Video Game School – – the wave of the future??

One school in New York City is on its way toward a revolution.  This experiment in education is called “Quest for Learning”, and the idea behind is is using gaming literacy to teach to today’s video game generation.  If everything goes according to schedule, the 6th-12th grade school will open in Fall 2009.

There is a lot in the description of what is involved in gaming literacy, that I can’t comprehend, even after a second or third read of the overview.  But the gist seems to be that kids work collaboratively to solve problems, brainstorm solutions, and think out of the box to create innovative ideas (much like those who work on today’s most popular video games).

This idea has already been fueling video game creation camps at different university campuses for several summers now.  More and more preteens and teens are heading to these technological camps instead of heading out to the great outdoors to learn how to pitch tents and sing campfire songs.  I guess it only makes sense that the camps would give way to an entire school built around the premise of gaming design. 

(I just can’t tell you how many memories the PacMan song on that video brought back!!!)

And in an era where school life and real life (and all its technological advances) probably seem more polarized than ever, it might be that video game schools are one way to keep a percentage of students engaged in their education.  More and more kids are feeling the uselessness of pencil pushing to learn names, dates, and facts when they already have picked up (on their own) several foreign languages (HTML, Java, CSS), shorthand (texting), and advanced math skills (I’ve seen the math my son uses to program a simple Flash game, and it ain’t 2+2!).  Knowledge is at the fingertips, literally, of those kids who use the computer for hours each day, and can instantly download information in a few seconds flat.

So the vocational schools of yesterday may soon give way to a new generation of vocational learning – – learning of the techie kind.  If you want to find out more about the Quest for Learning initiative, check out their web site.

So what do you think?  Is this going too far with technology?  Would you allow your kids to attend a school like this one?


Friday’s Hardwired Homeschool Hints – All About Animals

fridays hardwired homeschool hints pic I’d like to say we are an animal family, because we really do love animals, but I reserve that status for those cool families that start naming off the animals at their house, and it begins to sound more like a pet shop than a house, ya know?  Our next door neighbors, for example, are the proud owners of several chickens, a couple of guinea pigs, some lizards, some fish and a cat. (They actually would have a few more chickens if the poor things hadn’t made the unfortunate choice of flying over into our fenced back yard where they were basically hunting practice for our mutt who happens to be part bird dog)  Anyway, THEY, in my opinion, are animal people.  We have two dogs – – big deal.  But we honestly do adore animals, and think it is kinda cool having a “pet store” right next door.

So, in honor of those many-legged, sometimes furry, sometimes scaly, always interesting critters, I’m dedicating today’s HHH to the animal of the species.  Enjoy!

  • First off, a video game with educational value – – no that is not a oxymoron.  I’m talking about Animal Genius for Nintendo DS.  This game is chock full of animal facts and trivia.
  • Smithsonian National Zoological Park Homework Helper – if I had animal homework, I’d want the Smithsonian having my back. If you’ve got a question about animals and their habitats, you’ll probably find the answer here.
  • BBC Extreme Animals – Is there any other kind??  Watch all the videos on this page, then you decide which animal gets the title “Most Extreme”
  • Who doesn’t like animal games?  PBS Kids has a great one called Link-o-Vision that lets you match up animals with their characteristics.
  • Enchanted Learning Animal Printouts – When my kids were younger we had a ball with Enchanted Learning’s printouts…there are so many creative ways to use them.  Games, scrapbooks, lapbooks, scavenger hunts…the possibilities are endless.
  • We LOVE animal cams!!  The National Zoo Animal Cams is a weekly must-visit site for any animal lover.
  • I don’t know about you, but I still miss Steve Irwin.  If he were alive today, I think he would really love the Field Trip Earth website, which is completely devoted to animal conservation
  • AnimalLand – If you have kids who want a pet of their own, make sure they visit this site first for all the info on pet care for different kinds of pets.  There are cartoons and information for every future pet owner.
  • HumaneTeen – a great site where teens can learn about and get involved with animal welfare issues
  • AnimalBytes – incredible site where you can find out about every kind and type of animal, watch videos about them, and even hear the sounds they make
  • Discovery School’s Animal Lesson Plans – Organized by grade level, this is a comprehensive list of lesson plans for anyone studying animals
  • Pet Pals Animal Doctor – this downloadable game lets you play veterinarian, and learn about the animals you care for in an interactive and up close way
  • Zoobooks Animal Directory – Remember Zoobooks?  Well don’t think you’ve seen everything they have to offer because their website is high tech and high fun!

