Random Thoughts: Change, Primary Sources & Other Stuff

What is it about Oregon Trail?

Posted on: February 12, 2012

Screen Shot of the original Oregon TrailMay 2016 update: Minnesota Made Oregon Trail is Inducted into Video Game Hall of Fame

Original post: Not the trail that Lewis and Clark traveled, but the memorable computer game.  Ask a group of adults about their first memories of computers; often they mention Oregon Trail.

Some recall the original Apple II green and black version; others a CD-ROM (WOW) or networked version.  My current online students brought up Oregon Trail in a conversation about change.

I remember back in 2nd grade. My teacher taught me how to dial the telephone, place the handset into the modem cradle, and log into the Teletype so that my classmates could play Oregon Trail. What a thrill!

I remember Oregon Trail!  Nothing like big and little floppy disks on the Apple 2 GS computers.  Between that and Word Munchers, my how I loved my computer lab.

 You were never successful the first few times you played the game because it took so many trial/error tests of determining which profession gave your the most money versus keeping your family alive (in the end, the doctor was my preferred job).  You needed to weigh all the variables of packing, fixing, hunting, weather, buying.  It was such an involved game . . .  I remember the cringe of the disk loading . . .

I also remember the amazing 16 bit graphics and lifelike drawings of animals we hunted!!! 

I remember OT in the third grade as a computer game you got to play when your typing exercise was completed!

OT was often a time-filler. As a middle school media specialist I was concerned about students who only wanted to shoot and kill.  Too often an excellent program with high potential was only used when teachers provided an end of unit award.  Yet, I couldn’t help but think that maybe the kids were learning more than we realized.  One former kid, now a teacher said:

I think teachers liked it so much because it forced us to use our problem solving skills. Through repetition, you learned how to be successful. The idea of problem solving can be related to how we approach new technologies. . . .  With time and practice, we learn how to navigate the technology just like we navigated through Oregon Trail.

 What made it so engaging was that it was interactive. This gob of a machine, clunky and noisy, was telling me a story, asking me questions, and responding to my answers. . . The process was dynamic, and like the best learning experiences, it played to my sense of curiosity and wonder. 

We know more now about how kids learn and the value of games. Let them play! It would be fun to integrate programs like Oregon Trail in an instructional unit and to inspire further exploration using primary sources like maps and diaries.

Classic and 40th anniversary editions are available. There are even Wii & Nintendo versions.       Read Wikipedia’s interesting article and historic overview.

How CAN I use primary resources along with a game?

Teaching Digital Media Literacy in the Content Areas: Using Primary Sources 

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