Wednesday, December 5, 2012

My Oregon Trail Story of Survival and Daring on the Apple IIe

I sat down tonight to write a post with great materials for the unit we're currently doing in social studies. I got a few sentences in and realized it all seemed very familiar. So, I paused for a minute, and went digging into my blog archives, and found out fairly quickly why I was struck with this sudden sense of deja vu.

I already posted the entire unit, over three months ago. Yikes. I've officially reached the point where I can't remember what I've already done on this simple little blog of mine. I guess simple isn't the correct word. It's not exactly Wikipedia, but with over 110 posts, it's getting big for me.

In any case, what I wanted to share is a quick story, and a link to a great online game that kids love.

I grew up in the 80's and 90's. When I was in elementary school, we had a computer lab. We're specifically talking about 1989-1990 here, so it was a magical time before the internet, the era of the Apple IIe, the ones with the green only screens. The first computer game I had a chance to play, and master (or kill all of my friends through various ailments and injuries). Of course, I'm talking about the original Oregon Trail.

As a 3rd grader, I couldn't get enough, this game was fantastic. It was the right balance of strategy, trail riding, and friend bruising. We got graded based upon our performance. It was great, my first experience with digital learning.

Now, here we are, in 2012, in the middle of the golden age of the computer and internet. My students have access to the knowledge of the human race within the walls of my classroom, although they don't know that, all they care about is Youtube videos and Angry Birds... who am I kidding, that's all I care about as well. All joking aside, let's move this little story along.

I teach a unit on Westward Expansion each year around this time (you can find that unit HERE). We watch a great documentary about the Donner Party (check it out in that unit if you're interested), and they do a research project on some of the major trails that were used to make the journey west, as well as the Homestead Act, the California Gold Rush, and a few other major events/laws.

One thing seems to stick with them more than anything else every year I teach this unit. You see, on day two of the unit, I fire up the laptop and projector, and we play a game together. We play the original Oregon Trail. For the first ten minutes or so, the kids look at each other and giggle at how completely and totally honky tonk this game is. The graphics are ancient, the sound effects are ridiculous, in short, this is exactly the kind of game that students of today picture their parents playing when they were kids. But they sit and watch.  They see me enjoying the game, and laugh as I make a ridiculous epitaph on the gravestone of the first member of my party to die.

Finally, they get their own crack at this gem of a game. And without fail, they play this game during their free time for the rest of the school year. Right now, my students are literally begging me to play Oregon Trail.

So, how can you play Oregon Trail? The first way is to go buy an Apple IIe, hook it up, and go find a floppy disk (remember those?). If you don't want to do that, and trust me, YOU DON'T, there's an easier way.

Head to Virtual Apple, make sure your Java is updated, and enjoy the game right there in your browser.

You know you want to. Go ahead.

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