Boston Harbor Islands

If you’re not ready to say goodbye to summer or are just looking for a fun trip before we all get snowed in again, think about taking trip to the Boston Harbor Islands!  Not all of the islands are open to the public year-round.  At this time of the year, you can still get to Georges Island and Spectacle Island via ferry until Columbus Day (just a few weeks away).  You can get to them by taking the Boston Harbor Island Ferry from Boston’s Long Wharf (the Aquarium stop on the Blue Line).

Georges Island (Wikimedia Commons Image by Doc Searls)

Georges Island is home to Fort Warren, a fort that defended Boston Harbor from 1861 to the end of World War II. It was decommissioned in 1947, and during the American Civil War, it served as a prison for Confederate officers and government officials. It was placed on the National Register for Historic Places in 1970. There is a visitor’s center and a snack bar on this island where people can buy prepared foods such as hot dogs, French fries, burgers, and ice cream. Grills are available so that people can grill food that they’ve brought to the island from home.You can also do what my husband and I did when we visited this summer, which is carry prepared food from home onto the island, and eat lunch on one of the many picnic tables that are available near the ferry terminal and visitor center. It was lovely being able to sit outside on a nice day, chowing down on grapes, cheese and crackers, and salami, people watching and chuckling over the antics of a fearless seagull who was determined to snag a bite of someone’s lunch. Walking trails encircle Fort Warren, and benches dot the landscape.

Spectacle Island (image from

There is an inter-island ferry to Spectacle Island, which my husband and I took during our visit. Spectacle Island is also home to a visitor’s center and a snack bar, as well as a lifeguard-manned beach, and walking trails.  We walked to one of the highest points on Spectacle, and took some photos. There is a gazebo that was dedicated to Krystle Campbell, one of the Boston Marathon bombing victims, and spent a few minutes there, enjoying the peaceful scenery. It was nice to see people enjoying the beauty of the island, especially parents exploring the islands with their children. These scenes put a smile on my face.


The Krystle M. Campbell Gazebo

The Krystle M. Campbell Gazebo (Image from, courtesy of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation)

Some of the organizations that help manage the Boston Harbor Islands are the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, the National Park Service, the United States Coast Guard, the City of Boston, and the Thompson Island Outward Bound Center.

One fun fact that I learned during our initial trip out to Georges Island was that in 2008, Peddocks Island (another Boston Harbor Island that people can camp on) was used for filming scenes from the movie Shutter Island.

It’s too late now to visit Lovells Island, Peddocks Island, Grape Island, and Bumpkin Island, but if you’re already planning activities for next summer, these islands offer camping.  Lovells Island is home to picnic areas, walking trails, and a non-supervised swimming beach. This island was named after Captain William Lovell, a resident of Dorchester. Peddocks Island is home to the defunct Fort Andrews, another fort that was active in harbor defense from 1904 to the end of World War II.  Peddocks Island is also the only one of the camping islands that has access to drinkable drinking water, which might be a factor in your decision of where to camp.


facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailby feather

Story vs. Gameplay in Videogames: Good Story, Bad Gameplay

Whenever I go to the local library for my usual dosage of Terry Pratchett books or the random DVD titles, usually prefaced on Wikipedia by “This article about a horror film is a stub; You can help Wikipedia by expanding it,” curiosity always seems to get the better of me and I always explore the building before checking out my materials. Computers, ever a popular workspace in any library, are usually in continuous use from opening until closing; their adult users exhausting their time with browsing online library material, surfing the Web, or, most commonly, playing Solitaire.

minecraft image

However, while I find this extremely common with adults, I have always found children to be using computers to be preoccupied with the online videogame Minecraft. Minecraft is a sandbox videogame, an open world videogame that allows the player to explore the in-game world and create anything, seemingly without limitations. Players collect blocks and tools that allow them to create structures, ranging from a simple cottage in the woods to the ornately detailed Notre Dame and beyond. Since the game is online, players are also able to create communities and play with others, which allows each person to come out of each session with a different experience and story to tell.

minecraft survival mode

Minecraft’s Survival Mode

But then it hit me. If each person has a different story to tell, what is Minecraft’s exact story? To my utmost surprise, I found out that the closest Minecraft comes to a “story” is through its Survival Mode, where the player character needs to collect supplies within the game world to survive, culminating in nighttime battles against spiders, skeletons, and zombies (Oh my!). Because of this, instead of a true “story mode,” the game opts to put it entirely in the player’s hands. Though each of Minecraft’s  four gameplay modes (Survival, Adventure, Creative, and Spectator) contain various similar elements, such as wood, diamonds, mining, and others, the developers at Mojang decided that such a game was not suitable for the traditional storytelling mechanics. Instead, the game will focus on players creating their own worlds and items, potentially sharing it with other users before the one troll in the group decides to burn it all to the ground just because he or she can. One can almost smell the jealousy coming out of the flames. But creativity moves on and so do the haters and the non-haters.

