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Volume 3 No.

1 - Spring 2007


FIPSE funds simSchool FIPSE funds simSchool research

Research ...cover by Rhonda Christensen
by Rhonda Christensen
The Fund for the Improvement of Post Secondary Education
simStudent Personalities Grow (FIPSE) of the U.S. Department of Education awarded a 2
by David Gibson
major FY06 grant to SimSchool and the University of North
Texas to develop “simMentoring.” The core idea is to utilize
What is "simMentoring"? 3 SimSchool as a practice arena for new teachers and to
by Gerald Knezek test whether SimSchool can help speed up the process of
becoming an expert teacher, both with and without additional
Your First simSession ...pages 4-7
by David Gibson and Melanie Zibit human mentoring.

Meet me at the MUVEES The nearly The core idea is to utilize

(the sequel) ...pages 8-10
$600,000 project SimSchool as a practice arena for
by Melanie Zibit
will, according new teachers and to test whether
About simSchool 11 to the abstract SimSchool can help speed up the
“demonstrate how process of becoming an expert
Register 12 simSchool dynam- teacher, both with and without
simSchool Newsletter
ically simulates additional human mentoring.
Rhonda Christensen a classroom in
Mark Favazza which experienced
David Gibson teachers guide novice teachers. The simulation prepares
and supports teachers through their induction years and is
Gerald Knezek
Melanie Zibit
intended to reduce the attrition rates of new teachers. The
approach combines mentoring with a wide range of simulated
students. The innovation of simMentoring lies in its capacity
to allow teachers many learning trials with simulated students,
thereby increasing teacher confidence, competence, and

For more information contact: Rhonda Christensen, University

of North Texas, P.O. Box 311335, Denton, TX 76203-1335;
simSchool.. a powerful online learning experience 940-565-4195;
that builds confidence in the classroom.

sim-Newsletter-07.indd 1 1/22/07 3:05:30 PM

simSchool Personalities Grow
Seeing, Hearing and Feeling Added: by David Gibson

Until recently, simStudents had personality and cognitive

skills, but no visual, auditory or kinesethetic (VAK) charac-
teristics. Debuting in January 2007, the simStudents will All the VAK computations take place
now be able to “see, hear and feel” as they are learning prior to a task’s dynamics playing
(it’s a simulation of course). The new bank of character-
out over time and determine the com-
istics makes it possible to model many aspects of the
“learning styles” framework proposed by Howard Gardner plexity or level of difficulty of a task.
(Gardner 1983). Here, in short, is how it works. Then, the other aspects of personality
or learning style take over – the inter-
A variable for each VAK characteristic is represented as
part of each task and each student on a scale of zero personal, psychological and cognitive
to ten. If all three variables are zero in either the task or characteristics of the learner – and
student, no learning can take place at all. If any one or influence the dynamic relationship
two of the VAK variables in the student are zero, it means
a complete absence of the perceptual pathway, but learn-
of the student to the task and larger
ing can still take place in the nonzero variable(s). In the environment of learning.
task, zeros in the VAK variables mean a complete lack of
VAK information required by the task (e.g. those variables
would not be measurable by an assessment). For ex-
ample, V=0 in the student means blindness and V=0 in
the task means a complete lack of visual information and
cognitive demand on visual processing.

A distance between the task and student is computed

and can be positive or negative. The distance is posi-
tive if the task characteristic is a higher number than
the student’s. Tasks get harder to do the greater the
positive distance. When the distance is negative, it
means that the task characteristic is not fully exposing
the student’s higher level of capability in the perceptual
pathway. A task that requires no visual processing, low-
ers the task’s potential to “exercise or teach” the stu-
dent. In an assessment context, a prompt that doesn’t
ask the student to display visual knowledge, skills or
processing will not elicit student performance on those
contents of knowledge.

All the VAK computations take place prior to a task’s dy-

namics playing out over time and determine the complex-
ity or level of difficulty of a task. Then, the other aspects of
personality or learning style take over – the interpersonal,
psychological and cognitive characteristics of the learner
– and influence the dynamic relationship of the student to
the task and larger environment of learning.
We hope that you give the new capabilities a try soon! Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind : the theory of
❧ multiple intelligences. New York, Basic Books.

