quit honestly, inventors of new things – be them prototypes or new ideas – are well known for being very stubborn to accept that the numbers were fair and clean when assessing their inventions and tend to continue spending time and even money on a condemned project. So in the end, as Plato would love to hear, ideas – like gods or deities – only die if you stop believing them.

So we should have a beautiful incubator of butterflies. Released around the globe with the minimum necessary, in the form of proof-of-concepts that may eventually become full-fledged projects or organizations, and who knows? Wingflaps in Cambodia, Kenya, Chad, Rio de Janeiro, Cuba, Mexico, Prague, Australia, and many other places in the world – and so sorry conventional wisdom: we have a big hurricane of change coming from all sides and been picked up by many different entrepreneurs that will advance, refine, and make the thought more elegant by adding new lessons learned.

 How many of them ideas will generate hurricanes? How many of them will die? Impossible to know beforehand. Heisenberg’s Principle of Uncertainty. But do we have any choice but to have faith and launch?… see what happens? That’s the thrill of Social Entrepreneurship. Ultimately a Leap of Faith into the unknown.  That’s the thrill of life. That’s something worth living for.




Show Me the Fellowship!

By Ralph Vacca

I’m no Jerry Maguire but I had you at “fellowship” didn’t I? Understandably so… fellowships seem to be everywhere with new ones popping up as fast as those Facebook groups, 1 million people for [fill in the blank] (my favorite is the one to bring back Frankenberry cereal).

But in all seriousness there does seem to be a dramatic increase in fellowship opportunities. Specifically the fellowships I’m talking about are the ones around social entrepreneurship, social innovation, social change or whatever term you ascribe to that entails solving social problems. Even more specifically when I say fellowships, I mean finite developmental opportunities that provide practical experience in getting involved in the social change movement (think Teach for America).

So what’s the deal with these social change fellowships? Rather than argue what is meant by social change, or label the fellowship explosion as a “fad” or “innovative”, or even compare them with internships and volunteer opportunities, I’d like to plainly and simply ask two questions I’ve recently found myself thinking about as I try not to think about the cold slushy NYC weather.

First is the idea of how do fellowships serve as a catalyst to change an entire sector? Secondly, what are the implications for fellowships in recruiting locally or outside the local community?

So what got me thinking about fellowships? And no I won’t make a Lord of the Rings joke here. What did it was my recent trip to Hubli, India this past January. Most probably have never heard of Hubli, but a friend described it best when she said it’s like Ithaca, very lovely but not sure why you would visit. Anyway, I was there as part of an NYU course in International Social Impact Strategies, and I had the pleasure to learn more about an interesting fellowship called the Deshpande Fellows Program (DFP) housed at the Deshpande Center for Social Entrepreneurship (see image of cool building below).


In Hubli, in addition to permanently raising my tolerance for spicy food and watching Avatar in Hindi, I was inspired by the fellows in the DFP that were creating enterprises ranging from milk collection/distribution initiatives to security force services. Truly some very cool initiatives.

So… quick overview of DFP? Sure! DFP is a six-month program that trains and empowers locals (mostly those in the Karnataka region) to become social entrepreneurs and tackle mounting national social problems such as poverty, hunger and education. Through intense experiential learning the cohort of learners engage in projects that develop their entrepreneurial and leadership skills including how to use social media, devise business plans, and develop grassroots initiatives, etc.

So on to the first question I posed earlier. How do these fellowships serve as a catalyst to change an entire sector? Something that kept coming up was the challenge in getting the development sector in India to be more risk-friendly promoting innovation and new entrepreneurial ways of working. So in answering this we started to ask ourselves, should fellowships focus on preparing leaders to enter existing organization to bring about change from within or prepare entrepreneurs that will start new organizations that foster social entrepreneurship culture and innovation from the onset?

