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Hope College December 2012 : Page 18

Alumni Profile educator Finds room Games By Christina VanEyl-Godin ’82 fter a year and a half of study at Hope, Daniel Caldwell ’01 still wasn’t sure what he was going to do with his life. With his wide variety of interests, a liberal arts education was a great fit for Dan, but narrowing down the options was a bit of a challenge. A few fruitful visits to the college’s career office, a vocational assessment test, and his own soul searching pointed him in the Learning for Fun and in A Dan Caldwell ’01 with sons Owen and marshall as they play games from the power Up education Human Body curriculum. direction of teaching. His instinct was confirmed when a friend encouraged him to volunteer with Hope’s CASA (Children’s After School Achievement) program, which offers tutoring to at-risk kids in the community. It was a good match, and after a semester of tutoring, Dan had found his calling. He continued working with CASA, began taking classes in the department of education, and never looked back. Being a CASA volunteer also gave Dan an important “ah-ha” moment. “While driving the CASA bus, it hit me that these same students who struggled to retain school information knew every word to every song on the radio!” Dan said. “It blew my mind! From that point on I consistently used music in my classroom in some way, shape, or form.” Dan graduated from Hope with a degree in elementary education with a science composite major and began his career as a middle school science teacher at Gouverneur Middle School in Gouverneur, N.Y. During those nine years, Dan began to apply his observation about music as a learning tool in his classroom. “One of my favorite hobbies has always been playing guitar and writing songs,” he said. “A few years ago I gave my students an assignment to write a short story about the human digestive system from the point of view of the food being digested. For some reason this particular group insisted that I also write a story. I bargained with them a bit and we reached a compromise—I would write a song about traveling through the digestive system instead. As I played the song for them I realized that they were paying closer attention than ever before. I realized that I was on to something.” Over the next year Dan created an entire human body curriculum based on music. “I wrote one song for each system of the human body and created a series of lessons that use the lyrics of the song to teach the systems of the human body,” he said. Dan used the curriculum in his classroom as he completed and perfected it. Now in use in several classrooms, the Power Up Education Human Body curriculum includes music, games, and a student workbook, and is targeted to middle school students, although the content could work with ninth and 10th graders as well. Dan took two music classes at Hope that turned out to play an important role as he put the curriculum together. “I took a recording class with Professor John Erskine that offered a ton of practical 18 News News From From Hope Hope College College

Educator Finds room in Learning for Fun and Games

Christina VanEyl-Godin

<br /> After a year and a half of study at Hope, Daniel Caldwell ’01 still wasn’t sure what he was going to do with his life.<br /> <br /> With his wide variety of interests, a liberal arts education was a great fit for Dan, but narrowing down the options was a bit of a challenge. A few fruitful visits to the college’s career office, a vocational assessment test, and his own soul searching pointed him in the direction of teaching. His instinct was confirmed when a friend encouraged him to volunteer with Hope’s CASA (Children’s After School Achievement) program, which offers tutoring to at-risk kids in the community. It was a good match, and after a semester of tutoring, Dan had found his calling. He continued working with CASA, began taking classes in the department of education, and never looked back.<br /> <br /> Being a CASA volunteer also gave Dan an important “ah-ha” moment. “While driving the CASA bus, it hit me that these same students who struggled to retain school information knew every word to every song on the radio!” Dan said. “It blew my mind! From that point on I consistently used music in my classroom in some way, shape, or form.”<br /> <br /> Dan graduated from Hope with a degree in elementary education with a science composite major and began his career as a middle school science teacher at Gouverneur Middle School in Gouverneur, N.Y. During those nine years, Dan began to apply his observation about music as a learning tool in his classroom.<br /> <br /> “One of my favorite hobbies has always been playing guitar and writing songs,” he said. “A few years ago I gave my students an assignment to write a short story about the human digestive system from the point of view of the food being digested. For some reason this particular group insisted that I also write a story. I bargained with them a bit and we reached a compromise—I would write a song about traveling through the digestive system instead. As I played the song for them I realized that they were paying closer attention than ever before. I realized that I was on to something.”<br /> <br /> Over the next year Dan created an entire human body curriculum based on music. “I wrote one song for each system of the human body and created a series of lessons that use the lyrics of the song to teach the systems of the human body,” he said.<br /> <br /> Dan used the curriculum in his classroom as he completed and perfected it. Now in use in several classrooms, the Power Up Education Human Body curriculum includes music, games, and a student workbook, and is targeted to middle school students, although the content could work with ninth and 10th graders as well.<br /> <br /> Dan took two music classes at Hope that turned out to play an important role as he put the curriculum together.<br /> <br /> “I took a recording class with Professor John Erskine that offered a ton of practical hands-on learning, which ended up being very helpful,” he said. “I recorded all of the music for the science curriculum myself and many of the recording techniques came from that class. I also took one jazz bass course at Hope and the bass guitar tracks on the songs in my curriculum are played by me.”<br /> <br /> Recognizing that kids also have a passion for video games, Dan began to build learning games to go with each song. A self-taught computer geek (“I remember actually building a computer from parts while at Hope with some of my dorm mates”), he learned the ins and outs of building games by trial and error, and by using his own kids and their friends as testers.<br /> <br /> As he was developing the game, he learned about the National STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Video Game Challenge, a White House initiative designed to encourage developers to use learning games to improve the teaching of science, technology, engineering, and math to pre-K through fourth grade students. His middle school games were too difficult for elementary students and therefore didn’t qualify for the competition, so Dan went to work creating six unique human body games from scratch and then bundled them into one game: “Body Adventure with Captain Brainy-Pants!”<br /> <br /> In 2011 Dan was invited to Washington, D.C., as one of three finalists for the $50,000 Developer’s Prize. Although he didn’t win that prize, he was awarded a $25,000 prize for the best teacher-developed game.<br /> <br /> Soon after, Dan and his family—wife Kathryn MacDoniels ’00 Caldwell and their two sons—relocated to Bloomington, Ind., where Dan is now dedicating himself fulltime to using his experience from the STEM Challenge, along with the prize money, to finish the human body game, which was recently released for iPad, Mac, Kindle, Nook, and Android. The games could be used in the classroom, but for the most part they are being used by individual children. Dan has also used the time to develop his middle school curriculum into an online curriculum.<br /> <br /> “The games and music will be embedded directly into the online lessons,” he said. (Some of his music and sample games are available at www.PowerUpEd.com.) “The experience will be similar to the current workbook but much more efficient. Most of the lessons will be immediately graded by the computer and will allow the student to get immediate feedback. This will also allow the teacher to focus more time on helping students and less time correcting papers.”<br /> <br /> Once the Power Up Education Human Body curriculum is up and running, with schools signed on for the pilot program, Dan envisions using the same concepts and pedagogy for other science units. “Right now I am thinking it will likely be ecology or environmental science, but we’ll see,” he said.<br /> <br /> Dan is enjoying the opportunity to combine his many interests in developing a resource to help children around the country learn. Engaged by both the process and possibilities he has no immediate plans to return to the classroom, but he also hopes to find new ways in the future to work again with young students directly, perhaps inspiring them not only with the content of the new curriculum but through the lessons he’s learned along the way. <br /> <br /> “I really love the creative aspect of my current business project,” Dan said. “It’s incredibly fulfilling, and I feel that there is an opportunity for the fruits of that creative effort to do a lot of good in the area of science instruction. However, I do miss the kids. I can see getting involved with kids in an educational setting in some way in the future, maybe teaching game design on a part-time basis or even as an after school program.”

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