Blog Post 4: A Wrap on Poptropica

As I wrap up my final thoughts on the Poptropica, there is something that I thought was very important to include on the game. The different locations for the challenges have different connections to various historical facts or academic concepts. As can be seen below;

The island that I am currently playing on is all about mythology and the Greek gods! I could definitely see myself using this as a center activity on the computers or iPads when learning about mythology. I also really like that the game provides this map option. It does not require the player to go island by island and it gives the difficulty level right away. This is a great feature for a free play setting but not so great if the class were all trying to play the same island at different difficulty levels.

In the article Good Video Games, the Human Mind, and Good Learning J.P. Gee asserts that, “When we think of games, we think of fun. When we think of learning, we think of work. Games show us this is wrong. They trigger deep learning that is itself part and parcel of the fun. It is what makes good games deep” (Gee 43). I think this is so relevant to not only Poptropica, but all games. For students, it is so important for their learning to be both fun and engaging and games are a great bridge to providing an experience that is both educational and fun. I am glad I had this experience because I now feel more comfortable using games in my future classroom!

Blog Post 3: A Poptropica Update

As I entered back into Poptropica to continue my game, I realized that I had not saved the initial game so that was a bummer! After starting over and getting back to the place where I was, I discovered more about the game than I had written about in the initial blog post. I’m glad that I did have to start over, because it allowed me to notice details that I hadn’t seen the first time I played the game. For example, there are hidden activities like the ability to change your hair color if you click on the soda machine! I like that the game added all of these hidden treats because it requires players to actually click around.

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This game I also focused on the fact that there are mini challenges that can get you more coins or clues, hints and objects to help you complete the challenge. I’ve included some photos below:

In the article, Mind Shift, Jordan Shapiro writes on challenges, “…they demand the active participation of players all along the way. This is one reason games have such potential as tools for learning: they are really nothing more than complex problems waiting to be solved by players in a way that is both fun and challenging” (Shapiro 5). I think that this describes the game of Poptropica well in terms of the challenges presented in the game. The entire purpose of the game is to complete challenges to earn medals and move onto the next level. The challenges are learning-based and thought provoking. This game could certainly be used in a classroom depending on the lesson at hand. I would consider using it in my classroom for many different purposes!

Blog Post 2: The Poptropica Experience

For my video game exploration I have decided to focus on the game Poptropica. The reason that I chose to focus on this game is because I remember playing it all of the time when I was younger and it being something fun but not anything that I could see having any sort of educational value. After reading Mindshift by Jordan Shapiro et. al, I wanted to revisit this game and see if my views have changed at all in regards to its educational value.

I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by all that this game had to offer and I can understand why it’s a good game for children to play. The game has many elements that are centered on problem solving and direction following. It also requires the child playing to think critically and focus on what details they had already been given. In my first challenge at “24 Carrot Farms”, I had to complete a series of tasks to take down an evil bunny. This goal was not initially given out directly but a brief description of the game allowed for me to gather some context clues of what my mission would entail as well as the respective difficulty level. This relates to Shapiro’s point about choosing the appropriate level for children. Perhaps giving them different leveled games would help them to be successful in completing the tasks at hand.  Screen Shot 2020-02-04 at 21.12.17

One thing I really loved about this game is the way that it gives you hints about what you should be doing, but it doesn’t give too much information away. Things make sense in a logical order of how the tasks must be completed and in order to get what you want you have to complete the task at hand. An example of this was trying to get the cat to come out of the bathtub and having to lure it with milk from the store. I also attached one of the hints below.

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This game also relates to Gee’s article because he explains how powerful action and simulation games can be for student development. I think this game is the perfect balance of action and problem solving, and I really am enjoying my time playing it so far.

Blog Post 1: All About Me

Welcome to my blog! My name is Carli VanMaaren, I use the pronouns she/her/hers, and I am from Rochester, New York! I really enjoy reading, baking, watching movies, and traveling. Something that I think makes me special is that I am a middle child! On campus I am involved in the Arrupe Scholars Program and I am also a Resident Assistant serving first year female-identified residents. This semester I am looking forward to helping plan and be part of a couple of different conferences and events on campus. Off campus I babysit a couple days a week and that is also something I enjoy.