Image from

Arc de Triopme in minecraft

Now I have tried Minecraft briefly and can understand why people enjoy it. Who wouldn’t be enticed by a bright, colorful, and open world that is the player’s own personal background where they can create what they want, when they want while simultaneously fighting off hoards of skeletons all before lunch? Personally I did not much care for it. While I may not be the most creative person in the world, especially compared to the person that can create a life sized replica of the Arc de Triomphe out of Minecraft building blocks, I can still understand why there is such a fanbase for this game. However, my main reason for not caring for it, though I can make a mean chimney, is the fact that for me story is an important element for me to enjoy media.


Freddi Fish Game

Freddi Fish

When my family bought our first computer in the 90s, I was astounded over the fact that I was able to play Solitaire on what resembled a small television. Gradually, the repertoire was expanded towards videogames, mainly the catalog from Humongous Entertainment, mainly sports games and adventure games. While my sister and brother were fascinated by the sports games, I was always intrigued by the adventure games such as Freddi Fish, Putt-Putt, and Spy Fox. While these games were aimed at children, with their brightly hand-drawn animated layout, they were similar to one another and other adventure games because they were all point-and-click adventures that required the player to use the right item at the right time to accomplish the goal. Not only did this involve a lot of trial and error, but it attempted to stir creativity in the player through both obvious puzzles (wait until a man’s back is turned to steal a page of his sheet music) and the downright mystifying (use your pet mouse to retrieve a key from under the sofa that could have EASILY been picked up).

But the most notable point about them was that they always followed a cohesive narrative. There was a problem that needed to be solved, characters that either helped or hindered the player’s actions, and a resolution for beating the game. Yes the stories were simple, such as locating missing zoo animals or solving the case of the stolen toys, but they all worked towards a goal that upon successful completion rewarded the players with a satisfying conclusion. Something that Minecraft does not do, opting to let the player continue on infinitely until they log off for good or leave the mortal coil of the real world behind.

Spy Fox game

Spy Fox

It is entirely possible that since I started reading books before I began my trek into the Videogame Universe that I am inevitably drawn to the narrative structure and like to see it applied to new mediums, whatever they may be. As a result, I tend to play games that tell a competent narrative and whose gameplay reflects the tone the story sets out to create. By having story reflect gameplay or vice versa, the game world feels more fleshed out and open, allowing the player to fully immerse himself or herself in the game. And that is what all forms of medium want, total immersion. It is what will drive people to continually come back and replay the game, relive every moment they had fun in, question underlying subtexts in the story, and create new memories through a new playthrough.

However, it has been through my experience that story and gameplay need to work together in hand instead of one pummeling the other into submission. When there is a discord between the story and the gameplay, it tends to throw the entire game off balance, like a scale with a feather on one end and the entire Playstation 2 game catalog on the other. It is a problem that happens with a lot of horror films. Sure the films are trying to build suspense, but even that is ruined by the unintentional laughter from the audience because the acting is so over-the-top that it rivals a Lady Gaga performance. Plus, the fact that the movie is going through a checklist of horror clichés like a shopper goes through a grocery list does not help it at all. The same thing applies to games. You can make a racing simulator that has a story mode where your racer is trying to win the Sprint Cup. A competent game would complement this by have you upgrading and repairing your car and racing. But if the actual gameplay during the race acts as a point-and-click adventure and you are not personally racing at all, there is a huge discord between the story and gameplay. In fact, it would be jarring.

This is probably one of the reasons why Minecraft does not have a story; no story would be good enough to enhance the free-roaming creativity that it provides. But I would like to take this opportunity to examine story driven games, specifically how gameplay can enhance or detract from a story. While there are many examples that can be used, I will be focusing on two games from one series to demonstrate both points. Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill: Homecoming. So sit back, strap yourselves in and get ready for me to tear apart your favorite games.