I likened the question to a romantic relationship where one asks themselves if they should work on changing a semi-functional relationship or start anew with someone else, this time knowing what works and what doesn’t. Maybe not the best analogy but nonetheless relevant because what you face in trying to change organizations are people and a series of relationships that shape the organization’s problem-solving approach. So therein lies the challenge for fellowship programs in that there seems to be a difference in preparing intrapreneurs with organizational change skills versus entrepreneurs that have enterprise birthing skills.

In line with thinking about the focus of the fellowship is also our second question, about the fellows themselves. What are the implications of fellowships recruiting locally versus outside the local community?

In learning about the DFP, it was inspiring to see the power of recruiting locals to address local issues. From being able to leverage the existing social capital they have within the communities being served, to inspiring a new generation of changemakers in children that see themselves in these leaders, the DFP made me wonder what would happen if Teach for America focused on cultivating local talent to work in schools being served? As we look to change pockets of the social sector through human capital development efforts (such as fellowships), how important is it that we focus on local talent that are not just passionate about social change, but often resonate with the issues on a personal level because they lived it, they understand it, and they are product of it.

So regardless of what answers you come to in pondering these questions on fellowships and social change, I’m sure we can all agree that having more change agents running around trying to make the world a better place can’t be a bad thing. So to the social sector…. show me the fellowship!

More Information
Deshpande Fellows Program:
Ralph Vacca:

Police Violence in NYC & How to and Who’s Responding

post is by Yul-san Liem (am posting Alexandre’s email re witnessing police
harassment and my response to it together since he said he was having trouble
posting to the blog.  His original email is below.)


This is
my response, which I feel compelled to write, because I have been doing
anti-police violence work for a little while now (really since 07), though
folks I work with are far more knowledgeable …  


said, the first thing I will post are a few websites in case folks want more
info about police accountability and anti-pv work that’s going on in the city
these days: (particularly see the know
your rights info and the peoples self-defense campaign under Programs and
Initiatives.) (see the
Criminal Justice and Mass Incarceration section, esp the Stop and Frisk report.)


list is by no means exhaustive, and doesn’t deal with the incarceration side of
the coin (with the exception of CCR).  It’s just what comes quickly out of
by head based on who I work with.

as those of us who live in NYC know, what Alexandre witnesses is an upsetting,
but not unusual scene.  Young, low-income folks of color are often
targeted by the NYPD for very minor crimes (jumping turnstiles, riding bikes on
the side walk, even spitting.)  More and more, cops are making arrests
rather than giving young folks violations (tickets.)  While its is my
understanding that there is no official quota system, cops are assessed for
promotion based on the number of arrests they make, among other factors. 
As a side note, young folks get handcuffed all the time (recently a 6 year-old
was cuffed in a public school for throwing a tantrum.)  Additionally,
partially in response of racial profiling, the recent years, the NYPD has made
a concerted effort to recruit young people of color into their ranks. 
You’ll notice very few of the higher-ups are people of color (surprise
surprise.)  Cops and anti-pv organizers alike often say that, first and
foremost, the race of officers is blue – referring to the training and loyalty
that makes cops ally with each other rather than their community members, and
often cover up each other’s abusive actions.


Some basic things you can do if you witness an instance of police violence:


1.   Stop and
observe.  It’s legal.  It may not deter an unlawful or unjust arrest,
but it’s possible that it will deter an escalated level of verbal, physical or
sexual abuse.  (Of course, it also may not, thinking about Oscar Grant,
where there were tons of folks watching.)

2.   If you have a
camera on your phone or with you, document.  Police don’t like this, but
it’s legal.  If the police tell you you’re obstructing, tell them you will
step back, but continue filming. Tell them you are observing your legal right
to document police activity.

3.   If the person
being targeted appears hurt or distraught, ask them about their
condition.  If they feel comfortable talking to you, ask them if they want
you to make a phone call for them and get the number.

4.   Write down the
badge/car number of the cops involved and any other iding info.

5.   File a CCRB
complaint (as Alexandre did.)  The more info you have about the event, the
more likely it is that it will stick.  But it’s still pretty unlikely (I
think I have stats somewhere, if folks want.)

