Friday FunPost – Using Games and Virtual Reality to Teach Compassion

Today’s Friday FunPost is less “ha ha” funny and more of a thoughtful, potentially inspiring type of fun. I’m chaperoning our Freshman Retreat today and in a more reflective space than on most Friday afternoons.

The other morning this word and reflection arrived in my inbox from the good brothers of the Society of St. John the Evangelist:

Suffering

“The prevailing reason why Jesus did what he did and said what he said was his compassion for others. Compassion, which literally means “to suffer with” another person. Compassion is not just to observe suffering, but actually entering the suffering of another.” -Br. Curtis Almquist

I shared this with my students that day as another reminder of how compassion is one of the core values essential for one who follows Jesus the Christ. We’ve been talking a lot about compassion and empathy lately in class. This essential conversation, accompanied by prayer, is a clear antidote to the widespread fear, scapegoating, nativism, racism, and generalized hostility in our social and political conversations these days.

Today I read about two tech facilitated ways to help others grow in compassion and empathy. First, Tech Crunch offers a solid overview of how Virtual Reality is expanding classroom learning in a variety of ways. After describing how VR has been and continues to be used for mainly for simulations – especially scientific and historical ones – the author suggests this creative and constructive usage:

Perhaps the most utopian application of this technology will be seen in terms of bridging cultures and fostering understanding among young students, as it will soon be possible for a third-grade class in the U.S. to participate in a virtual trip with a third-grade class in India or Mexico.

This may sound simplistic and minor, but I think it’s only a beginning of how we will soon be able to leverage VR for a wide variety of educational outcomes. We often assume that we can only use VR from our own exclusive perspective to explore myriad locations, time periods, simulations, etc. After all, everything I see with my eye-brain connection is filtered through only my own reality. The true power of VR is that it will allow me to see what the world looks like from others’ perspectives. And if the simulation is created with thoughtful skill this could engender greater empathy in me.

For example, what if the VR headset caused me to see all writing as a dyslexic person does every day? Or maybe it could show me the hallucinations and “voices” that plague a schizophrenic in his or her daily life. At the very least, it will allow us to take on the persona of someone quite different than ourselves and see, first-hand, the world through their eyes.

Even before VR becomes widely available in our classrooms, a growing genre of video games exist which allow us to experience life from a different perspective. In an article glibly titled “Video Game Psych 101:Empathy Games” we learn how:

Biofeedback video games feed off players’ physiological responses, impacting gameplay in new and interesting ways. But what happens when developers create games designed to evoke a specific emotional or psychological response?

Empathy games attempt to answer that question. These video games aspire to enhance a player’s understanding of an outside perspective, particularly those pertaining to real-world struggles and inequalities, through interactive experiences.

This genre includes the groundbreaking game from a few years ago – Dsy4ia. While this particular simulation engenders empathy towards a specific life experience, this type of game could be created to illustrate any number of situations. And, combined with the increasing power of VR, the possibilities for tech facilitated education for compassion and empathy is limited only by our imaginations.

 

Two Simple Mindful Meditation Exercises for Teachers

It’s Monday noon and yes, I didn’t get to a Sun(Fun)day Night post yesterday. It wasn’t much of a fun day for me, but rather an extremely full day into the night. Our midterm exams are next week and I was working all day on review guides and then on revising the two exams themselves.

Yes, I felt stressed and yes, I did practice some of the mindfulness meditation techniques that I’ve blogged about here and here and here.

I post this link from The Guardian as it is geared specifically to teachers. Faculty and staff at my school will recognize these simple, yet effective techniques as we’ve been using them to start faculty meetings. And we used them as recently as this morning when our deacon used the PA system to guide the entire student body through a 10 min exercise related to Advent and the Holy Family.

As the stress level this time of year gets ratcheted up for you – whether you have midterms before Christmas or not – I hope this article and the exercises contained within help make your season merrier and brighter.

Sun(Fun)day Noon – Congrats to Hawks & Supercut of Motivational Coaches from Movies

It’s early on this Sunday, but I have a few fun posts in mind for today. So, I thought I’d get an early start (and I’m not quite ready to settle in to my grading/planning for the day).

Congrats and kudos to the @hartleyfootball team for winning last night and making it to the semi-finals for their division in the state of Ohio.

Hawks Football

Coach Birchfield is exceptionally skilled at motivating his players, students and colleagues. But just in case he needs some inspiration from legendary movie coaches, here’s a great supercut of all-stars:

In case you’d like some more movie coach fun, check out the results of this recent “tournament” determining which coach is the most motivational of all time.

