Parent Partnership: Video Games and Learning

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Click above for the presentation slides or download the pdf here.

Download the handout here.

I also mentioned two important books: It’s Complicated, by danah boyd, and Reality is Broken, by Jane McGonigal.

Recap:

This morning I gave a presentation on Video Games and Learning. I’ve wanted to have this discussion since I started as technology coordinator and since beginning the SimCity project. The focus of the presentation was on the opportunities presented by video games and the skills learned, hopefully providing an entry into why kids (and lots of adults!) play the games they do and why they enjoy them so much.

I tried to walk the line between research and practicality and tried to frame how we think and talk about video games rather than giving my opinions, though my positive bias is clear. I wish I could have had more time to devote to the current research on the transfer of skills from video games to other arenas and the effect of play violence in teenagers. But that is what graduate school is for!

The best part was my somewhat last minute decision to play MMTW, Massively Multiplayer Thumb War, as inspired by Jane McGonigal from ISTE last year. I felt like I couldn’t talk about games without playing one!

Overall, I hope that people come away holding worries at bay and looking with their kids towards the opportunities. Technology is neither good nor bad, though it does change what life affords and affects us as individuals and as communities. When I look at the world, I am fundamentally hopeful about what the future will be, and maybe growing up around the Scrabble board helped shape me that way.

Over Ambitious Planning for Next Year #iste13

diy_gamification

http://blog.8r4d.com/2013/04/30/6-ways-to-gamify-your-marathon-training

I’ve got a couple ideas for a new approach to my 6th grade class, and I’m pretty much just going to list all the things I’m thinking about. It’s a little jumbled stream-of-consciousness right now, but hopefully writing it all down will help.

I teach 6th grade technology. In the current schedule, I see a group of 18 students one week on Tuesday and Wednesday for an hour each day, and then not again for another month. The librarian also teaches in this rotation, so for next year we are thinking of team teaching the group of 36 students in order to see the kids for more time and have more continuity. In this set up, we would do two-week long projects.

But what kind of project is engaging to 6th graders in an hour-long class right before lunch? Honestly the best class I can remember was teaching them how to use Scratch. Actually, I wasn’t so much teaching as just allowing them the time to play it.

So I have two ideas:

1. Gamify the class using 3DGameLab and turn it into a series of quests. We could find quests that involved using library and tech skills so that they were learning the skills from both classes. Some of the early quests would be fast, like taking a screenshot of their calendar to show they had properly subscribed to all their teachers’ calendars, and some of the later ones could be longer, like designing their own avatar. I’m daunted by the amount of work that would be needed to build this all, but maybe it would be worth it both for the better structure to the class and to test out what that looks like. Hmmm.

  • There is a camp through 3DGameLab to learn how to design your own app, which I’ve always wanted to learn and I have one in mind to build. I could do the camp and get the license to build for students.
  • I would love to pull some ideas from Jane McGonigal’s Find the Future game, like having students write their own constitution and/or origin story.

2. A project that I have always wanted to do with students is to have them design their own avatar or logo. They would first build it as a profile image that they could use for their google apps account. We could talk about image resolution and thumbnails if they were to try and print it the size of a page. It should be an image that looks good large and small. The FINAL step would be for them to print it from the 3D printer as a stamp, so they could stamp their logo.

  • I’d like them to workshop it to get feedback from each other.
  • I want it to be something that is really meaningful to them.
  • They could research logos for different companies, read excerpts from Tipping Point or Made to Stick.
  • They could make Scratch stories to tell their origin story and then turn them in to an adventure game at the end.

At first I was thinking I would have to choose one or the other, but after writing this out, maybe we could do BOTH! I am hesitant to try a new format with a new project, but it seems like a huge opportunity.

Also, my class is a rotation class that meets twice/week and repeats. It wouldn’t be that much prep. And how can I expect other teachers to try it if I don’t? Besides, our head of school asked us to change one thing this coming year. Reimaging my class in both content and form sounds like a good place to start!

What is it about games?

(While working on my NCCE presentation this morning, I decided to type out exactly what I’d like to say about games as I introduce my SimCity project. I will probably scale this back, but here’s the full, off-the-top-of-my-head version. Please leave comments and feedback on the content and organization or suggestions for resources!)