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What is simMentoring?
by Gerald Knezek

The Fund for the Improvement of Post Secondary way people think about teaching and mentoring new
Education (FIPSE) of the U.S. Department of Educa- teachers? Will simMentored teachers tend to stay in
tion awarded a major grant to SimSchool and the the teaching profession longer?
University of North Texas (UNT) to develop “sim-
Mentoring.” The core idea is to utilize simSchool as a Rhonda Christensen and Gerald Knezek of UNT
practice arena for new teachers and to test whether are leading the FIPSE project activities and study of
SimSchool can help speed up the process of becom- findings, along with SimSchool creator and project
ing an expert teacher, both with and without additional leader David Gibson. Results from the study should
human mentoring. begin to appear about one year from now.

Teachers in their final stages of preservice prepara-

tion and early years of service will build “mirror class-
rooms” filled with simStudents who mirror the ones
they actually teach. SimMentoring researchers will
look for a variety of potential patterns in a search for
clues to new questions about learning to teach through
a simulation. Questions such as: Will teachers see

SimMentoring researchers will look

for a variety of potential patterns in
a search for clues to new questions
about learning to teach through a

David Gibson visits UNT for the launching of the

FIPSE-funded simMentoring project
their students (and construct their mirror students) in
the same way that students see themselves? Will they
construct mirror classrooms that accurately reflect the Anyone interested in joining in this or similar re-
students they teach? Can teachers learn how to better search on teaching through games and simulations
teach the students is invited to contact David Gibson
they have by
teaching the mirror ❧
students? Are the
rates of maturity in
teaching similar for
people who do not
get mentoring or
simMentoring? Do
preservice teach-
ers in their stu-
dent teaching phase construct different models than
veteran teachers? Does using simSchool change the

simSchool is funded in part by the U.S. Dept of Education 3

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Your First simSession
How to get started with simSchool:
by David Gibson and Melanie Zibit

What if you’ve never played “simSchool?” You have no idea what to expect. What is the best way to find out? Play a
free game! Go to and register for free and then follow these basic instructions to take it for a
“test drive.” Meet Everly Kassam, a simStudent (one of over 15,000) who is waiting to learn from you.

Everly Kassam is an “on grade level” student. In relationships, he shows self-confidence and likes
stimulation. He manages to get along with others most of the time. He is diligent about assignments,
follows instructions and stays on task. He is a steady, friendly, warm person with good self-esteem.
He’s interested in a lot of things, enjoys new ideas, and likes a challenge.

When approaching tasks, he talks a lot, likes variety and interaction. He learns best by “doing” and
likes to work with others. He is generally positive and enthusiastic. Everly likes to plan and have structure. He needs
closure, and thus completes every task. He wants everything “to count” toward the grade. He is creative, makes up
hypotheses, improvises answers, and takes risks.

Let see if we can teach him!

Step 1: Set up to teach Everly

[click] on the tab “New Simulation.”

[click] on the box “1 student”
[click] on the box “At grade level”
[click] on the box “Fixed personalities”
[type] “Everly Kassam (at grade level)”
[click] on the box “Create”

At the completion of this step, you have defined a “game” or “scenario” with a well-known student who is expected to
perform at grade level in any subject you teach.

Step 2: Teaching Everly

[click] on the tab “my simSchools”

[click] on the tab “Saved Simulations”
[click] on the box “Launch” next to “Everly Kassam (at grade level)”

The classroom now loads to your computer. This might take

a minute, but not much more. SimSchool is loading the body
positions, talking exchanges, and learning characteristics for
Everly. When finished, you’ll have a new window looking like

4 simSchool © 2007

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Figure 1. Everly, waiting for class to start.

The game starts when you [click] on the white triangle in the lower right corner. The game is now “paused,” indicated
by the gray parallel bars in the middle. To the far right is the white square “stop” button. Don’t start or stop the game
just yet.

[click] on the laptop computer screen on the desk. This takes you to your class list, with student records. You
can read about Everly and see past grades.

[click] on the “Start button”

[click] on Everly

The meter tells you that there is no academic potential thus far. The task you’ve assigned (none) has no ability to
teach him anything. The thermometer tells you that he has completed a “low level” on this task.

The meter indicates the available academic potential at each moment of time. A task that is very hard for a student
(far above their current level of expected academic performance) will have a needle reading far to the right. As the
student gains experience with the task and masters it, the task has less and less potential and the needle will drop
back to the left. In this case, the task has no potential even at the start of the task, indicating that this task is not going
to help Everly.

