CivicsLab

Gaming Levels vs. Puzzles

May 20, 2010
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I have been having discussions with various technology, gaming and child development experts about the differences between games with levels and puzzle games without levels. I will post more about this soon but I wanted to put this out there to see if anyone had comments about it.

Laura


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Poll Working 2.0

May 19, 2010
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Earlier this year I was invited to be majority clerk of my ward and district by a mentor of mine (Liz) who also lives in the ward and district. I happily said, ‘yes’, because I have spent past election days helping with the group, “Election Protection”; this would be a change of pace. I wasn’t sure if I had made a good choice as 5:45 am reared its ugly head and I (literally) fell out of bed. “It’s 5:45 am”, I repeated to myself as I tried to remember what happens before 8 am in the morning.

I wasn’t the only young person working at a poll yesterday. Three friends my age were also working at polls. However, we were all spread out throughout southwestern Pennsylvania, tweeting at one another for twelve very long hours. My friend tweeted, “Woooo awake. Let’s rock the vote. Errr or something like that. It’s gonna be a long day.” Another friend tweeted, “Doing my civic duty as majority inspector. I bring the average age of my board of elections down to like 60.”

Spirits were about as high as they were going to be before 7 am.

However, those spirits began to decrease pretty quickly. We weren’t all greeted by some of the older folks with the warm greeting we had thought might happen when a young person offers to help with poll work on election day- especially a day that was projected to have low turnout. When I turned up with Liz, the other women there didn’t even know you had to be elected to be an elections official. They then said there were too many people and we might have to go. We called downtown and they had to let us stay because we were elected. It was awkward, to say the least.

I was working in a neighborhood that is known as “Little Italy” in Pittsburgh. My full name is Laura Margaret Theresa Staniland, I speak Italian almost fluently and my Mom has always shopped at one specific grocery store in the neighborhood. Truth be told, if I wasn’t going to be working in an uber-liberal, tree hugging area, this was probably the second best place I could be working in terms of being able to get along with people.

Someone commented on a t-shirt my friend gave me as a joke that said, “Rustbelt Rockstar”. “Is that a band?”. “Errr, no…it’s a joke. “  Luckily, a minute later someone else commented on my watch and I quickly changed the topic to the bracelet I was wearing- I found it in my room recently and it was given to me for my First Communion. We then moved on to the tensions between the Immaculate Conception church and St. Simon and Jude. I couldn’t help but think that Jesus would have taken a nap right then, too. But I was determined to make friends and quickly began looking interested when someone asked whether the crossing guard would stay or leave. I, too, don’t know what will happen with that nice crossing guard should St. Simon and Jude  close…or maybe it was Immaculate Conception…

8 AM.

I turn to twitter, things weren’t looking too exciting for anyone else. A friend in the rural area tweeted at me, “don’t you find it odd that the machines used for our democratic process are made in a country without one?” Good question.  He then told me that he’s tired and bored. Welcome to the club. An hour later he too encountered the issue of being both young AND elected to work at a poll. “We just cracked 200 [voters]. I’m not only out of place but I was elected to do this…”

The woman sitting next to me turned to me and whispered, “This is going to be the longest day of your life. They are the only people I know who can talk for twelve hours straight.” That was some serious motivation if I’ve ever heard any. I excuse myself and wander into the hall. A person handing out literature for a candidate begins talking to me. She then asks me if I’m old enough to vote. I inform her that not only am I old enough to vote but I am also working at the district 11 polling table. I once again excused myself and wandered further down the hall.

I really needed some twitter encouragement. There wasn’t much to be found. However, I took consolation in the fact that I wasn’t being criticized repeatedly like my friend in the city. He tweeted, “number of times I’ve been in the presence of people who said I shouldn’t be allowed to take the appointed j.o.e.’s position: 2 tbc….”. I tweet back, “What has my life come to?”. Spirits on Twitter have dropped faster than Obama’s public opinion ratings.

10 am.

I had updated my Facebook status the night before asking people to stop by my polling station with food. Suddenly, the wife of a friend from the Duquesne Democrats appears with bagels for everyone. My campaign to make friends with the old timers is moving along- slowly but surely.

11 am

My friend from the rural area tweeted that he got a text message from a friend in another rural area that said,  “There were dogs in our municipal building by the voting machines.” Ouch.

I turned back to the conversation to consider just who should be eliminated from Dancing with the Stars. Later someone asked me how I got involved in this. I explained that I used to volunteer with Election Protection and then explained what they do. They asked how much I was paid to do so and I said “nothing”. After a pause they asked if it was for school credit, when I say “no”, they stare at me in disbelief. I didn’t feel like elaborating and just sat there silently staring back at them and shrugged. We went back to discussing Dancing with the Stars.

The afternoon finally appears!

A woman turned to me and told me that signing in voters is something that older people do. I bite my lip before saying, “Oh really? Because I am pretty sure I am sitting here doing just that.” “Be nice, Laura. Be nice.” , I recited in my head.

A friend from a campaign in John Murtha’s district excitedly texted me saying, “My mom got pictures of (the opponent) campaigning in a polling place! The pictures are online!”. I excitedly told the people surrounding me about this exciting use of cellphone camera technology but they din’t seem as excited as Liz and I.  Although photography is illegal in a polling place, so is campaigning in a polling place.

So went the day. Some of us made friends while others couldn’t wait to go home, fall asleep and never return. It turned out that being young and civically-engaged wasn’t actually something that all of the older folks really wanted.  Perhaps it’s just “because that’s how things have always been done”– as they repeated to all of us many, many times.

Thank god for Twitter.


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Focusing on the Southwestern Pennsylvania region, CivicsLab puts elementary and middle school students in virtual control of decision-making in their communities to encourage civic participation, critical thinking, and sense of place. In CivicsLab, players will assume positions of power in the community from an urban, suburban or rural perspective and explore how decisions-based on social need and demand, proper planning (as defined by our civic experts), political pressure, and most importantly, their imaginations-might impact the community. Through manipulation of real mapping information and current data sets, students navigate social and political pressures to explore the cause and effect of civic investment and public policy as they attempt to create a sustainable future for their region.

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