RE@L Has A New EdTEch Vision For K12 Learning Far Beyond MECC's Oregon Trail™

MinnPostGretaKaulRecently, reporter Greta Kaul wrote a fine story on The title was:  “Almost 50 years ago, Oregon Trail revolutionized educational software. Can the game’s creators do it again?” It’s a great question. You can read her story and answers by clicking here.

The title of Ms. Kaul’s report does ask a key, thought-provoking  question: “Can the games creators do it again.” RE@L has a simple answer: “Yes!” We’d only add that we can do it again and even better. The tech tools of learning today are better than they were 50 years ago. So is our understanding of learning games, STEM and the lasting power of project-based teaching and learning. We followed the old wagon tracks, and we know where the new trails are going today.

OregonTrailIntro640In case you need a refresher on the classic Oregon Trail™ game, here’s Ms. Kaul’s description:

Conceived for a class at a public school in Minneapolis, “Oregon Trail,” is among the most popular educational computer games of all time. It loaded students in virtual covered wagons and sent them from Missouri to Oregon in a simulation of 19th-century westward expansion, contending with broken wagon axles, cholera, snake bites and river crossings along the way…..the game has been elevated to cult status: versions of it have been preserved for play online, and it’s not hard to find t-shirts and coffee mugs emblazoned with pixelated oxen and nostalgic phrases like “you have died of dysentery.” RE@L adds: great description!

Dysentery is no joke. But the word itself binds together hundreds of thousands of students, teachers and parents around the globe who have played Oregon Trail™. They still have their memories of  the OT game and the importance of avoiding sickness and swollen creeks. If you don’t believe it, read the comments posted by readers at the bottom of Ms. Kaul’s article, cited in the MinnPost link above. We will be commenting on those posts in a RE@L Blog to come.

Don R2Co-inventor of the game, Don Rawitsch, RE@L’s VP of Product Development, was a key leader at MECC in bringing these real world questions and problems to computer screens and kids everywhere. Don says, [Kids] don’t want an adult feeding them all this information. They’ll get it themselves. That was a big part of Oregon Trail’s popularity…We would only add that more is needed.

So, what’s new in our RE@L journey that takes off where OT stopped? There’s more than one answer. Here’s one: a real-world STEM Focus. And here’s an excerpt of what reporter Kaul had to say about itA unit on water quality, for example, would teach kids concepts like pollution and ecosystems. Then, it would give them the tools to test water — either virtually using kits through the portal, or out in the field in real life, with built-in geographic information systems…students would be connected with someone in a career related to water quality….The curriculum is designed to align with district, state and federal standards.” Now, that’s a hopeful answer!


Here’s how RE@L’s President and CEO, Paul Gullickson, explains it: “The idea [behind RE@L STEM]  “is to help students get excited about careers and keep people employed in the U.S.” RE@L’s software design team is looking at other real world learning examples and has this answer to the posted question…. from forensics to vehicle traffic flow and invasive species.”

Paul continues: “Each [STEM] unit will include a classroom learning aspect — reading materials, videos and slideshows, a field experience piece, which can be done virtually or in-person, and a real life piece, which involves watching a webcast or video chatting with a local professional in the given field.” 

It doesn’t get more real than that. That’s why it’s called RE@L learning.

Ms. Kaul quoted researcher Dr. Sean Smith, Professor at the University of Kansas, from a recent Facebook posting there (Scroll down to find his posting, “Oregon Train):

“… traditional textbook companies are clamoring to digitize and supplement their offerings with technology. At the same time, the Internet has democratized technology, making it easier and cheaper for anyone to create or download a learning app….Educators gravitate toward technology that is easy for students to use, aligns with the education standards teachers are expected to teach, and that are fun and educational for a broad range of students…..” RE@L adds its own mandate: “Meet the learners where they are and help take them where they want to go to learn more.”

Dale Paul Photo 2017REV2NAMESThe question asked at the beginning was “Can the game’s creators do it again? Can they find interested investors to help?”

Dale LaFrenz, Chairman of the Board, and Paul Gullickson CEO and President, give the readers a resounding affirmative “YES!… we do know how to work around that [issue], we’ve done it before.”

RE@L knows the best trail to take for real-world learning destinations. They know many ways to get there. They know the new tools to use on the way. They also know the satisfaction of a worthy goal achieved: More learners learning more, and enjoying it too.

Stay tuned to a coming RE@L Blog for our upcoming discussion of the many interesting comments submitted by the the MinnPost readers of Ms. Kaul’s article.

We are grateful to Greta Kaul for her well-told story. We’d love to hear yours too! See below:

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Tom King & Dale LaFrenz

Dr. Tom King has served for over 40 years as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Saint Thomas in the School of Education. The Saturn School of Tomorrow, formerly a St. Paul Public School, and his visionary response to educational reform, was a lighthouse on the frontier of school change. Tom was an experienced high school teacher of mathematics, a school administrator, and Director of Technology for the St. Paul MN Public Schools. He is also a member of the RE@L Team. Dr. Dale LaFrenz is Chairman of RE@L and one of the founders of MECC Software who brought “Oregon Trail” to millions of K12 kids everywhere. He has written extensively on the history and evolution of Ed Tech. His work in forging new paths for MECC’S “edutainment" software was instrumental in connecting school-markets, kids, teachers and consumer-markets/kids/parents, and now serves as the new launching pad for RE@L apps and software.