Friday’s Hardwired Homeschool Hints: Life Skills

laundryMy boys are hitting their teen and preteen years, and as you might expect, they are exerting their independence.  This  is all well, fine, and good, except for the small, itty-bitty fact that the two of them together couldn’t wash their own socks.  If someone held a pistol to their temples and demanded fluff and fold, they would be done for.  Kaput. 

This is the year we are focusing on working life skills into our homeschool curriculum.  So I’ve been doing what every normal homeschooling mom would do when they wanted to teach life skills – – asking the internet.  The WWW can’t look over the boys’ shoulders as they pour their first scoop of laundry detergent into the machine, but it does have some pretty nifty resources for introducing kids to “the real world.” 


  • The Goodwill Community Foundation has created several free classes online, called GCFLearnFree, and one really terrific one is called Everyday Life, and includes instruction on things like measuring and baking, making deposits and counting change, using a time sheet, preparing a grocery list, and making use of a subway map.
  • The Friday Zone – This PBS show is designed for ages 7-12, and its aim is to challenge children to explore the world around them.  The companion website includes several of the previous show videos
  • This one isn’t an online tool, but a videogame one!  Nintendo DS has created a videogame called Imagine: Babyz, that is all about learning what the responsibilities of babysitting and housework. (AKA Mommyhood)
  • Land of Cyke – Learn about feelings and how your body works through fun games and interactive Flash movies.
  • Life Choices Online Game – The object here is to get a cool job — but your prospects are affected by choices that you make early in the game. Examines the consequences of various scenarios.
  • – step by step guidance for life after high school
  • LifeSmarts – gameshow style competition that teaches teens to be smart and responsible consumers and citizens
  • LifeKnowledge – pdf resource with links to over 200 lesson plans for life skills training
  • It’s Your Health – podcasts and activities designed to help middle schoolers take charge of their own health
  • Life Skills Information Center – links to toolkits for parents for teaching many different types of life skills

What are your favorite life skills resources?  Please list them in the comments section below….

WISH it worked for me Wednesday

I love the Works For Me posts over at, but since not much ever works correctly around the Topsy-Techie household, I thought I would talk about what I WISHED worked…

Case in point: Using my son’s Wii Remote as an All-Purpose Remote Tool    

Thanks to a blogging buddy’s Teaching and Learning Spanish blog, I discovered some really neat uses for the Wii Remote today.  This one is particularly cool for teachers and homeschoolers:

So I got to thinking that with my Wii remote, my bad-self techie skills, a couple infrared dots, and some duct tape, I ought to be able to save the planet.  Now don’t get me wrong…the Wii remote in our house isn’t gathering dust, or anything, but surely it could be put to better uses than just helping H-T defeat jungle monsters in the latest Lego Indiana Jones game.  My ultimate goals for the Wii remote would be to:

  • Virtually clean the toilet bowls.  I’m thinking that a couple of infrared dots where the Tidybowl man hangs out ought to do it.  Then I would just swish that remote in a circular pattern, and voila!  Sparkly johnnies!
  • Virtually retrieve the mail – – especially on rainy days.  One dot on the front door of the mailbox, and one on the flag, and I should be good to go.  Although those Wii remotes can be pretty sensitive sometimes.  I would hate to overshoot and pick up my bachelor neighbor’s girlie mags by mistake.  That one might need some tweaking.
  • Virtually water the plants – – .  I love, love, love, my houseplants, but I tend to forget about them when they aren’t making a lot of noise.  Squeaky wheel and all. I mean I never forget to water the dogs, you know, cause they sorta make this moaning, whiny sound when they get dangerously dehydrated.  But the plants?  Well, I’m sure they whine and moan too, but non-advanced human that I am, I can’t usually pick up on it.  So my ideal Wii remote gadget would include a timer, and a virtual waterstream from my sink to the plants, because I also can’t be bothered most days to find the watering can.  Do you think infrared dots do any damage to live plants?  Gosh, I hope not.
  • Virtually write my blog while I am away.  Yep, Topsy-Techie will be traveling to Nevada tomorrow, and won’t be back till next week, so I could really use that Wii remote to digitally post for me while I’m away.  What’s that you say?  My blogging software already lets me schedule my posts while I’m gone??  Hmph. That is not nearly as cool. 