Silent Hill 2 video game cover

Silent Hill is a long-running series created by Konami first released in 1999 on the Sony Playstation. The games series focuses on the title town, which through means involving Lovecraftian gods, monsters, and religions, has become, in essence, a sentient being that is able to draw the tormented to it so that they may be confronted with their deepest and darkest secrets. As such, this series focuses on psychological horror, a genre that is extremely story driven since it tries to get into the audience’s head and make the experience relatable. Because of this, it can be split into two camps, bone-chillingly terrifying or laughably bad. This is due to the fact that horror is in the eye of the beholder; not everyone will find the same thing to be scary and few films, books, and videogames can lay claim to the fact that it can scare EVERYONE.

Speaking of those select few, Silent Hill 2 is one of those games. The game focuses on James Sunderland, a clerk who receives a letter from his wife, Mary stating that he should meet her in Silent Hill. However, the catch is that Mary has been dead for 3 years. Despite this, James makes his way to the town to find out what is going on, meeting other people drawn to the town as well, including Angela Orosco, a teenage runaway looking for her mother, Eddie Dombrowski, another teenage runaway with a knack for being near events and corpses he “had nothing to do with,” Laura, a child who claims the town is normal and James is weird, and Maria, a hooker with an uncanny resemblance to Mary. Throughout the game, James solves puzzles, fights monsters out of a Freudian/Lovecraftian nightmare, and finally figures out what is going on, specifically Mary’s ultimate fate.

Screenshot from silent hill 2 game

To say that Silent Hill 2 is a just game is to say that running your car purposefully into a fire hydrant is an accident. The game is an experience. The town is constantly surrounded by a thick fog, which obscures the character’s vision and makes it difficult to see monsters coming towards you until they might as well be on top of you. The soundtrack also evokes a sense of dread as the wind howls through a town that seems to have been abandoned by all human citizens, static from a radio alerts the player to a possible monster attack, and the music is an eerie combination of instruments and sound effects, including a siren. In essence, the game makes the town itself a character. It is the driving force, putting the main character through hell itself before he realizes the sad and extremely disturbing truth about his wife. In fact, it is also shown that it is not just James that is going through this turmoil, but also the two runaways, who are seen intermittently throughout the game, but contribute to the overall feel of dread. You are compelled to keep playing just to see what secrets these characters are hiding and how much they are suffering as a result. Sure the characterizations are not the game’s strong suit; it uses a great deal of blanket characterizations. But there are underlying implications to their actions, hints of darker secrets implied, but never explicitly stated, leaving the subtle and memorable horror that plays with the player’s mind throughout the journey.


Pyramid Head

I stated before that the game has monsters out of a Freudian/Lovecraftian nightmare. Maybe it would have been better to say that these would be monsters dreamt by Freud after he had read the entire H.P. Lovecraft library. Without giving too much away, since it will seriously spoil the story, all of the monsters are constructs and metaphors for each character’s secrets and dilemmas. Monster’s range from undead nurses and two pairs of mannequin legs sewn together by the hip to a monster named Abstract Daddy and an executioner named Pyramid Head who wears a gigantic red three-sided pyramid over its head. It is not until we have completed the game that we can interpret what each monster means, as the game takes painstaking precautions to avoid forcing a meaning onto them. As a result, it is the story, underlying subtext, and details that carry the game.

As such, this game has a great story. But what about the gameplay? Well, to be perfectly honest, gameplay, especially fighting, is extremely clunky. In fact, it is the one part of Silent Hill 2 that most game critics tend to single out for negative criticism. Combat tends to be slow and does not seem to make a great impact against the monsters that are out for your life. As a result, it becomes a matter of timing the blows and pressing the button at the right moment in order to hit your foe with one of the random melee weapons that can be found throughout the game.

Right now I can imagine some of you asking, “but if that is the way combat is with a melee weapon why not use a gun?” To you I say, “I am glad you asked, since I was just getting there!” While there are guns in the game, a handgun, a shotgun, and a hunting rifle, ammo for the weapons is actually quite limited and should ONLY be used for the boss battles. With this little twist, conserving ammo becomes key and makes it a necessity to fight regular enemies with melee weapons. But even though the monsters can be defeated with a gun, much more easily as well, it is still a struggle, as if James does not really know how to handle a gun.