 

Stuff You Should Know: How to Quickly Defeat a Cold

Ahhh…Choo!!! Ugh…Am I getting a cold? We teachers know exactly what this sinking feeling and inevitable question is like.

Well, fear no more – this article is a must read as it gives you an hour-by-hour game plan to increase your chance of beating the cold early and decreasing the misery it would otherwise bring.

So, read on and be well!

Sun(Fun)day Night – Your Body and Brain on Walking

It’s been a busy weekend, but a gorgeous one for the middle of November. Today was sunny, calm and warm with highs in the upper 60’s. So, I got out for a great, brisk walk at my favorite Metro Park – Sharon Woods.

I was thinking about all the good things that were happening for my body and brain as I walked.  According to this brief article here’s the ten good things going on for me:

Walking puts you in the express lane on the highway to better health. Let’s recap all the perks of ambulating:

1. Fat burn
2. Strong bones
3. Sunny mood
4. Sharp mind
5. Healthy heart
6. Toned muscles
7. Enhanced immunity
8. Deep sleep
9. Dementia protection
10. Longer life

Will be it nice weather this week where you live? If so (or even if it’s not), as the article concludes:

Are you pumped to lace up your walking shoes?

 

 

Eye-Popping Video on How a Virus Spreads and How to Stay Well

You likely learned (or perhaps taught) in Biology class how a virus multiplies inside of a cell. Chances are though that you’ve never seen this process like it’s illustrated in a new video from NPR:

 

Convinced that you should indeed get a flu shot this season? What else can you do to stay healthy this winter? From CNN comes The Ultimate Cold and Flu Survival Guide.

And you can also enact this “immodest proposal” from Ozy: “Don’t Shake On It” because:

Beyond the power politics, handshakes are also natural vehicles for spreading infectious diseases. They’re ticking germ bombs — with the CDC estimating that nearly 80 percent of infections are transmitted by hands, which teem with millions of bacteria and viruses. This led Dr. Tom McClellan of West Virginia University to laud a safer salutation — the fist bump — while other health officials promoted the elbow bump during Haiti’s cholera outbreak, Mexico’s swine flu scare and the recent Ebola epidemic.

Washing Dishes Is A Really Great Stress Reliever

OK, it’s Sunday night (ugh!) And of course I worked much this weekend, but didn’t get as much grading, planning, etc done as I wanted to do.

As I was getting ready to head downstairs to do my Sunday night task – folding laundry – and my every night task – washing dishes – I came across an encouraging article about the value of what I’m about to do.

Time Magazine offers a brief, yet insightful article about a study which showed that washing dishes can be a great stress reliever – if you do it mindfully. I like the reading excerpt which the researchers had one group of subjects read:

While washing the dishes one should only be washing the dishes. This means that while washing the dishes one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes. At first glance, that might seem a little silly. Why put so much stress on a simple thing? But that’s precisely the point. The fact that I am standing there and washing is a wondrous reality. I’m being completely myself, following my breath, conscious of my presence, and conscious of my thoughts and actions. There’s no way I can be tossed around mindlessly like a bottle slapped here and there on the waves.

After the group which read this excerpt, washed dishes and then responded with higher levels of inspiration and lower levels of nervousness, it lead the study authors to conclude:

“It appears that an everyday activity approached with intentionality and awareness may enhance the state of mindfulness,”

I’ve written on this blog previously about the many benefits of mindful meditation. And I have many more articles to share and reflections to offer on what I’ve discovered regarding the benefits of it. But, I can’t share these now — I have dishes to do and laundry to fold!

Delicious, Easy, Healthy “Overnight Oatmeal”

My evening is drawing to a close which means it’s time to prepare my overnight oatmeal for tomorrow’s breakfast.

“WT Heck!?!” you might be thinking. And why is he including this on a blog for teachers about technology?

I was surprised when I discovered this amazing way to combine quite healthy ingredients to make a breakfast that I can eat quickly or take with me to eat on the go. Adding this to my daily routine has been one of the best things I’ve done in 2015.

And I think other teachers would like an easy to make, easy to take breakfast treat.

After learning about how ridiculously healthy eating oatmeal is, I started to eat it hot each morning.  Then I’d eat my bowl or cup of Greek yogurt.  Now, these ingredients and much more good stuff is together in the same bowl or jar.

The formal recipes are found here and also here.  These versions recommend using empty peanut butter or Mason jars.  I started using these, but now use glass Anchor/Pyrex containers with tightly sealing lids.