Be thinking of you from Vegas, ya’ll.  I promise that if I hit it big while I’m out there, I’ll split my earnings with everyone who leaves a comment on this post.  So comment away…

Techie Girls Can’t Two-Step

I’ve been lax in my Topsy-Techie blog of late, and I deeply apologize, but I warned you I was in a summer funk, didn’t I?  Actually though, I haven’t had time for a funk, even if I had wanted one.  Summer is supposed to a time for rest for homeschooling moms, and it is  – – if by rest you mean working two jobs, helping in Vacation Bible School, writing four blogs, sanding the paint off your front porch, and repainting, helping taking care of elderly family members, and keeping the weeds at bay in your flower garden.  Summer is actually quite refreshing, by those standards.

Anyway, I couldn’t ignore my precious Topsy-Techie blog even one more day, because far too much topsy-techiness has been going on around here that needs to be reported. 

Exhibit A….the StepMania invasion.

Uber has truly enjoyed his summer break thus far, not because of the balmy days, or the trips to the pool, or those lemonade slushes his dear mom happens to be famous for.  No – – Uber has discovered StepMania.  Now for those of you who live under the non-techie rock of cluelessness, StepMania is an open source rhythm video game.  It is the method behind the madness of games like Dance, Dance Revolution, In The Groove, and Pump it Up Pro. 

Now a couple years ago, during the height of the DDR craze, I bought a couple of those crazy dancing mats, and after about two hours of finding that Anglo-Saxon females of a certain age are more likely to be kidnapped by terrorists than learn to dance on cue with flashing lights and arrows, I stuck those things in the back of the closet and never thought of them again.  Until….Uber’s latest new obsession.

Now if any of you have ever been DDR fans, you know the basic gist of the game – – you step on the squares of the dance mat that correspond with the arrows as they come down the screen.  The arrows are timed with the beat of the music, so that if you can keep basic rhythm with the song, you are more likely to hit the arrows in the correct sequence.  For those of you who are not DDR fans, and are looking at the screen with that familiar blank stare, just try to picture a game of Twister, but a lot louder, faster, and with a lot of funky electronica music thrown in for fun.

Stepmania, though, is for the rhythm video game purist … there is none of that canned club music, there are no hypnotic graphics, it is just you and the music – – your music.  That is the key element of StepMania.  Instead of having to play whatever god-forsaken tune Konami decides to give you, you are in control of your own tunes.  You upload your favorite music to the program, and are off and running, literally.  So guess what Uber’s StepMania music queue consists of?  Video game theme songs.  No, I’m not kidding.  There is actually a genre of music out there called “Classic Video Game Music”, and apparently, Uber is a huge fan. 

So there he is, in his room, dancing his techie heart out to….”Plantman Stage from Megaman VI.”  Now you tell me if that isn’t the pinnacle of geek status, then really – – what is??? 

So Uber spends much of his days now stomping and stepping to the music of his generation.  He works his way through the different difficulty levels, unlocks hidden songs, and creates custom rhythm patterns.  And when he wins?  Well he puts in his initials on the virtual scoreboard, of course…by stepping out the letters with his feet! 

Uber invited me into his room one afternoon to try out his favorite new hobby.  He turned it on for me, set it to the easiest level, and started up the music, and off I went.  And guess what?  After a couple more years of maturity under my belt, not much had changed.  I’m expecting the terrorists to drop by for tea just any time now.

Just in case you were under that non-techie rock and missed this
Youtube DDR video, here is your chance  :

You Try To Raise Them Right…

Uber looked over at me from his side of the bench.  “I feel kind of guilty.”  We were enjoying a few minutes of down time this morning in a picture-perfect courtyard outside a picture-perfect 19th century Episcopal cathedral.  There were cobblestone pathways below us and ancient oaks overhead.  The wind was stirring just enough breeze to remind you there was a touch of spring still in the air.  From our vantage point on the courtyard bench, it could have just as easily been a Saturday morning in 1890 as one today.  Except for the two of us.  Uber had his head buried in his Nintendo DS, and I was busily typing away on my portable keyboard.  