The thermometer fills up over time as Everly reaches the expected performance goals of each task. Everly’s ther-
mometer on this task will never move, since there is no learning opportunity in the task.

Let’s assign a task, the clock is ticking!

[click] on the “Task Menu” in the lower left of the teacher’s console

[click] on “Level 1” and [mouseover] on the tasks until you find “go over last week’s lessons” and then [click]
that one.

simSchool is funded in part by the U.S. Dept of Education 5

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When you select Everly, you will see an information update in the center portion of the teacher’s console.
It confirms that he is working on the task you assigned and is listening. Notice that you are tracking changes over
time in

Power - his sense of ability to do the task at hand

Happiness – his sense of affiliation with the task
Academic Growth – his academic performance.

If you [mouseover] the white update screens, they will expand for detailed viewing.

[watch] the “Simulation time” in the lower right hand section of the console. About every 10 seconds,
1 minute of class time goes by. The readout tells you how many minutes of simulated class time have

When you are finished trying out various tasks, click the “stop” button – the white square in the lower right of the

Step 3: Seeing Your Results

[click] on the tab “my simSchools”

[click] on the tab “Saved Simulations”

You’ll notice a number of steps after the date and time of your game.

[click] on the words “View data” next to “Everly Kassam (at grade level)”

There are many ways to analyze your results, so we’ll only point out one of the most obvious ways. You should see
a timeline like the following:

Figure 3. Viewing the data from a game.

6 simSchool © 2007

sim-Newsletter-07.indd 6 1/22/07 3:05:38 PM

Everly’s learning characteristics at the start of class are the positions on six variables of expected performance: Aca-
demic, Agreeableness, Emotional Stability, Extroversion, Intellectual Openness, and Persistence. Everly is clustered
at or slightly above grade level expectations on all of these variables.

The scroll bar at the bottom allows you to see the entire timeline. The dark blue line is tracking Everly’s academic
performance during this class. In figure 3 we can see that after 1.5 minutes (3 vertical lines) of doing “nothing,” his
academic performance begins to drop when the task is changed to “go over last week’s lessons.” (I guess we should
have given Everly a better task!)

Can you help Everly learn? Let us know how it goes! ❧

UNT faculty will introduce simSchool, with its updated features, to preservice students Spring 2007.
Leslie Patterson, Carol Wickstrom, David Gibson and Rhonda Christensen.

David Gibson introduces simSchool to

UNT faculty in December 2006

simSchool is funded in part by the U.S. Dept of Education 7

sim-Newsletter-07.indd 7 1/22/07 3:05:45 PM
Meet Me at the MUVEES (the sequel)
This is part 2 of simSchool’s interview with Chris Dede; part 1 can be found in our Volume 1 No. 2 - Fall/
Winter 2005 edition of simZine.

by Melanie Zibit

Timothy E. Wirth Professor in Both of these descriptions are accurate and legitimate
Learning Technologies the Harvard ways of presenting our work, but their overlap is very
small. A lot of the effective presentation is starting with
Graduate School of Education the audience’s concerns and interests, then showing
how our innovative learning environments relate to
simSchool: Thinking these.
about how to help people
understand the value of
these new environments We have a new type of learning ex-
for learning, how did you perience that will get most of these
get people in schools to
try your MUVE River City?
kids to come to school. When they use
River City, it builds on the engaging
Chris: Convincing educa- activities they do outside of school
tors to try a novel approach and on learning strengths that you
involving a multi-user
simulation is not easy. The don’t know these students have.
way that I describe our design as a researcher is not
the way I depict our work when speaking to educators.
Walking into a school and saying “Situated learning
is a powerful kind of educational experience – like an One of the artifacts I use in talks is the cover of the
internship -- that occurs often in life, but seldom in book “Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid”
classroom. There isn’t a curriculum as such. There by Douglas Hofstadter. The cover has a block of wood
isn’t a teacher as such. There isn’t necessarily a men- carved so that when a light is shown through from one
tor, but students learn a lot” is a quick way to be shown direction, the letter “E” appears; from another direction,
the exit. the letter G; and from a third direction, a B. The visual
exemplifies how the same themes were expressed in
Instead, I start with the needs and worldview of educa- the work of a mathematician, and artist, and a musi-
tors. What I say when I start with a school is, “I know cian. Similarly, emerging educational artifacts are
that you have a big challenge with No Child Left Be- sophisticated and complex; each perspective reveals
hind -- every sub-population in the school is required another dimension. How we formulate nuanced termi-
to make a certain level of Annual Yearly Progress, or nology to describe this “elephant” is not an easy task.
your school will be declared non-performing. We know
that for some of these subpopulations using traditional
educational techniques more intensively is not going to
result in that progress. In fact ,with many kids you are
not going to get anywhere even with good pedagogy
because they are showing up at school only about
half the time. We have a new type of learning experi-
ence that will get most of these kids to come to school.
When they use River City, it builds on the engaging
activities they do outside of school and on learning
strengths that you don’t know these students have.”