For me to be able to feel comfortable enough to take risks within the classroom, I need to know that my peers are supportive of me and my ideas and that I am also supportive of them! I also have to allow myself to be wrong sometimes and to understand that it is okay to not have all of the answers all of the time.

One essay related to the field of education that has stood out to me lately is, “Recent Developments in Gender Research Can Help Us Increase Equity for Male and Female Students” by David Sadker and Melissa Koch. Something that stood out to me in this article was that I hadn’t realized how little female representation there is in STEM fields and how much classroom life contributes to it. This article taught me the importance of promoting STEM as a choice for all students regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity, or background. I hope to be able to incorporate what this article taught me in my own class someday!

Two questions that I have for Dr. Shutkin are:

  1. Why do you enjoy teaching ed tech?
  2. What is the most rewarding part of being a professor for you?

Blog Post 9: Who Controls Education in America?

The way in which the American education system is run is certainly controversial to say the least. There are so many parts of it which are constantly up for debate especially when it comes to determining what type of education each child should receive based on what their parents want and so many options for what types of education exist. But with all of these options, who is behind deciding how the curriculum and important decisions are made?

While each school district does get to decide some things for how they would like to run their school, our education system is primarily controlled by the government, both state and federal. The most concerning part of the way that our government decides what is best for schools is that many people who make these decisions are not even educators themselves. Teachers have a very limited say in how they are actually running their classrooms which is an issue that faces the field of education.

Each state is allowed to decide what they would like done in their state and the federal government actually has less control over schools than state government. Many states have opted for one standard approach to learning across the board which is where common core comes from which is a controversy in and of itself. With each state deciding their own standards, the effects vary from state to state. Common core has its benefits but there are also many downsides, but trying to implement one standard idea across an entire state is bound to have it’s issues. I would say the way in which the state government takes away teacher’s individuality and creativity within the classroom is a negative. Not all children learn in the same way and by introducing more high stakes testing in younger grades it forces children who are not good test takers to become a number for the state.

The federal government is not perfect either and the idea of neoliberalism can be detrimental to inner city public schools but also school districts in general. The idea of offering vouchers and allowing some families to choose their school is helping few but hurting many. Some families are just above the poverty line and wouldn’t qualify for a voucher and therefore would be stuck in a school where their peers are leaving and the quality of education would decrease, as would funding for public schools. While vouchers could be helpful for the students who receive them, it would harm the entire population as a whole. Rather than investing in few students, the money being spent on vouchers could be spent on improving public schools in the areas most affected. There are many issues within the education field, but vouchers don’t seem like the best way for reform.

Blog Post 8: Queer Theory

It is general knowledge that in today’s schools and society, many young people face discrimination for being different. They can be criticized in schools, or with all of the work of social media, they can also be criticized online and sometimes even anonymously. Often times when we hear about a young person being criticized because of their sexuality we will just say something like, “wow, that’s sad” or will avoid addressing it due to discomfort. This is what is known as turning a blind eye to a very prominent issue, and something we should be aware of as future educators.

Another way that actions which are non-inclusive to queer ideology can harm an entire school is when we turn a blind eye to the way that things are run and reject to consider a potentially more inclusive model. The way that we enforce gender norms is by creating binary relationships. This means when we give girls pink things and boys blue things, when we claim that doll houses are toys exclusively for girls to play with and footballs are exclusively toys for boys to play with. These binaries aren’t just recognized in elementary school, but can also carry over to high school. By enforcing norms like prom king and queen or exclusively straight male and female sex education, it is only hurting an entire population of students. Not to mention, for those students who are not part of the LGBTQ+ community, it is furthering this belief that the world exists in binaries and anything that can’t fit into a very set category is different and therefore rejected. For those students who are members of the LGBTQ+ community or are questioning their sexuality, it adds emphasis on top of an already stressful time in their lives just based off of societal pressures. They may feel like they don’t belong or like they are an outcast when their differences should be celebrated.