James Sunderland

James Sunderland

Darn it Jim, James is a clerk, not a soldier! James is a representation of the player character. What we face in the game is the unknown entities that lurk in the fog when we are not looking, the deepest depths of our subconscious. How do we fight these monsters, especially since most of us are not trained in combat? We are helpless against such an enemy, especially since we are everyday people. It is not commonplace for us to use a lead pipe to defend ourselves on a daily basis. When we do, it feels foreign. The same goes for a gun; hunters can use it with ease, but the first-time user may shoot it, miss the target and end up disturbing a hornets’ nest.

But never mind why I will never hunt again. It is through this helplessness, this clunky control over the in-game action that not only makes James more personal to the player, but also increases the game’s tension to the next level. It is not only James fighting, but us as well. As a result, instead of being a true detriment to the game, it adds to the story’s horror. James’ story is our story and we are just as anxious as he to find out what happened to Mary, whatever it may be. In the end, we are disturbed, shocked, and scared, exactly how a good psychological horror story and game should make us feel.


What a psychological horror game should not make us do is feel like we have the advantage over the monsters!

Silent Hill: Homecoming focuses on Alex Sheperd, who has just returned home to Sheperd’s Glen after he has completed an overseas tour of duty in the Special Forces. He returns to find the town nearly deserted with only a few people remaining, a majority of them having gone mad through grief. He finds out that his brother and father have gone missing. Soon enough, monsters start appearing in Sheperd’s Glen, including Pyramid Head, and it is up to Alex, his friend Ellie Holloway, and Deputy Wheeler to find out what all of this has to do with three missing children, as well as find Alex’s brother and father in Silent Hill.

Compared to the previous story, this one feels lacking. This is because most of it lies on its somewhat predictable plot, predictable if one is an ardent fan of the psychological horror genre. But even then, the story is relatable because it focuses on family and how far we would go to save them. What also helps is that the game is heavily influenced by Jacob’s Ladder, which tells of a soldier attempting to return to a normal life after a Vietnam tour, but is haunted by gruesome images of his life and monsters that may or may not be a product of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This helps to bolster the story thematically, since the main character is a soldier who is suddenly thrust back into a horror scenario, a supernatural battlefield, after he had just left from one, the modern war zone. Again the soundtrack and sound effects add to the game’s horror tone and the fog returns to obscure monsters until they are breathing down your neck. Overall, it provides a chilling setup and you are curious to find out what the answer to the mystery is even when the experience veteran may see it coming miles down the road.

Playground from Silent Hill: Homecoming

Freud must have reread Lovecraft again, since the monsters also return with the undertones that add to the subconscious horror that the previous game had offered. However, the monsters in this game tend to have their meanings spelled out by certain portions of the game, thus robbing some of the mystery that helps to enhance horror. It is similar to a modern Stephen King horror supernatural horror novel where an over-explained monster robs the book of any potential horror that the climax may have provided if some of the mystery remained in the shadows. However, some monsters do not have this over-explained nature to them, thus allowing multiple interpretations to be made to their very nature, which can enhance the horror. It truly is a mixed bag.

But what truly sinks the game is its gameplay. In this game, Alex can be swarmed by a multitude of enemies. This was probably done to demonstrate the game’s new graphics and game engine, allowing it to handle more enemies on screen than ever before. But this provides the game with the unintended hilarity often found in a low-budget slasher film. Because Alex is a SOLDIER, he can defeat swarms of enemies with relative ease. What does not help is that there are more guns in the game, including multiple variations of guns (there are 2-3 types of shotguns found in the game). Where James was an everyday person, Alex is a combat expert and most enemies go down way to easily. Yes the difficulty ramps up as the game goes on, but it does not take away from the fact that Alex, a trained military professional, can go toe to toe with a demon that can only be found from a nightmare induced through Freudian psychiatry combined with the Cthulhu Mythos. This also includes the fact that Alex can combat roll.

That is right, he can COMBAT ROLL!

Alex from Silent Hill fighting off a feral

What makes this even funnier is that he can combat roll outside of combat. While he is supposed to be slowly exploring the towns and take in the atmosphere that should be excreting horror, he has the option to do somersaults and combat rolls in the middle of the street! Just the thought of it happening makes me picture a group of humans and monsters just stopping what they are doing just to witness a man rolling around in the street as if he were in a warzone or practicing Somersaulting for the 2018 Olympics, but isn’t. I can image them just pulling up chairs and eating popcorn as he might unintentionally run into a fencepost or a telephone pole due to the inherent blindness and dizziness that came when he decided the best mode of transportation was becoming one of the wheels on an eighteen wheeler bound for hell!

