Only A Game Can Save Us

Explore the Unknown!   
Check out UW Science Expeditions Open House online April 9-11 at
If you’ll be watching for the first time, please register for the WN@TL Zoom at 
WN@TL begins at 7:00pm Central
For 7 April 2021
Hi WN@TL Fans,
   Twice or perhaps thrice or more in my life I have had to expand how my mind responds to the words “game” and “gaming.” First, ‘game’ was something you played.  Then it was wild animals you hunted. Then came ‘gaming’, which was more than a gerund: it was something you did to a system.  Later, when casinos popped up all over the Midwest, “gaming” became a system that did something to you (mostly, take your money).
   Then came ‘gaming’ as in computer games, or perhaps more accurately, as in playing video games.  I remember being astonished by playing Pong: it was  the first time when I actually controlled the image and action on the TV screen.  It was a revelation. It was the opposite of the Outer Limits:   I controlled the horizontal, I controlled the vertical—or at least, I controlled the up-and-down movement of the white bar that represented the ping-pong paddle.
  For whatever reasons (I’m going with “a stunted imagination”) I never got any further interested in video games. In the early 80’s I didn’t plink my quarters on the consoles of the commercial games in the arcade just outside the Rathskeller at Memorial Union.  I didn’t play Mario or Sonic or Zelda.  Luckily for me, Wreck It Ralph came out in the fall of 2012, and as a favor to my 5 year old I agreed to take him to see the movie.  I went in to the darkened theater expecting little and came out blown away by the light:  a whole generation of games and personalities, of sagas and backstories, played out.  It was a crash course of 30 years of gaming for me.
   I still don’t play video games, but I’ve watched my former five-year-old play everything from Minecraft to Rocket League over the past 8 years, solo or with friends.  It’s not like anything I had as a kid (I was 16 when Pong came out).  But it does remind me of hearing George Will quote Bismarck:   “You can do anything with children if you only play with them.”  Given it’s Bismarck, I’m betting that saying is a two-edged stiletto. But I always took the saying as beneficent advice in teaching & learning:  make it interesting, make it engaging, hit the ball back and forth over the net, and let the game play out in a way you guide but they direct.
I’m guessing that’s why they call it a game.
   Tonight, April 7, David Gagnon of the Field Day Lab,  part of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research,  will be here to share the latest on how building online-games is connecting teachers & students and speeding learning & evaluation during this pandemic year and beyond.  His talk is entitled, “Only a Game Can Save Us; How Educational Games Create a Pathway toward High-quality, Low-cost, Equitable Learning for All.”
Description:  Since the dawn of old crabby people, just about every media that was appealing to young curious people has been criticized. Television and the telephone, loud music, graphic novels and of course, video games all were feared to “rot kids’ brains.” If we lower our guard for just a minute and think about how well designed games work, we will see that they all, educational and entertainment alike, demonstrate fundamental theories from the cognitive and learning sciences. That’s why they work!
In this talk, we will explore some of these learning theories, then quickly turn to look at how games are very powerful educational tools that meet many of our contemporary educational needs. From the pressures for educators to move from simple memorization to complex problem solving and domain-specific practices, to the ongoing resource reductions schools face, and the recent COVID19 inspired need to move instruction online at a moment’s notice, we will see that games may perform better than we ever expected – and be a lot of fun along the way.

Bio: David Gagnon is the director of Field Day, an educational games research studio and laboratory at the Wisconsin Center of Education Research at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Field Day has developed dozens of games across history, science, health and mathematics topics that are used by millions of students yearly worldwide.


On April 9 we’ll have a special Friday Nite Edition of Wednesday Nite @ The Lab with Tracey Holloway of the Nelson Institute and Bassam Shakhashiri of Chemistry sharing with us their points of view on what’s ahead in grasping & dealing with climate change.  This special edition is part of the 19th Annual UW Science Expeditions campus open house April 9-11.   First-time WN@TL viewers can register as usual at
Professor Shakhashiri will lead off with his talk entitled, “Conversations in Science:  Global Warming” followed by Professor Holloway’s talk entitled, “Solving the Climate Challenge.”
Description:  Conversations in Science: Global Warming.
Professor Shakhashiri’s talk will address aspects of the science of climate change with some emphasis on the properties of carbon dioxide and water.  One home experiment that relates to rising sea levels employs an ice cube and a glass of water: melting glaciers and ice and water densities. Specific suggestions for what we individually and collectively can do to mitigate global warming.

Description:  Solving the Climate Challenge
From satellite data to identify emissions, to electric vehicles to reduce CO2 emissions — a wide range of technologies and strategies can support climate solutions. Professor Tracey Holloway will share a few of these opportunities, along with her personal motivation for studying energy, climate, and the air we breathe. Holloway will discuss lesson learned from past environmental success stories, and how these success can offer hope for climate.

Bio:  Bassam Shakashiri: Professor Shakhashiri is a noted chemistry and science educator. He is probably best known for his leadership in national science policy, promoting excellence in science education at all levels, and for his development and use of demonstrations in the teaching of chemistry. His scholarly publications, including the multi-volume series, Chemical Demonstrations: A Handbook for Teachers of Chemistry, are models of learning and instruction. He is an advocate for policies to advance knowledge and to use science and technology to serve society. He promotes the exploration and establishment of links between science, the arts and the humanities, and the elevation of discourse on significant societal issues related to science, religion, politics, the economy, and ethics.

Link: ;

Bio:  Tracey Holloway: Professor Holloway is the 2017-2021 Gaylord Nelson Distinguished Professor at the University of Wisconsin—Madison, jointly appointed in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and the Department of Atmospheric and Ocean Sciences. Holloway serves as the Team Lead for the NASA Health and Air Quality Applied Sciences Team, which connects NASA data with stakeholder interests in air quality management and public health. Tracey is a co-founder and served as the first President of the Earth Science Women’s Network “ESWN”, which has a mission of supporting the scientists of today and welcoming a diverse community of scientists for tomorrow. Among her awards, Holloway was the first-ever recipient of the MIT C3E Award in Education and Mentoring, the 2018 UW-Madison Undergraduate Research Student Mentoring Award, the 2019 UW-Madison Phi Beta Kappa Excellence in Teaching Award, the 2020 Ascent Award from the American Geophysical Union. Dr. Holloway earned her B.S. in Applied Math from Brown University and Ph.D. in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences from Princeton University.

Online April 9-11
Speaking of games and play and learning:  This weekend April 9-11 you can control the vertical at the 19th Annual UW Science Expeditions Campus Open House.  Experience science as probing the unknown at your public, land-grant research & extension university.  You can check out the schedule of Online or Self-guided outdoor events at
Hope to see you soon at Wednesday Nite @ The Lab!
Tom Zinnen
Biotechnology Center & Division of Extension, Wisconsin 4-H
Remember, we now meet by Zoom, since we can’t gather all in one room.