There is a way to improve these conditions we have set, but it would take a lot of hard work from a lot of parties involved. In her article, “‘But I’m Not Gay’: What Straight Teachers Need to Know about Queer Theory”, Elizabeth J Meyer writes, “What the concept of queer theory truly seeks to do is disrupt and challenge traditional models of thought and, by standing outside them, examine and dismantle them” (Meyer 26). If we were to view gender as a sort of spectrum or continuum rather than a binary, we could be more open to breaking stereotypes and not just allowing people to be one way or another or just like one thing or the other. If we allowed for this freedom, it could open so many other doors for all people who have been excluded for so long.



Meyer, E. (2007).  “But I’m Not Gay”: What Straight Teachers Need to Know about Queer Theory. In N. Rodriquez & W. Pinar (Eds.), Queering Straight Teachers: Discourse and Identity in Education. (pp. 15-32). New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Blog Post 7: Service Learning

Service learning is a unique experience that can both break down stereotypes and create a better understanding, but on the other hand has the potential to reaffirm certain cultural biases. In his article, “Can Service Learning Reinforce Social and Cultural Bias? Exploring a Popular Model of Family Involvement for Early Childhood Teacher Candidates”, Maylan Dunn-Kenney explains what some of these biases could be. He wrote that students questioned their safety, were anxious about being a white person at the center, and claimed it was disorganized (Dunn-Kenney 41). These are all examples of the biases that the students went into their experience with, and are biases that many Americans may have without even being aware of them.

I am currently involved with Youth for Justice at the St. Thomas Aquinas school. Our job is to go to their school each week and teach eighth graders about the Constitution and what their basic rights are as US citizens. We share stories with them about famous rights activists in hopes to inspire them to want to enact some change of their own. We also allow them to speak in front of their classmates and participate in activities like skits so that they can gain the skill of public speaking in preparation for the future but also for the summit. This is a day that takes place at John Carroll where the students are able to present an idea they have to make a change in front of a room full of important people who want to hear their ideas. This experience has been really important for me because I have been able to hear ideas about what needs to be changed in our world from young students, many of whom face injustice in their every day lives. Their attitude and hope for the future is inspiring and keeps reminding me that a more equal and more just future is possible with the right mindset.

I think it is difficult for anyone to admit that our consciousness and self-awareness need to be challenged sometimes. For me, being in this school and being able to work with these incredible students is certainly also allowing me to reflect on things that maybe I wasn’t conscious of before, but really need to be. Growing up, I was privileged to attend schools which always had all of the resources I needed and I never had to even think about if I would have an adequate place to attend school each day. After participating in a couple activities with my small group, I have certainly had a couple aha moments myself. A couple specifically were when we had asked the students to think about what they would change if they could change anything about their school. The girls in my group said that they would want more bathrooms because they only have one. I instantly started to think about poverty and how sad that was because I had never been in a situation like that. I should have considered other aspects before immediately thinking how sad that this school can only afford one bathroom for girls. Another aha moment for me was when they said they would want to keep their phones with them in class so that in case anyone ever came in or there was an emergency they could call their families. It really hit me because these kids are so afraid of what might happen in their school and while it’s something I consider, it seems like this gives them a lot of anxiety and that should not be the case. For me, as a future teacher, I need to be more aware of these fears so that I can ensure the safety and comfort of my students.

As I become more awake to the world through self-reflection, I am continuing to learn a lot about my service site and myself. I am learning that the students I work with are incredibly capable of doing whatever they put their minds to and that we need to see them as such. I am learning that I need to have more faith in that the students are learning from me as I learn from them. It is easy to believe that the only thing these students need is someone to believe in them but what they really need is someone to give them the tools and resources to make them believe in themselves so that they can take the initiative and make changes they need. I am learning that I need to be conscious of the judgements I make when I go to service so that I can fight those and make changes to my own views so that I am able to support students of any background or upbringing because ultimately that is what my students deserve. As service continues, I hope that I continue to grow alongside the students I get to work with.