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ARGs (alternate reality gaming), Educational Gaming & Design

After School Remedial Fun?

In late December 2011 I was hired to come on board a small, grant-funded pilot program being administered out of Monroe Community College (MCC) in Rochester, NY. I work part time as an adjunct instructor there. Funded by the Chase Manhattan Foundation, the program is called The East High College Readiness Program(EHCRP). Because so many students are coming out of high schools without the requisite skills in Math and English, the idea for EHCRP was to take a group of students in their junior year and give them extra instruction and practice after school to make them “college ready” in terms of their Math and English skills. We started by giving them the placement test that MCC uses to assess the readiness of incoming students, The Accuplacer Test, which is produced online by the College Board. Students who tested into the “sweet spot” of the scores–not so high they won’t need remediation, and not so low that we would not be able to remediate them–were offered admission into (EHCRP). About 120 students took the test; 51 scored appropriately and were offered admission, and of the 51 students, we had 24 apply and come to the program.

I have a fair amount of experience working with urban students in after school programs in the Rochester area. I have worked for the Monroe Community College Upward Bound Program in a variety of capacities for the last seven years. I have also been peripherally involved in MCC’s STEP (Science & Technology Entry Program) over the last four years. During that time I’ve gotten a good feeling for the student population, and I have a good sense of what’s involved in setting up and running an after school program and what kinds of things are needed to make these programs successful.

Trying to get EHCRP off the ground in a brief period of time, the big hurdle we all anticipated was how we were going to make a remedial math and English after school program attractive to kids. To put things into perspective, this program asks kids to come and do two hours of math and English three times a week after they have already had a full school day. Programs like Upward Bound and STEP rely on coordination with parents to, in effect, “enforce” student participation. But this requires a fair amount of planning time and coordination, as well as parent participation and goodwill. Starting planning the program in January for a start date in the end of February meant that this approach was unfeasible. So the question was how were we going to get students to come, and how were we going to get them to keep coming back? The answer that we all arrived at was, “Well, it has to be fun.” We all realized that if the program was fun, students would come and keep coming back.

But how does one teach remedial mathematics and English for six hours a week and make it fun?

Six months ago, I would not have had a proper response to this question, but the week before this question was first posed to me, a friend, Liz Lawley, who is a Professor of Interactive Games and Media at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), posted a link to a book on Facebook, entitled, “The Multiplayer Classroom” by Lee Sheldon. Another friend of mine, Stephen Jacobs, also of the Department of Interactive Games and Media at RIT had been telling me about Lee Sheldon’s work piecemeal for some time, but at the time I did not have the question to which Sheldon’s work would be the answer.

So when we first met to discuss the planning of the EHCRP, I was able to say to the other program participants that I thought that I had a solution to the question of how we were going to motivate student participation–make the program a game. (continued)

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