I looked up long enough from my work to see that hangdog look on his face, and I sighed.  Guilt is so annoyingly contagious.  “I suppose you think we should be sitting here enjoying the peace and tranquility, huh?” I asked him. 

“Well, doesn’t it just seem wrong to be looking down at our screens, when there is all this around us?”  Uber replied.

It’s my own fault.  I had the outlandish notion to raise my children with respect for creation, and acknowledgement of beauty.   I wanted them to literally learn to stop and smell the flowers, and even stare at them long enough to see the miraculous composition that went into each one.  I hoped they would rise above the materialistic, and learn to appreciate the abundance of natural treasure that freely surrounds us daily.  And I prayed they would never take any of these wonders for granted.

And wouldn’t you know, just as I was in the middle of writing an important paragraph, all that would come back to bite me in the butt.  Hmph….kids.


Two Tickets to Vegas, Baby

Ok, so an important update on our free plane ticket conundrum……we’re goin’ to Vegas!!  Well, I should clear that up.  Two of us are going to Vegas.  The more we discussed our possible family vacation, the more Uber began to ponder the unfairness of little brother’s upcoming swimming with the manatees trip.  I mean, he has no interest in swimming with manatees (unless they happen to have swallowed a wi-fi transmitter), but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve his own vacation, he asserts.  And, easily guilt-ridden parents that we are, his reasoning began to sound pretty darn sensible. 

So where would a newly-14-year-old computer geek wanna go with his parent?  I suggested several options…how about Yosemite?  I figured he and his dad could have a male bonding experience among nature at its finest.  Uber tried to look enthusiastic, but I could see his techie little heart quivering at the thought of being so wholly disconnected from all things electronic.  Other options came up, such as visiting Seattle (who knew Microsoft hasn’t created a theme park yet – – Bummer!).  We tossed around the idea of heading to a video game convention, but unfortunately they are all located in places like Nowheresville, Indiana this year.  Double bummer.  So we looked through our trusty 10-year-old family travel guide, and came to the page about Las Vegas.  I could almost swear I saw double cherries come up in both eyes as Uber read the descriptions of the lights, sounds, and non-stop technotronics of the Vegas Strip.   

“What do they mean ‘The Fun Never Stops’?”  You mean you get to stay up all night and gamble and watch live shows??!!”  Well—yes–technically.  “Oh, Dad, isn’t this gonna be cool??!!”  I saw my very intelligent husband looking to me for guidance.  Was I actually going to let him take my 14-year-old impressionable homeschooled son to Sin City for a man’s dream-vacation-come-true?  Not for all the chest hair on Wayne Newton. 

So, Uber and I are taking our first ever trip to Vegas sometime this fall.  It will be a blast, I’m sure, although perhaps not quite as scintillating as the trip he pictured with his dad.  After all, my idea of gambling is sinking $5.00 at the VFW on Bingo Ladies Night. But, I have ordered the kids guide to Vegas, and have been checking out family friendly Vegas spots on the web.  There is actually a video game mega-arcade in Vegas that was designed by Steven Spielberg and the Dreamworks folks.  I’m hoping we are able to hit this high-spot toward the end of our vacation, or else we might not ever see a single other neon inch of the city.   

I will drag Uber to a show or two, of course, because I am girlie like that, but I will try to make it up to him by ensuring that at least one of them features either scantily clad gals or dancing Wii remotes.  Whoa–wouldn’t I be mom of the year if I could find a scantily clad gal dancing with a Wii remote??!! And if the saying is true that “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”, then we might even sneak in a tug on a slot machine handle.  But I guarantee that this will be a trip to remember.  I mean how many guys get to look back and remember their incredible teenage Las Vegas trip with their mothers??  Well, I mean those guys that aren’t currently in therapy, of course. 

p.s.  Anybody have any Vegas tips for us newbies??  Please share them below!!