Helping the Wizard communicate with the children is fun but it is hard work.
Accounts “right from the Wizard’s mouth” may help.
Understanding the role and purpose of being a Wizard in the 5th Dimension is an
important component in making the Wizard an effective mediational tool. My
goal, acting as Wizard, was for the children to express their creativity and
improve their educational and social skills in a play/education setting. My
decisions about what I write are based upon the belief that in the 5th Dimension
children should make good use of their time for learning but enjoy themselves in
the process. Because I am well versed on the majority of computer games and am
technically qualified with computers, I was able to handle many questions and
problems that arose, and deal with them immediately and effectively. It is
helpful to know all the games intimately: children often get caught at levels
that may seem easy to an adult, but are temporarily unsolvable to a child. One
cannot expect the child to obtain a general working knowledge of a game without
encountering some difficulty. When asked for help I either gave it directly, or
encourage the child to seek help from more knowledgeable peers, college
students, and Wizard assistants.
While tapping into the world of imagination and fantasy of young children, the Wizard continuously plays and works while also serving several other purposes. It facilitates and mediates joint activity and cooperation between adult and child so that together they can interpret the artifacts that the Wizard sets before them around the 5th Dimension (constitution, task cards, consequence cards, etc.). Together the adult and child play and work at games constructively without getting into nonproductive (if not disruptive) interactions where adults dictate the goals of the activity and children merely try to defy adult authority. The Wizard is also an important correspondent to whom children must send messages explaining how they worked, who they worked with, what strategies were used, and how they achieved what they did.
The Wizard is embedded in the culture of the 5th Dimension primarily through writing—adults and children writing about their experiences in the 5th Dimension. The level of the child’s involvement with the Wizard affects their performance in written communication. Most communication with the Wizard is asynchronous. Synchronous “on-line Wizard chatting” is a provocative indulgence for both adult and child. Caution should always be used when “chatting”, defined here as simultaneous and immediate communication. I (in the form of the on-line Wizard) came to the realization of the promise and difficulty of synchronous Wizarding when the children relied upon me to solve their problems (whether it was related to The 5th Dimension or to a personal problem) during the course of our conversations.
Both on-line and off-line communication with the Wizard emphasize the importance of children learning to express what they learned about a game, thus motivating them to reflect back on their activities and abstract the principles and structure of the problem at hand. It is the Wizard’s double nature that creates such a powerful motivation for learning: on the one hand, the Wizard is a mythical entity at the heart of a fairytale-like magical world; on the other hand the Wizard manifests itself in very real and direct interaction with the children. The Wizard challenges the children to approach and play games in new ways through on-line and written correspondence. By introducing new concepts and new possibilities, the Wizard redirects the child into innovative channels of learning. It is part of the Wizard’s goal to encourage children to compare and generally reflect on their activities, expressing their experiences in writing so that they explicitly re-think them.
Having no physical presence at site is a handicap because the Wizard is expected to have foreknowledge of everything. The Wizard is expected to be an all—knowing and all—seeing character, yet the Wizard is not there "physically". The Wizard, draws upon the wonderfulness of magic and the weakness of his/her memory to get out of difficult spots. No one is aware of the undercurrents and differences going on between peers at site when they are not there physically. This information deficit is compensated for by playfulness and his/her/its intentions to be a guide through the 5th Dimension while preserving the objective of unconditional love. The Wizard’s physical absence from site is also a benefit, for it further encourages the children’s curiosity about the Wizard, in turn stimulating their desire to correspond with this odd entity. Some of the children have a great deal of faith in the Wizard, who somehow knows what he/she/it cannot physically see; others distrust it, others simply play through it.
One thing that became apparent, as I flitted about on the Wizard's wings, is that so long as there are placebo wizards, such as myself, the Wizard can be but human. The Wizard was subject to my moods and the many unpleasantries of my personal life. This has the side effect of coming out in The Wizard's replies to the mail from the children. Hence, there were responses to the children that were good, and responses that were bad.
First is a bad example:
I am glad to
hear that you had a good time hopping all
around the world in Carmen San Diego. Thank you for
telling me of some of the things you found out during
your hunt for the thief. Did you ever catch him/her?
This is a good response:
You sounded like a dull travel guide when you told me about
the places Carmen San Diego took you... try putting some
oooooompff in it.. a little pa-zazz...shish-boom-bah...
rah rah rah... Why I'll bet you don't even know what a
fjord is!!! AAAAAAAAnd you never told me what happened
to the thief... I hate missing the big endings!!!!!
These both were actual responses to two different letters from children. Neither letter included much about the game. The first response has the effect of letting the child off the hook. It is bad, essentially, because it condones a lackadaisically written letter. It is bad enough that many (but by no means all) of the children disdain to write in the first place, but for the Wizard to pass up a chance to perhaps break a child of bad writing habits is unconscionable. The second response tries just that. The Wizard is famous for writing funny, creative letters to the children, and the Wizard always enjoys reading a good letter. Those who write them are commended by the Wiz. The line about "fjords" has to do with a sentence written by the child in the letter that precipitated this response, where it seemed as though the child had simply noted the "fact" from the game and passed it on to the Wizard as something they had gained. In responding to the child (indeed, all children) the Wizard should be ready to challenge what the child writes as a way to reinforce the experience of the game and, presumably, the learning that transpired.