It is the type of gameplay design decision that makes me laugh and I laugh long and hard when I find something to be funny. And this only highlights the problem; psychological horror needs to be taken seriously in order for it to have the desired effect. The story, though competent, has lost its desired effect. Sure the symbolism, metaphors, atmosphere, and driving force remain, but when Alex decides to turn into the human tire, what else can be said? He was overpowered to begin with and making him more able at combat not only diminishes the horror, but lightens the story with some poor design decisions. Once someone laugh at an unintentionally funny bit, it’s game over man, game over!


In this post, I have shown that gameplay and story need to be in balance with one another in order for a videogame to be an effect form of entertainment. I have also demonstrated what happens when a game has a good story, but proceeds to nearly ruin the game by including gameplay mechanics, which, though true to the character, undermine the game to a significant extent. However, this does not end the discussion. In the next posting we shall explore the reversal of this post, what happens when gameplay mechanics are solid, but the story undermines the game. Until then, sweet dreams and good night from Silent Hill gentle readers! Thanks for reading!


facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailby feather

Welcome OSMO!

OSMO is a new item in our collection that is really fun to learn for children and adults alike. It comes in a neat package that includes game pieces, a mirror reflector, and base. All you need to supply is an iPad, pen, and paper to play all the games.

A great feature of OSMO is after you download their free iTunes apps you do not need the internet.

osmoappsThis is a great toy to play at Grandma’s house, on vacation, or in the classroom. There is a word game (similar to hangman), tangram, and various drawing activities each with increasing difficulty levels you can master. The only important thing to note is that you can only use the OSMO on one iPad at a time which does encourage interaction between two or more players. It does not save scores or levels for player 1 and player 2, but you can save drawings that you make on your iPad video memory.

osmo2My entire family loved playing the Word Game together. You can take turns laying down letter tiles or you can race each other to place a tile down first. The game will note whether the blue or red tile wins that point.

If you create an OSMO account you can also create your own word file or download public files which have topics like music notes, counting, and, animals. This would be a unique way to study for your Spanish vocab test or create a “Continents of the World” test for your classroom.

tangramforosmoNext is the tangram game which allows you to select novice up to expert.



For those not used to tangrams the game will give you an outline and hint at the shape. More advanced features only give you a black shadow image and you need to figure out how to align the shapes. My 8 year old son and I were able to take turns easily and move between difficulty levels.


newtonforosmoNow the target practice game requires quick thinking and imagination.

OSMO calls their game “Newton” and you need to make the falling balls hit your orange target. To do this you will need a pen, paper, and other inanimate objects to create virtual walls, slides, and barriers for the bouncing balls to hit the target.

newton1Easier said than done!


masterpieceforosmoThe final free app offered by OSMO is called Masterpiece. My 10 year old daughter loved this activity. Not only can you draw like a pro, but the game video tapes your evolving creation as it appears on the paper.

A picture, OSMO supplies or you have downloaded, appears on the screen along with your real time pen in hand. You watch the iPad screen simultaneously as you “trace” the image on your paper. Truly, it feels and looks like magic.

It’s intuitive enough for kids to learn on their own and easy enough for adults to play along! Check out their website and have fun.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailby feather

The Incredible Nature of Service Animals

Who doesn’t love a service dog, right? I’ve always been curious as to how these guys (and gals) are trained to be such incredible creatures. They can pick things up that are the size of a dime, they can predict medical incidents (like seizures) up to 24 hours in advance, and can even answer the phone! Service dogs can be trained to be companions to people with physical or mental disabilities, the elderly, and are often used in libraries and schools to help children increase their self-confidence when it comes to reading. Service dogs come in all shapes and sizes. Although most service dogs you see are breeds like Labradors, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds, a few organizations are making it a point now to exclusively train Pit Bulls to battle their negative reputation (The Animal Farm Foundation’s Assistance Dog Training Program and Pits for Patriots). Some service dog training programs select rescue dogs from shelters to provide service to those who need them, and some people even choose to have their own dog trained to provide specialized service based on their needs – it’s incredible.


photo by Molly Hayden, U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii Public Affairs July 03, 2008 “WAHIAWA, Hawaii – Donated and specially bred service dogs of Hawaii Fi-Do pause for a photograph during a training session. The specially trained dogs provide physical, psychological and therapeutic support for people who face the daily challenges of life with a disability other than blindness.”

