The Online Magazine of the Academic Games Leagues of America
|News & Notes||Buzz Allen||Down Memory Lane||Past AGazines|
Events across the AGLOA leagues during the next month:
Reading Games Rules Changes for 2013-14
All three reading games:
Buzz is the son of Dr. Layman Allen, creator of WFF’N Proof, Equations, and On-Sets. Buzz shared some of his memories while at the 2013 AGLOA National Tournament in Charlotte.
Buzz’s earliest recollection related to Academic Games came when he was six and living in New Haven, Connecticut, where his dad was a graduate student in the Yale Law School.
I woke up on a Sunday morning and heard sawing coming from his office in the house. I padded down the hall in my pajamas with little feet on them. He was making the cubes for a game he was inventing—WFF’N Proof.
Layman had started Friday night thinking about a way to teach logic to grade school kids.
He was dismayed logic wasn’t in the curriculum. He thought it was something kids could usefully do. He figured, “If I make a game out of it, it will be more accessible.”
So he had been working 36 straight hours—no sleep, no nothing.
What are you doin’, Dad?
Buzz and his younger sister became the guinea pigs as Layman tried out his ideas on them.
The family moved to a new house where the WFF’N Proof operation was set up in the basement. The first big orders came when Brentano’s Bookstore in New York City decided to stock the games and ran full page ads in the New York Times.
The games were packaged in tiny cardboard boxes that were so small people were stealing them. So it became the first product locked up behind the counter.
My sister and I were impressed into child labor to help package the games. There was a huge pickle jar of IOUs from Dad that disappeared when we moved from Connecticut. We figured there was a pony or a trampoline that went south.
After completing a Ph.D. and teaching at Yale, Layman moved to the University of Michigan where he had a joint appointment in the Law School and the Mental Health Research Institute, which was interested in his research into the use of games in education. By this time, Equations and On-Sets had rolled off the assembly line.
Dad introduced the games in several junior highs in Ann Arbor. But he always had a strong interest in inner cities where the biggest educational challenges were. So he made an appointment with the Superintendent of Schools in Detroit, who followed a time-honored tradition. Send him to the worst school you have and see how he fares.
The chosen school was Pelham Middle School where Gloria Jackson headed the math department. She and another teacher, Harold Hauer, attended a week-long training program in the summer and dove into teaching the games in their classrooms. Eventually, Gloria became the Math Coordinator for all of Detroit Public Schools, a position that enabled her to spread the games throughout the system.
Buzz’s involvement in gaming resumed after he graduated from college and moved back to Ann Arbor to get a Master’s degree.
WFF’N Proof has always been a family mission. The two years at Brentano’s were the only time it turned a profit. It’s been a lifelong mission on a professor’s salary.
Fifty years ago, teaching math through games was heretical. Today, they’re calling for games to teach math. Dad created great games and learning tools that are light years ahead of what is offered now even with the flashy computer graphics. I’m hoping we can harness the current openness. The whole push in recent years has been the objectification of mathematics where the curriculum has become a sequence of objectives.
I get choked up every time I come to this national tournament and look at the dedication of all the teachers and coaches and those who have kept this going so long that you see kids coming back after they have established their careers, moving to other parts of the country and starting a program so their own kids can enjoy it. That speaks of the impact on their lives. What still eludes us is finding a wider path to dissemination. In terms of what this accomplishes, we all know what that is. We know this is what they’re calling for in education.
Buzz’s efforts have been in the area of online Equations.
My involvement grew out of my 13-year-old son’s getting hijacked by video games. He would come home from school and disappear in his room for four hours. When I asked him what he was doing, he said he was playing interactive games with friends he had made in Yugoslavia and Canada.
I called Dad and told him, “Imagine kids playing games from home at their own convenience in a group of three.” He got it right away. We thought we could kick it out in a couple of years, but that was seven years ago. The basic game has been finished for awhile and we hope to have Adventurous Equations done by Christmas.
Peer learning is a different paradigm for teaching and learning. The teacher becomes more of a facilitator and coach rather than standing in front of a class and talking. Peer learning is opportunistic. Which concept will get revealed in a particular group of opponents is not something you can track on a straight line. You have to take advantage of teachable moments when a hand goes up because somebody has written a Solution a student doesn’t understand.
The games breed confidence. I can solve problems that are hard for me. When I face an I.Q. or other standardized test, I’m used to saying, “What resources do I have? What’s relevant?” These are real-life skills. You see Academic Games alumni doing it the rest of their lives.
How is your dad doing?
Very well. He’s very active in the developmental group. Also, University of Detroit Mercy School of Law decided to build their entire curriculum around his life’s work in the law. When they called to tell him about it, he hung up the phone and said to me, “They had to wait until I was 78?” But he took the job and still goes in there twice a week. He still finds time to play Equations online Wednesday nights, the online “pickup” night when we hold ourselves up as targets.
A final word from Buzz in Charlotte:
Whenever I look at the roomful assembled here, you know there were 1,000 roads to arrive here and they were all different, and they all took all kinds of stamina, persistence, and belief.
Down Memory Lane
In the mid-1980s, the Math Coordinator for the Dallas Public Schools was looking for a system-wide math program and settled on Equations. Buzz Allen met with her to start organizing the effort. Put together what it would take to integrate this program into our entire system, she told him.
He called Charles Lasley, one of the original Pelham Five that pioneered Academic Games in Detroit and won numerous national individual and team championships. As Buzz recalls:
Charles had just graduated from the University of Michigan in Engineering. Ford offered him $80,000 a year where the first years were a free Ph.D. But Charles said, “I’m in. I really want to do this.” So Charles and five other former players were ready to go to Dallas.
Buzz went to a meeting with the Dallas Assistant Superintendent the day before the program was scheduled to launch with a $2,000,000 budget.
She says, “What is this?” When I explained, she said, “Oh, we can’t do this. There’s no way this is going to happen.” I heard that a golfing buddy of the superintendent had a competing program and felt threatened. It was all political.
The phone call I didn’t want to make was to Charles. After I told him the bad news, there was a pause on the other end. Then he said, “Do me a favor, Buzz.” “Of course, Charles.” “If it ever does happen, you call me. I owe everything in my life to Academic Games. I want to give back. Don’t worry about me. There’ll be other jobs.” I hung up the phone in tears.