Cover of Gödel, Escher, Bach:

An Eternal Golden Braid

8 simSchool © 2007

sim-Newsletter-07.indd 8 1/22/07 3:05:46 PM

simSchool: After you have worked with these simSchool: What about dealing with No Child
schools a while, do they come to understand situ- Left Behind (NCLB)?
ated learning? When, or can you ever, reveal the
more innovative learning processes going on? Chris: The irony of NCLB is that it is a double-edged
sword for those advocating innovation. On the one
Chris: We try to build capacity in schools to under- hand, because of current approaches to “education
stand the full range of what we are doing. We are not reform,” using project-based curricula in schools is
the kind of researchers that think of ourselves as ap- difficult. We want to help kids learn a few important
plying “treatments” to “subjects”. Instead, we conduct things deeply – teachers in contrast want broad, shal-
design-based research in which participants become low, rapid coverage of material to prepare for high
co–designers as they develop their knowledge to stakes tests.
assume that role. For example, teachers say, “I can’t
believe that these kids, instead of going to the cafete- On the other hand, schools are in a panic. Every
ria for lunch, are staying in the classroom and work- school is about to be declared non-performing be-
ing with River City.” Then we explain we are building cause some subpopulation is not making annual yearly
on the learning strengths and engagement kids find progress. So schools will try something they think is
in technology-based activities outside of school and “wild and crazy” – like our MUVE -- because they know
ask that teachers start a dialogue with kids about this. conventional approaches are not going to work with
That dialogue informs teachers and us about how to those particular students.
improve learning experiences in school.

simSchool: What is the process of adoption

like? Do some teachers champion the new tech- We want to help kids learn a few
nology and then others decide to try it? important things deeply – teachers in
contrast want broad, shallow, rapid
Chris: When educators see what River City can do
with students, they often become committed to its use. coverage of material to prepare for
But the response of teachers varies enormously. Some high stakes tests.
teachers grade papers or read the newspaper while
their students are learning. Those instructors may say,
“River City is great; the kids are learning and motivat-
ed; I want the students to keep doing this.” But these
teachers are not participating in ways that enhance simSchool: How do we bridge where K-12 and
what kids are accomplishing. In contrast, another higher education is today to where it could be
teacher might say, “River City is ok, but it needs fixing tomorrow with simulations and games?
in multiple ways.” From our perspective, that con-
structively critical feedback is very useful. The teacher Chris: These artifacts are working their way into
moves from being a consumer to a co-designer. higher education, particularly in teacher education and
the sciences. Case-based teaching is already widely
simSchool: Have you started to see any linkages used in schools of law, medicine, and business. Edu-
between the use of River City and learning out- cation is now pioneering case-based teaching meth-
comes or impacts? ods, even though what education professors mean by
this is completely different from how cases are used in
Chris: We are conducting longitudinal studies to the other professional schools. At Harvard’s Graduate
determine long-range impacts on students’ motiva- School of Education, this is an active area of research.
tion and learning. We want to see if the inquiry skills
learned in River city affect the quality of students’ Case-based teaching provides a natural bridge to
science fair projects —or whether some pupils subse- simulations. In the 1980s, when I was at the University
quently select a more difficult science courses. Howev- of Houston, my teaching load included courses on
er, River City is a two-week intervention; regardless of general systems theory and systems modeling. At that
the quality of our work, in such a short time we are not time, Peter Senge at MIT built a simulation of an airline
going to have an enormous effect on students’ lives. that expanded rapidly and then collapsed. You could
We are now starting implementations for a month or
more and expect to see larger impacts from these.

