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Gaming to Learn

Most of you know that I’m a huge proponent of the power of games for learning, but I’m not JUST talking about video games, though I do include them.

First, there are lots of misconceptions about games + gamers:

All “gamers” are immature, teenage boys in their underwear: actually 40% of gamers are women.

Gaming = video games: actually, I would include what we traditionally think of, like cards or baseball, but it can also includes alternate reality games and video games.

Video gaming is a waste of time or just an escape from real life: all games, including alternate reality games and video games can develop resilience in the face of challenges, critical thinking and problem solving, optimism (because problems are solvable), positive social relationships (whether online or in person), etc. And the stories in good video games are just as rich and well crafted as classic novels and films.

Video gaming is social isolating: if you had been in my classroom while we were playing SimCity, the level of conversation and sharing was better than or equal to any other traditional activity.

All video games are educational: I’m not advocating you play Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty.

Want to learn more? Oh good.

  • Reality is Broken, by Jane McGonigal (also see her TED talk)
    • “My #1 goal in life is to see a game designer nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. I’ve forecast that this will happen by the year 2023. Of course, it’s not enough to just forecast the future — I’m also actively working to make it a reality. (And you can too — join Gameful, the Secret HQ for Worldchanging Game Developers.)”
    • Jane on the Colbert Report
  • James Paul Gee, Games in education researcher
    • Good article here: “How do good game designers manage to get new players to learn long, complex, and difficult games? … The designers of many good games have hit on profoundly good methods of getting people to learn and to enjoy learning.”
    • More recently here: “Digital games are, at their heart, problem solving spaces that use continual learning and provide pathways to mastery through entertainment and pleasure.”
    • (Better yet, put his blog in your reader.)
  • Quest to Learn charter school in New York City where all curriculum is centered around games.
    • “Quest is … a school that uses the underlying design principles of games to create highly immersive, game-like learning experiences.”
  • My SimCity presentation for Klingenstein
Convinced and wonder what games could you use in your classroom?
  • Math
    • SimCity (percents, budgets, statistics, growth)
    • Bloxorz or EDGE (3D spatial development)
    • Yahtzee (probability)
  • History/Humanities/Geography
    • SimCity
    • Civilization
    • Evoke
    • Geocaching
  • English
    • Scrabble
    • Boggle
    • Any epic based video game (analyze the same writing elements that you would for a book)
  • Science
    • SimCity (systems)
    • SPORE (evolution)
    • FoldIt (learn how to fold proteins – it’s fun, seriously)
    • Portal (great for physics and momentum)
    • World Without Oil (Sustainability)
  • Health
    • SuperBetter (alternate reality game)
  • PE
    • The LOST SPORT
  • Advisory
    • Tombstone Hold’Em
Finally, I offer my unlimited help in implementing this in your classroom. You might be surprised at how much you learn and how much fun you have right along with your students!

Homework: What do you think?

This year, I’m not teaching a class that has homework, but if I was still teaching science, I’m not sure I would assign any homework.

Why? I’m so glad you asked, and I should add that these words are my opinion.

Reason #1. I get tired and burnt out when I don’t take a break from work in the evening or weekends, so I could only imagine how the kids feel. This summer, when I attended the Klingenstein Summer Institute, I was overwhelmed: classes began at 8:30am, finished at 8:30pm, with readings, journal entries, and writing expected to be done afterwards. I was up till midnight regularly, getting up to run or exercise at 5:30am, and progressively more and more exhausted as the two weeks progressed. Mind you, this was TWO WEEKS, and I was blissfully happy, learning/reading/discussing education. I wanted to go further and read more than what was assigned. I wanted to take time to read more background information. I wanted to ask for my peers to comment on my writing and have informal discussions about the readings. But I knew this came at the expense of sleep. When I think about our students having to try to sustain something like this for 8 months, I cringe. If it was this hard for me as a motivated, self-disciplined, eager student, it is a wonder that so many students are as compliant as they are.

Reason #2. What does the research say? This article is a meta-study by Robert J. Marzano and Debra J. Pickering, published in Educational Leadership in 2007. I’ll just pick out a couple things that I found interesting:

  • It’s about the quality not quantity.
  • Little/no benefit for elementary, some for middle, and good for upper.
  • Overall, the research is generalized and not very practical, so teachers should rely on professional judgement and feedback from students.

Reason #3. The impact on family life. Younger and younger kids get homework so that they can learn time management and organization, so that they can handle high school and college. What about inspiring them to learn and giving them time to pursue their own passions (which most of our kids have many of)? What about letting them spend time with their family and sleep at night? I read an interesting article recently about unschooling on the Committed Sardine blog… it seems utopian.

The real reason I wanted to post this today was that I found this article (So Much Homework) on the Connected Principals blog in my reader. Shannon Smith linked to an excerpt on homework from Kathleen Cushman‘s Fires in the Mind book. She talkes about her Practice Project and the chapter includes a lot of input from current high school students. They recognize the importance of practicing outside of class and suggest the following:

I hope this doesn’t just come across as complaining. Though I think a lot of the assignments at our school allow for students to develop their interests and understandings, I question the volume and the culture of homework that we have and whether we really know the effect…

What do you think?