Thursday, September 16, 2010

Videogames in School?

I'm going to go a little off the board here from the normal sports, faith, and eating topics and delve into an interesting article I read today about a school in NYC that is utilizing video games to spearhead their instruction. Being a big-time sports videogame guy from the Nintendo days up until I got too busy the last year or two, I found it very interesting.

So, first my background and then I'll dive into some of the interesting points in the article. First of all, I was one of those kids who played hours upon hours of video games in middle school and high school and then when I had time in college. If there was a time in the summer back in the day when I had nothing going on, I could milk a good 4-6 hours playing games. Ah, those were the days.

Now, for me, sports were my genre of preference. I never really got into the shooting or adventure games. It started with Nintendo Baseball, RBI Baseball, Bases Loaded, and Baseball Stars (where I first developed my love for keeping statistics). Also in other sports 10-yard fight, Tecmo Bowl (1 and 2), Nintendo Hockey, Blades of Steel, and Double Dribble.

Then, I moved up to the Sega and got into the Madden, NHL (Mario & co.), and NBA (go Sean Elliott!) series. There was also a Bill Walsh College football that had top teams in history including (my favorite) the 1986 PSU Team. After that came the Playstation and more Madden, MLB, and NHL. The best was the college days when my roommate/best man John and I would play on the same team in Madden and block for each other. It was all about the teamwork!

Most recently, I got games for my computer (MLB, Madden, and Tiger Woods Golf) and loved the chance to create football teams and had an entire 'league' of college teams (uniforms created and all) in my Madden game. I never really got into the online world of gaming though. I just liked to sit down and take on the computer when I had the time.

So, take all that background and factor in my graduate work in HCI and recent summer work with a math education software company here in Pittsburgh (
Carnegie Learning), one could see how this article piqued my interest. An English teacher I was covering for during a period today showed me this article on her computer. She said that the leader of the entire project was a college teammate of hers back in the day (small world).

The goals of using the video games with the students is to better prepare them for the world of the 21st century. One of the tasks was playing video games to improve motor skills, spatial awareness, and collaboration. But, also, they had to develop games (some board games other video games) and this is where their creativity and understanding of establishing rules came to the front.

From the teacher side, I feel that currently in school we are cornered into meeting curriculum standards and our schedule is books from day 1 to day 181. To have this freedom to explore and learn would be exciting. I think it's great to be able to integrate all the different disciplines (math, communication, art, history, science) all at the same time. The current high school model does not really permit for full-blown collaborations between disciplines.

The other thing I always try to tell the kids is that you're not going to walk down the street or at your job and have someone say, "Quick, can you solve 3x+7=34." Rather, you're going to be solving, brainstorming, having successes and failures, and you need to be able to communicate your solutions and analyses to others.

Some of the interesting lines in the article included:
(Page 2)Salen (the teacher's friend) and Torres are at the forefront of a small but increasingly influential group of education specialists who believe that going to school can and should be more like playing a game, which is to say it could be made more participatory, more immersive and also, well, fun.

...while students at the school are put through the usual rigors of studying pre-algebra, basic physics, ancient civilizations and writing, they do it inside interdisciplinary classes with names like Codeworlds — a hybrid of math and English class — where the quests blend skills from different subject areas.

(Page 3) Salen’s theory goes like this: building a game — even the kind of simple game a sixth grader might build — is equivalent to building a miniworld, a dynamic system governed by a set of rules, complete with challenges, obstacles and goals. At its best, game design can be an interdisciplinary exercise involving math, writing, art, computer programming, deductive reasoning and critical thinking skills. If children can build, play and understand games that work, it’s possible that someday they will understand and design systems that work. And the world is full of complicated systems.

(Page 6)Not only has excessive gaming — much like excessive TV watching — been associated with obesity and depression, but playing violent games has been linked in some studies to an increase in aggressive behavior. Advocates of game-based learning concede that these games can be spectacularly gory, amoral and loud, even when they are artful and complicated.

Brain researchers have found that playing first-person shooter games like Call of Duty does seem to have some neurological benefits, including improving peripheral vision and the ability to focus attention. The playing of shooter games has also been shown to enhance something called visual-spatial thinking — for example, the ability to rotate objects in one’s mind — which, it turns out, is a cognitive building block for understanding concepts in science and engineering.

" working through the levels of a complex game, a person is decoding its “internal design grammar” and that this is a form of critical thinking. “A game is nothing but a set of problems to solve,” Gee says. Its design often pushes players to explore, take risks, role-play and strategize — in other words putting a game’s informational content to use.

(Page 7) “Ten years ago, it would have taken a week to get kids to learn the difference between ‘save’ and ‘save as,’ ” he (Doyle) said. “Now I show them GarageBand” — a digital audio sequencer produced by Apple — “and five minutes later they’re recording and editing sound.” Doyle made a point that others had also made: whatever digital fluidity his students possessed, it hadn’t been taught to them, at least not by adults.

As Doyle saw it, his role was moving from teaching toward facilitating, building upon learning being done outside school. He talked about all the wasted energy that goes into teaching things that students don’t need so much anymore, thanks to the tools now available to them.

Then he went back to podcasting, saying that after a student has written, revised, scripted and recorded a podcast, “it’s just as valid as writing an essay.”

“We feel like we’re preparing these kids to be producers of media — whether they become graphic designers, video designers, journalists, publishers, communicators, bloggers, whatever,"

(Page 8) This concept is something that Will Wright, who is best known for designing the Sims game franchise and the 2008 evolution-related game Spore, refers to as “failure-based learning,” in which failure is brief, surmountable, often exciting and therefore not scary....“Failure in an academic environment is depressing. Failure in a video game is pleasant. It’s completely aspirational.”

“If you think about kids in school — especially in our testing regime — both the teacher and the student think that failure will lead to disaster,” he says. “That’s pretty much a guarantee that you’ll never get to truly deep learning.”

Interesting stuff to think about as a teacher. How can we best prepare the students to be successful thinkers out in the world.


Steve said...

Not much to comment, but I found this interesting. Of all professions I would think teaching is one of the most important.

Steve said...

You know teaching really is about faith anyway. You hope you do good, but you won't know the good you do, unless you get lucky. My World History teacher would never know he was my favorite teacher, unless I met his daughter in college. I am sure she told him. My Law professor, of 2 courses, perhaps 3, has no idea he was one of my favorite. Also my non-western poli sci. professor will never know how he opened up my eyes to a more open outlook, I guess you could say.

So this post really is about faith, as is your profession. Maybe that is what steered you away from engineering to teaching.

Just thought of that. :)

JPH said...

A. Remember that game (you, me, Ang and Shaq) when I was QB and rushed what should have been a game-winning FG, and totally blew it? I'll never forgive myself for that one. I'm pretty sure we even had a timeout left.
B. x=9
C. I'm working on some elementary-level Math board games that someday will make me rich and famous. (That's all I can tell you without a signed confidentiality agreement)

ojs said...

JP - there are soooooo many memories of all the games. Remember all the games Ed would play and he chewed on the remote!!!

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