simSchool is funded in part by the U.S. Dept of Education 9

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teach this particular case using the simulation, and So, with getting schools of education to use new
show how this example illustrated general principles of interactive media such as simSchool, a good strategy
systems and models. is having the teachers who experienced simSchool as
part of their district’s professional development come
Cases could be the foundation on which to build use to take classes at the Education School and state,
of simulations in education. For faculty members used “Why are you lecturing? I have had experience with
to lecturing, shifting to a simulation-based approach this new way of learning and find it engaging and more
is difficult. Faculty that use case-based teaching more effective.”
readily understand the power of simulations and can
more easily integrate these into their teaching.
Website and Articles related to Chris Dede’s re-
simSchool: How would we form the bridge? search

Chris: In higher education, the dissemination mecha- Multi-User Virtual Environment Experiential Simu-
nism is still similar to what we discussed earlier related lator (MUVEES project) http://muve.gse.harvard.
to getting River City used in schools. Start with the edu/muvees2003/
problems that the audience cares about and find a way
to relate to those challenges. For example, with getting The Future of Learning Technologies: An Interview
universities to use simSchool in educational leadership with Chris Dede by James Morrison and Chris
courses, you might say, “We know the dynamics at the Dede October/November 2004 Volume 1, Issue 1:
school level affect what educators can do. However,
schools are so complex that no one sees the big pic- &action=article
ture; this leads to a lot of difficulties.” Then you could
talk about how simSchool addresses understanding A New Century Demands New Ways of Learning
the whole context and the impact of leadership deci- - An Excerpt from The Digital Classroom By Chris
sions. The strategy is to pick a crucial issue for your Dede, Harvard Graduate School of Education,
target population of adopters. December 1, 2000:
simSchool: Think about a current situation of
two-page, text-based cases now widely used. They
are more like the context or trailer that precedes a
video game rather than the actual dynamics. Chris Dede’s fundamental interest is the expanded
human capabilities for knowledge creation, sharing,
Chris: I envision the total experience for a new case and mastery that emerging technologies enable. His
method as being a multimedia grouping of artifacts, an teaching models the use of information technology to
arena that prompts and establishes the context and distribute and orchestrate learning across space, time,
setting. The case would thus get the learner into the and multiple interactive media. His research spans
actual situated space that you have created for them. emerging technologies for learning, infusing technolo-
Of course, this takes much more time and a more gy into large-scale educational improvement initiatives,
sophisticated design than a text-based case. policy formulation and analysis, and leadership in edu-
cational innovation. He is currently conducting funded
simSchool: Since using games and simulations studies to develop and assess learning environments
in higher education is an emergent field, what do based on modeling and visualization, online teacher
people in schools of education need to know? professional development, high-bandwidth telementor-
ing, wireless mobile devices for ubiquitous computing,
Chris: I think it is very difficult to change schools of and multiuser virtual environments. Dede also is active
education. Often, the drivers for change come ex- in policy initiatives, including creating a widely used
ternally. For example, faculty at Harvard’s Graduate State Policy Framework for Assessing Educational
School of Education are intelligent and knowledge- Technology Implementation and studying the potential
able, but often do not understand the potential educa- of developing a scalability index for educational inno-
tional value of learning technologies. Until the school vations. From 2001 to 2004, he served as chair of the
was pressured by its’ external Visiting Committee to Learning & Teaching area at HGSE. ❧
change, little happened.

10 simSchool © 2007

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David Gibson shares simSchool with
simMentoring project faculty at UNT.

The simSchool
Homepage is where is
all begins!!

view sample screens of

the simSchool classroom,
simStudents and reports
showing how well you
played the game!

Click on

to see additional innovative

tools developed by
simSchool partners.
Click on

to connect to all sorts of

journal articles, as well as
links to other simulations,
games resources and
information for educators.
Click on

to play simSchool

simSchool is funded in part by the U.S. Dept of Education 11

sim-Newsletter-07.indd 11 1/22/07 3:05:52 PM
Register for simSchool now!

To register as a Friendz of
• Improves your understanding of student simSchool click on
learning styles and personal characteristics.

• Helps you develop intuition, strategies and All “Friendz” receive free
skills that will make you a better teacher!! newsletters, information on
simulations and games for
• Allows you to practice teaching and class- educators and FREE use of the
room management skills in a risk-free envi- simSchool simulation when it is
ronment. released!!

• Boosts your confidence in teaching.

12 simSchool © 2007

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