Okay, so let me begin by saying everyone should read this article – It’s a real tear-jerker, so get a cup of tea and a box of tissues and lock yourself in the privacy of your own home. I made the mistake of reading it at work and had to hold back the tears. The article chronicles the pairing of a young boy with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder named Iyal and an unwanted Golden Retriever named Chancer. That’s all I’ll tell you. It’s a tragically heartwarming story and it’s super informative too!

There are so many great things about service dogs. Obviously they’re helping their owner become more independent, and this means that they’re doing a lot of the physical work a caregiver or family member may have had to do before. Everybody gains independence, which is priceless. Like I mentioned earlier, some service dogs are rescues. These programs are saving the lives of dogs that may have otherwise been left behind. And they’re getting these unbelievably important life-saving jobs that they should be incredibly proud of. Dogs are capable of giving insane amounts of unconditional love, and these pairings usually end in a BFF status. As the New York Times article states, “Dogs evolved over at least 15,000 years to know and like humankind as well as, or better than, we know and like ourselves”. I’m a cat-owner and cat-lover, but can see this dynamic 100% of the time in people and their dogs. And I can also see why service dogs are a more popular trend than service cats – although they do exist, my cat would have flunked out of the program during the first training sesh. Fun side-note: service miniature horses also exist, according to the ADA. Apparently, the ADA used to define service animal as “any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal”, but due to people employing wild animals as service animals, they have now eliminated certain species. Here’s the link to what the ADA has to say about service animals:

Training a service dog is a really expensive part of the whole service dog program. Some programs use inmates to train the dogs, which is so cool (and inexpensive). The inmates, like the dogs, now have this life-changing opportunity to make a huge difference in a stranger’s life. And the inmates, like the dogs, take these jobs seriously. One program, called Puppies Behind Bars trains prison inmates to raise dogs for war veterans and explosive detection canines for law enforcement. Here’s a great photo series on the program:,29307,1911990_1913005,00.html

And a recent article on Puppies Behind Bars:

Another program, called 4 Paws for Ability – Missions Pawsible works within the prison system as well. 4 Paws for Ability trains dogs specifically to work with children who have disabilities. All of these programs operating within prisons select inmates who have earned a high merit within the community. Inmates say that spending time with these dogs decreases high levels of stress and anxiety, and teaches them unconditional love and acceptance, which is not something commonly found within the prison system.

Training these dogs is always specifically tailored to the person the dog will be paired with. They are taught specific skills depending on the needs of their new owner. For example, in the New York Times article (link above), Chancer was taught to anticipate and neutralize his owner’s tantrums and meltdowns. Although this is a physical demand, there is a larger emotional and psychological need that is being treated. Some dogs are trained solely to meet the physical needs of their owners, like leading the visually impaired, or opening doors or grabbing a water from the fridge.

This is in no way meant to be a comprehensive summary of all things service dog related, just a few things I found interesting on the topic. There are so many amazing stories about service dogs and their owners, all the lives that have been saved by these guys – from the physically and mentally disabled, to the dogs rescued from shelters, and the inmates who train them. The whole story, from beginning to end continues to amaze me.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailby feather

Beginner’s Mind and Continuous Learning

little-buddhist-monksPlay is a very important concept at Wheelock College. It is a cornerstone of Froibel’s theories and of Lucy Wheelock’s work. Even more now than in their time the world is in a state of swift and continuous flux. The only way to keep up with it is by embracing a model of continual learning, trial and error practice and a sense of playfulness. Trial and error and play are virtually synonymous as play is not about formal learning—more like tangential learning – learning in the course of doing something else.
To navigate this new world we must become like children. A child’s normal state is one of continuous learning. They are learning to navigate the world. The difference between children and adults is that of being fearless in the face of something new vs. being afraid. To children, new things attract and intrigue. To adults, new things startle and cause distress because adults assume that they should already know how to do or use whatever is encountered. They may be afraid that they will break it (toys are made to be broken) or that they will look silly or incompetent. There is a solution to that.
In Buddhism there is a concept known as “beginner’s mind.” This is the state of being totally open, non-judgmental and playful with everything that is encountered.