In answering mail from the BG Club over the course of the quarter I could not help but notice the differences in the way kids write. I devised a system of categorization for the different styles, and it became impossible not to notice that individual children rarely waiver from their "typical" category. My categories include:
• The Skeleton Letter (containing the barest essentials)
• The Formal Letter (stiff writing style)
• The Wise-Guy Letter (getting fresh with the Wiz)
• The Gimme Letter (asks for extras, gifts)
• The Love Letter (eschews task-card for personal content)
• The Complete Letter (above and beyond the task-card)
The Skeleton Letter is the norm for very young citizens, and, alas, for anyone in a hurry to go and play the next game. A skeleton letter is short, addresses the task card in the briefest way possible and often incompletely.
Here are two:
Long time no see. I played Aztlan. I got to the year 15
from Chad Deuschle (age 9)
Today we played Jennys Journeys. We liked it. It was fun.
We had to go from the flower shop to the hat shop. We
also had to go from the pet shop to the flower shop. I liked it.
from Brian B. (Bettencourt, age 9)
I would say that Skeleton Letters are Brian's normal speed, but Chad usually writes better, even in the love letter category with the amount of space he devotes to paling around with the Wizard. It is the complaint of students on site that often the kids don't want to write and a skeleton letter is the best they can get out of them. They also are not supposed to act as authoritarians toward the kids. Thus it is the duty of the Wizard to squeeze more and more out of the budding authors. This should be done gently, and with humor. Going back to my good example response and you should get an idea of what I mean.
The Formal Letter includes more than a skeleton, but the writing style is cramped, stiff. Generally, what is asked for on the Task card is given, in full, but in a dry, flavorless way.
MY TRIP IN MISSOURI AND NEBRASKA
by Richard Carrillo (age 10 or 11)
In 1886, I started in missouri with only 700 dollars
to spend. I spent it wisely.
In Missouri, I killed 12 deer, 1 invader, and 1 wolf.
In Nebraska, I killed 5 deer, lost food and clothing, invited
friendly invaders, and killed 1 wolf.
Richard Carrillo is perhaps the archetype of the Formal Letter approach. A proper response from the Wizard needs to spur the author toward taking a different tack. Sure, everything was included, but the Wizard craves personality.
The Wise-Guy is one of the most difficult to deal with for the Wizard, especially if the perpetrator is one Vahid Fozi. One definitely needs to now the child in order to detect the sarcasm in the following:
Im having fun with logo writer. I find it very fun. However
terrapin logo kicks its butt. The flip side is a very
convenient option. With it I can do many things that are
Vahid Fozi (age 11)
On the other hand, sometimes he can be a bit more blatant.
you have a weird mind
(Vahid, age 11)
The Wise-Guy letter is often the preferred style of the Wizard's Young Assistants, the YWA's. They have been around the longest and feel quite comfortable about writing the Wizard, even if they don't like to do it. I think that this style belies a lack of respect for the Wizard, which could mean also that the Wizard has not earned it. As in most situations, the Wizard should respond with a sense of humor. The Wizard is boss, and can tolerate teasing smart mouths so long as the dignity of the Wizard remains intact.
Often, the Wizard is asked favors of. Yes, the Wizard is benevolent and kind, but handouts and free lunches are not in the Constitution. Witness a fragment of this letter from Shawn Whitecotton, age 7:
How do you look? Can you send me a copy of Breakout?
If you do, send me a copy of Breakout and King's Quest.
I have chosen to divert such requests, or to pretend that the Wizard has misunderstood them. It seems cowardly not to face up to the requests and say no, but the Wizard doesn't like to step on toes. A typical reply might ask the child why he or she is asking for games that are there in the 5D. "Have they been stolen?"
The Love Letter is always a delight to receive. Typically, girls are more apt to spend more time writing to the Wizard than the boys, and the extra time spent shows up as talk of a more personal nature.
I'm 7 years old and no I'm not cold. I like computers a lot,
but I want a bike for my birthday,
which is May 28. I hope
you will make me a mailbox soooooon! wish I could know what
you looked like and if you were a boy or a girl, but I think
you're a boy, caus all wizards are boys. And another thing I
want to know how old you are - 19? 16? - I think you're 16
because you sound nice. I think the magic you make on the
computer is nice.
Love, Crystal Ann. (Damon, age 7)
The Love Letter offers the Wizard a perfect opportunity to make a good friend. One would suspect that the children most apt to banter with the Wizard would be the most likely to listen to the Wizard's requests. They might include requesting for more on-task information in the otherwise perfect letter.
The rarest letter of all is one that is The Complete Letter. The children who write complete letters usually have a high degree of interest and involvement with the task, and are old enough to write well. This example is even more complete because it is co-written by two citizens.
We just played SpiderWorld! When we first played we made a red square in the left hand corner of the spider's cave and it was pretty easy. We did
that by typing letters which meant the colors and the directions that the spider could move. We tried to use Logo like instructions to make a chess
board but that didn't definitely work. We called for Tony, and he gave us a couple of papers on how to do it. The chess board had a pattern, red,
step, blue, step...etc. The computer told us demonstrations that we watched. We chose one of them (we didn't definitely really BOTH agree on it)
We changed different commands. Justin changed the color of the figure and Avishkar changed a right command to left and this messed us up.
You need better instructions on the disk for the game. We still are not sure about what "add" and "subtract" mean, but we do know what they mean
when you're not playing with the computer
It is obvious from the letter that the two stuck to the task-card and that they enjoyed it. They included what they thought would improve the game, too. The Wizard needs to promote these letters, and reserve the best Wizard-magic for the replies.