6.   If you actually
want to do something more organized, get involved with a local Cop Watch
team.  Some orgs. which do Cop Watch include the Justice Committee,
Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and Make the Road New York, but there are more.
(You can get in touch with me for more info.)


I have lot’s of resourses/analysis about the who, what, why, when and where of
police violence.  So if folks are interested, let me know.


about the long post. 


Peoples’ Justice (a city-wide coalition) recently commissioned Know Your Rights
murals in Bushwick and Washington
and posted
anti-pv billboards in those neighborhoods and Bed-Stuy.  If you’re in
those neighborhoods, look out for them. 


On a
Thursday Night… I Failed a 13 Year Old Boy 


Alexandre Carvalho  


of all, I
d like to say to everyone that I am
sorry. Sorry for me being so infuriated and to some extent radical today. Usually
I have strong positions, but normally express them in a kind and calm way; always
looking to ground them on good arguments and evidence. But my heart was inflamed
for something that I saw at the subway, while rushing to be on time for class. Me
and two other colleagues were coming back from Peter Singer
s lecture about the Moral Obligation to End Poverty. We escaped in the middle of it so to arrive precisely at the right
time for our first class. We were 5 minutes late. When the train stopped at W 4th
st., we stormed out of the train and saw this rather strange scene.


A thirteen
year old African-American was being arrested by this rough Latino policeman
the cause we couldnt figure out why  and everyone just kept starring. I looked around
and some were indifferent, some were angry (don
t know
if towards the police officer or the kid) and many, the majority, didn
t hesitate for a second and just went on minding their business. I
wanted to stop and do something, but I was simply paralyzed. Not literally, because
I kept going towards the exit, but in terms of will and ethical reasoning. To make
matters worse, the kid looked 9 and the officer said the following words:
You think that only because you are 13, you wont be handcuffed? and handcuffs him then in front of
everybody, while the kid bursts into tears.
You should
be ashamed of yourself!
. And by this time, we reach the stairs
and lose sight of the story. 


But something
was terribly wrong in all that, couldn
t stop
thinking about it. I wanted to go back and stand for the kid, to say to the policeman
What did he do that is so serious
that you need to harass him and humiliate him
and worse,
cause an irreversible damage on his psyche, by handcuffing him? You should be ashamed
of yourself. I don
t know what he did, but I certainly
know that this is unnecessary. He might have failed to abide by the law, but we
as a society have failed HIM too.


And by this
time, I arrived to class. But even though John
s a great
professor (could notice it already!), GHPM a great subject to study, and even though
I read all the articles and was ready to contribute a lot, I simply couldn
t stop thinking on how wrong was I in not standing out for him against
the police officer. 


And then
I had to leave class to think this through. And so I did. The first thoughts that
crossed my mind were an attempt to identify the reasons that made me such an indifferent
person. Ha. I was afraid. Afraid to get into trouble with the NYPD and lose my F-1
Status, and thus my dream to acquire a MPH in NYC/NYU. Were I willing to risk my
skin in order to do what is right? Apparently not. And this realization stung me.
I felt terrible. So, all this education that I have, all the Foucault
s, all the Pedagogy of the Oppressed, means nothing, because I cant make the connection of all that towards a clearly absurd situation.
Of course the law would be on my side. But I was weak and not fast enough. 


I had to
redeem myself somehow. I ran back to the subway station. When I reached the platform
where the incident happened, the police and the kid weren
t there. They took him. The subway surveillance office, where I went
to ask for help, didn
t know anything about it. So I went
up the stairs and started to go back to Bobst
and got
completely lost in the way. Know the region well enough by now, but for 20 minutes
I kept going back and fourth in the streets without knowing the right way. Maybe
me losing myself completely was an expression of how I was inside. Lost. With no


P.S.: I placed
a complaint in 311 and they will investigate, and try to set up a personal appointment;
will it work? Don’t know. Have to hope for the best.