“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.” –Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice

As adults, particularly when encountering technology, it is vital to cultivate beginner’s mind. It will remove the stress that blocks learning and open the way to being calm and comfortable in one’s learning experiences. It will make the process of continuous learning a part of life again.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailby feather

Using Pinterest in the Classroom

There are A TON of incredibly creative people in the world, and I, unfortunately, am not one of them.

Fortunately however, I am a fantastic laminator. So when I’m doing a display for the Earl Center, or daydreaming of magical displays for the public library, my go-to for inspiration is Pinterest.

Right now, at the Earl Center, we’re spotlighting weather. Wheelock College is an ambassador for the National Weather Service’s Weather-Ready Nation campaign. A few people here at the Earl Center put together an awesome display of weather-related materials we have here (and that you can/should totally check out)! We have some children’s books, lesson plans, and a few weather tracking stamps that can be used to make a weekly or monthly weather chart like this one:

So for every display we work on, we try to incorporate some sort of craft or activity, even if it’s just cutting out little construction paper aliens for our Space display. The Earl Center has so many great craft supplies, it’s difficult to not feel crafty once in a while. I went to Pinterest and put “weather” into the search box, and up handmade weather stationpopped a bunch of suggestions: weather activities, weather crafts, weather unit, weather chart. I chose “weather activities”. I came across this neat printable weather station. It’s completely interactive. You can move the little red pointer from rainy to sunny, the temperature scale from hot to freezing, the sliding scale of windiness, and dozens of removable weather adjectives. Here’s what it looks like on Pinterest:

If you click on the picture, it will bring you to where you can download the PDF. All you have to do is assemble it – and by assemble I mean cut a few dotted lines and glue a few pieces here and there. I decided to laminate the pages because of my classroom weatherstationhigh hopes of all the people who will be touching this beautiful weather station every day. Here is our version of the weather station.

We decided to include all of our extra adjectives on the board, just in case the weather needs to be changed due to an unexpected snow storm in the month of September or any other strange weather scenarios that happen in the city of Boston. All of the adjectives are stuck on with Velcro for easy removal. This would be a great addition to any classroom, especially during a weather unit.

Personally, I like to follow libraries and librarians to get ideas for book displays and library programs. One of my most recent favorites is Dawn Krause:

Fun Pinterest activities (unrelated to weather):

Upcycled Soda Box Pencil Case:

Post-It Note Art Show:

Map of the US – Puzzle:

Wooden Play-Food Pieces:

Bingo for Books:

Character Facebook Status:

And lastly, here’s a list of cool Pinterest boards for educators: (These are all printable!)




facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailby feather

Are You an Autodidact?

“Tomorrow’s illiterate will not be the man who can’t read; he will be the man who has not learned how to learn. “- Herbert Gerjuoy, quoted by Alex Toffler.

In a quote often attributed to Alex Toffler the illiterate of the future is described as “someone who can’t learn, unlearn and relearn.” The speed of development and ubiquitous nature of technology has turned many things upside down, not the least of which is education. This speed demands a kind of learning that is continual. No longer will completing a degree or a class be enough to keep up. It becomes an iterative process that demands continual revisiting of the material. The material of today may well evolve into completely different material tomorrow.

[cryout-pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”33%”]“If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.” – John Dewey[/cryout-pullquote]

Luckily the means to do this is evolving as rapidly as the information. It is a learning-on-demand world. We have video courses, on-line courses, MOOCs and specific organizations like Khan Academy, Udemy, Coursera. EdX, Open University, and many other groups and platforms that deliver the rapidly evolving information in many different formats addressing many different learning styles and preferences. Often classes through these vendors can be taken without cost. Some even provide certificates of completion or, for a relatively small fee, even college credit.

At Wheelock we offer access to a site that offers thousands of video courses on a multitude of topics, many relating to technology, the fastest changing field of all.

It is possible to construct an entire college-like program by stringing together related courses. In some fields, particularly technology-related fields, there are still options of getting a well-paying job by self-educating, especially in areas where little formal training exists as yet. In a world where 8 year old children are teaching themselves how to develojan7p viable apps it’s a wide open field.