Here’s the version I’ll be creating in a few minutes:

2/3 cup dry, “Old Fashioned” oatmeal

2/3 cup 1% milk

1 cup of Greek yogurt – plain, unsweetened or flavored, sweetened

1/3 cup of unsweetened applesauce

Small handful of dried fruit (I like raisins or dried cranberries) or sliced fresh fruit in season (any berries are particularly great)

1 tbs of Bob’s Red Mill, Whole Ground Flaxseed Meal – Since flax seed is called “one of the most powerful plant foods on the planet” the addition of this relatively tasteless ingredient really takes this breakfast off the health charts.

Mix all of these ingredients in a jar or bowl.  Cover and place in the fridge overnight.  By morning you’ll have a delicious*, extraordinarily healthy breakfast to eat now or later.

Aviary Photo_130742356411790609

 

* One caveat: The texture seems odd at first (in part b/c of the expectation that oatmeal to be eaten hot) and neither my wife nor I liked it on the first taste.  But after one or two more tries the taste and texture grew on us.

Now, we both eat it every day for breakfast.  The five minutes or so it takes to prepare sets me up for one of the best parts of my morning – digging into a yummy breakfast which is better for me than most anything else I could have!

Bon Appetite!  I need to make my breakfast for tomorrow morning!

What Catholicism & Baseball Have in Common

Happy Easter!  I’ve been away from blogging for a few days as I was visiting family over the holiday weekend.  This week, I’m on break from school, so I’m hoping to post more regularly.

Although I missed posting this great list by Vatican reporter extraordinaire and one of my heroes, John L. Allen Jr. on MLB’s Opening Day, it’s definitely worth checking out:

Baseball Catholic Boy

  • 1. Both baseball and Catholicism venerate the past. Both cherish the memories of a Communion of Saints, including popular shrines and holy cards.

  • 2. Both feature obscure rules that make sense only to initiates. (Think the infield fly rule for baseball fans and the Pauline privilege for Catholics.)

  • 3. Both have a keen sense of ritual, in which pace is critically important. (As a footnote, that’s why basketball is more akin to Pentecostalism, since both are breathless affairs premised largely on ecstatic experience. I’d go into why football is pagan, but that’s a different conversation.)

  • 4. Both baseball and Catholicism generate oceans of statistics, arcana, and lore. For entry-level examples, try: Who has the highest lifetime batting average, with a minimum of 1,000 at-bats? (Ty Cobb). Which popes had the longest and the shortest reigns? (Pius IX and Urban VII).

  • 5. In both baseball and Catholicism, you can dip in and out, but for serious devotees, the liturgy is a daily affair.

  • 6. Both are global games especially big in Latin America. The Detroit Tigers are thought to have one of the most potent batting orders in baseball, featuring two Venezuelans, a Cuban, and six Americans of diverse ethnic backgrounds. Take a look at the presbyterates in many American dioceses, and the mix isn’t that different.

  • 7. Both baseball and Catholicism have been badly tainted by scandal, with the legacies of erstwhile superstars utterly ruined. Yet both have proved surprisingly resilient – perhaps demonstrating that the game is great enough to survive even the best efforts of those in charge at any given moment to ruin it.

  • 8. Both have a complex farm system, and fans love to speculate about who the next hot commodity will be in “The Show.”

  • 9. Both reward patience. If you’re the kind of person who needs immediate results, neither baseball nor Catholicism is really your game.

Baseball Nuns

Baseball Priest

The first part of the article, reflecting on what Christians and atheists have in common in combating religious extremism, is worth reading as well.

FYI: The fact that it is the Cardinals in the image above in no way implies that I’m a fan.  My fandom leans strongly in this direction:

Baseball - Red Sox

Baseball - Red Sox 2

And now that the NCAA Men’s March Madness is concluded, so is Crux’s Saint’s Madness.   And the winner is…

 

 

A Catholic’s Guide to March Madness

Before any of the Catholic basketball teams are eliminated from the tournament, this short piece posted at Crux is well worth reading.  It offers a description of each of the Catholic teams in the tournament as well as a thumbnail history of their founding religious order.  My favorite part of the article is speculation on not whether each team will win, but rather how the charism of the school might influence play.  My favorite quote:

“Gonzaga is named after Aloysius Gonzaga, who gave up great wealth to join the Jesuits and died soon afterward while caring for the poor. This desire for finding spiritual wealth in material poverty might also be linked with St. John’s University’s Vincentienne Fathers, and their allegiance to St. Vincent de Paul. A game between St. John’s and Gonzaga might result in an overflowing of generosity as each team passed the ball to the other in a nod to their histories.”

Update: If you play Kahoot with your students, I’ve created one entitled: March Madness 2015 Catholic Mascots.  

Update #2: The author of the above article has updated his thoughts about the Catholic teams after the first weekend of the tournament.