The BBC reports that West Nottinghamshire College has incorporated a modified version of Atari/Bioware’s Neverwinter Nights into classrooms as a teaching tool, and achievement scores have tripled (trebled if you’re a fussy Brit).

…before they set off in their galleon they have to fill it with the things they are going to need. This requires them to work out the area of the ship and how much they can manage to bring.

Some students managed it, others sank on the way and never progressed to the next level. They would come knocking on the staff room door and wouldn’t let us go until we had taught them how to calculate area.

Some analysis by Raph Koster:

“Games work best at teaching when the challenges are organic to the experience, rather than out of left field. This is why so many educational games suck — just strapping an incentive structure on rote practice doesn’t work very well, compared to instead building a long-term goal structure, and then presenting challenges on the way. The ‘fill the hold’ example works because the students have a goal that isn’t learning.

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While browsing my friend Sarah’s website, I ran across a wonderful quotation from Niels Bohr (quantum physicist) that reminded me of a conversation I had a few years ago with my good friend Mowgli; I’ll get to Bohr’s statement in a moment. In the conversation with Mowgli, I quoted a line from an e.e. cummings poem:

I'd rather learn from one bird how to sing
than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance

This strikes me as a profound truth, oft repeated in cummings work; the sense being something along the lines of how beauty and truth are best unanalyzed, and how “progress,” “knowledge,” and science can destroy truth. Mowgli expressed distaste for the quote, saying that knowledge, science, and understanding the universe are very important and worthwhile things to him. I also agreed with that. I didn’t see the cummings quote and his opinion as contradictory, but I couldn’t explain why.

The Bohr quote recalled this conversation to my mind. I think Bohr’s statement itself expresses a profound truth, as well as reconciling the apparent disagreement in Mowgli and my philosophies:

The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.

Bohr echoes another cummings idea, from the forward to cumming’s book is 5:

Ineluctable preoccupation with The Verb gives a poet one priceless advantage:whereas nonmakers must content themselves with the merely undeniable fact that two times two is four,he rejoices in a purely irresistible truth (to be found,in abbreviated costume,upon the title page of the present volume).

It is the soulless scientist who contents himself with merely undeniable facts. Bohr’s quote shows that he and his ilk are after purely irresistible truths.

May we all be fortunate enough to spend our lives as makers and poets.

Brian Williams 1986-2007

January 11, 2007

Today I’m in Albert Lea, Minnesota attending the funeral of my friend Brian Willaims. Brian grew up next door to me and is the younger brother of my good friend Jaime.

The service begins at 9 am this morning. The funeral procession will travel to Woodward, Iowa for interment in the afternoon. My friend Thomas and I are pallbearers.

Brian was 20 years old and a soldier in Iraq. I saw him online often and played video games with him. He was on leave for the hoilidays when he committed suicide at his mother’s house in Albert Lea.

He will be missed.

Time Out!

January 6, 2007

Many thanks to Jane borden of Time Out New York magazine. She recently named a short I directed “Best Comedy Short Film” of 2006.

Full article here.