Two commercial companies that are good are Coursera and Udemy. Coursera’s courses are usually free and held through major universities. Udemy charges for their courses. If you get on their mailing list they run frequent ‘sales’ which make signing up a good deal. One of their advantages is that you own the self-paced courses for life and can take and retake at any time. Registering is often as simple as name, email and a password. A site called Open Culture ( currently lists over 950 free courses with another collection of paid courses it’s enough to keep anyone well educated well into the future.

Where do you start? You can start with Go to the site, choose Login through your organization or school, choose Wheelock as your school and put in your email and email password. Happy learning!

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailby feather

Graphite: Rating the Best Apps

graphite screen shot

There are thousands of educational apps available with more coming all the time. It can be overwhelming trying to find, try and evaluate just the app that will bring your class or teaching or project into fruition. Now there is a site that can help you find just the right thing, connected to the right learning outcome, without taking up all of your time. is a site developed by CommonSense Media

commonsense logo

that offers comprehensive reviews and ratings of educational apps. You can search on a number of different levels including:

  • Type
  • Subject
  • Grade level
  • Price

The apps that they feature are all vetted by working teachers, not by companies trying to get you to buy their app.  Apps connected with language arts and math are available now. Science is in development. You can also look for apps that aid productivity such as Evernote.  Whether you are exploring apps for yourself or trying to integrate them into the curriculum Graphite can save you time.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailby feather

Free Mini-Courses for Educators

2014-02-06 17_38_00-The New Media Consortium _ Sparking innovation, learning and creativity.The New Media Center Academy offers free mini-courses for educators serving grades 6-16. It is a collaboration between HP, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), the NMC, and more than 30 universities and NGOs in 15 countries. The success of the project was summed up in “Sparking Innovation in STEM Education with Technology and Collaboration” (

You can check out the list of courses here

The New Media Consortium (NMC) is an international not-for-profit consortium of learning-focused organizations dedicated to the exploration and use of new media and new technologies. They publish the Horizon Report which looks at the emerging trends in technology in education and the world.

NMC Horizon Report 2014

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailby feather

News from the Front

Hall at FETC conferenceI have just returned from the Florida Educational Technology Conference (FETC). Sad to say the weather in Orlando wasn’t much better than here. The conference has been going on for 35 years and participants have seen incredible changes in that time. While the conference was framed around technology, the message that it conveyed was one of creativity, community, compassion and cooperation.

I was particularly stuck with the advances in assistive technology for people with disabilities. What was once very esoteric and expensive has now become part of many common devices. Specific applications are almost magical. One in particular that was showcased was a free app called Taptapsee. It is a camertaptapsee logoa for blind and visually impaired people. By pointing the camera at an object, a scene or something that the person wonders about and tapping twice the camera takes a picture and searches the web. It comes back with a description of what the camera sees, be that a five dollar bill or the Dallas Cheerleaders. It is eerily accurate.  There is also a Tap Tap app for people who are deaf to alert them to loud sounds nearby. That one costs $2.99.

STEM and STEAM products and sessions were everywhere and there was a sense of the importance of play. Play was stressed in the keynotes as well as the sessions.  Students creating content, real life-changing content was another thread that ran through it all. The stress wasn’t on preparing students for future life and jobs but on making real life significant contributions now. Not having the right tools to accomplish this is no longer a problem.  It was generally acknowledged that the jobs of the future may not exist yet.

Gaming was a very hot topic. Minecraft in particular has become very popular with the minecraft landscapenew release of Minecraft for Education. There are modifications that allow teaching quantum mechanics among other things.  Cooperation, physics and architecture were commonly cited as outcomes in class. The quantum physics part was cool– I actually understood it! Along with coding (another hot topic) there are a tremendous number of resources to assist teachers to incorporate game design, coding, robotics and use into their classrooms. All of these possibilities come with core relationships built in so that the justifications are available when you want to incorporate them into curriculum. We will be offering resources to explore these things in the Earl Center and you can also ask your nearest 11 year old.

In some school systems they have replaced children with robots—that is, children who can’tvgo robot attend school due to health or other conditions can now attend as a Vgo. This is a shiny white robot on wheels with a screen face and a camera and microphone. On wheels, like a Segway it can roll around a school allowing the student to attend classes and interact with teachers and peers. The student at home controls the Vgo with a laptop.

As I sift through the 25 pounds of literature I collected and re-listen to my recordings and notes I will be sharing more. Stay tuned.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailby feather