Games are play. We know the value of play (1) from all the research done that it encourages self-regulation, teaches cultural values and norms, develops creativity and real skills. One of my colleagues (@darkwolv) says that play allows you to explore ethics and morality in a pure way. There are clear rights and wrongs in a game, but you get to explore how you to handle it. For example, when little kids play doctor, they explore how they want to be treated when they are sick or hurt. When kids play multiplayer games like Call of Duty, they explore what it means to backstab a team member and the repercussions. How is play relevant to the real world? It allows us to temporarily leave reality, just as a good book or movie does. In this alternate space, we can develop real skills, such as cooperation with others, how to cope with and take responsibility, how to read and interpret data, cause and effect, etc.

Games give you a goal to work towards. (2) In soccer, it’s an obvious put-the-ball-in-the-net to score points and win. Even in an open-ended, real-time strategy game like SimCity where there is no way to beat or end the game, there are goals of growing your population and taking care of your sims. In school, the goal sometimes feels like getting the best grade or pleasing the teacher or getting the right degree to earn more money. If we are going to cultivate lifelong learners, the goal needs to lead students to learning and exploring.

Games give you, to quote Jane McGonigal (2), a sense of “heroic purpose”. If you look at American sports culture around high school sports, you see that successful high school athletes take on heroic proportion because of the emotion connected to winning. In World of Warcraft, you are logging in to save Azaroth. In this project, students got to be mayors of their city, not 7th graders. They had what I call “weightless” responsibilities. Because they are playing the role, there are no serious consequences to failure. Sometimes we give kids responsibilities that they are not ready for, like solving climate change, and instead of digging in and working on the problem, they shut down and disconnect. And we’re surprised? The weightless responsibility buoys the sense that they can succeed and makes them feel competent to succeed.

Games teach in context and allow you to learn as you go. You do not have to memorize the rules before you start. Take Angry Birds, for example. The first levels are simple and present the different types of birds one at a time. As you progress, exploding all the pigs gets harder and asks you to apply what you learned in previous levels. You wouldn’t start with the last level because each level improves your ability to play. Likewise, you do not get a guide to the types of birds and then try to use them. You discover their properties by trial and error. This is in contrast with much of how we teach. In math, for example, you are taught a formula first and then shown how to apply it to different scenarios just in case you come across something like it. How many times have you had to calculate the speed of a train going from New York to Chicago? Games, on the other hand, throw you into the fray and help you make sense of what needs to be done, and you learn how to do it by experimenting, exploring, failing, and succeeding.

The reason games are such effective teachers is in part because they are Goldilocks differentiators. They present exactly the right amount of challenge for every player that plays. For example, you can play scrabble when you are 7 or 70. The words you use will grow in complexity as your vocabulary expands and as you learn strategies for maximizing points. I love to do the New York Times crossword puzzle. Mondays are too easy but Saturday is too hard. Wednesdays are just right. A good game is designed intentionally to give you just the right amount of challenge. If it’s too hard or there are too many rules to memorize, you won’t play. By the same token, if it’s too easy, there’s no sense of accomplishment.

Games are fun! Without getting lost in all of these details, we know on a gut level that if something is called a game, it should be fun. Teachers, however, can feel that if their students are having fun, they are not learning. Playing games is seen as a frivolous, waste of time. Students should do “work” to learn. The exact opposite is true. Students learn MORE when they are having fun because they are engaged and alert. (3) With games, there is a sense of “hard fun,” where your work and effort results in success. This is what drives kids to practice free throws over and over so that when faced with a foul shot to win the game they can swish it.

Let’s take a moment to recap:

  • Development of creativity and skills, self-regulation, interpersonal skills
  • Exploration of morality and ethics
  • Goals
  • Heroic purpose and weightless responsibility
  • Learning in context
  • Appropriate challenges

Sounds like pretty good pedagogy to me!

 

 

Sources:

(1) Rieber, L.P., Smith, L., & Noah, D. (1998). The value of serious play. Educational Technology38(6), 29-37. http://lrieber.coe.uga.edu/valueofplay.html

(2) Jane McGonigal’s work: Ted TalkReality is Broken. Variety of other papers. http://janemcgonigal.com

(3) Variety of sources: Education.com, Instituteofplay.org, Play = Learning