Thursday, July 19, 2012

I'm busy…playing a game

I really liked James Gee's Good Games and Good Learning article, particularly his enumeration of the principles that can be practiced and learned through game playing. And many of the 16 points map to principles we've been learning about in other classes. For example, point #6 (Agency) sounds like student-centered learning. Leveling in a game (in point #7) maps cleanly to Zones of Proximal Development. A lower level player not only is underpowered in a higher level environment, but even if given a higher level without working their way up, they would not know how to use it. I also liked Gee's inside-out notion of incorporating lessons from the gaming world in the classroom. Educational software vendors are focused on pushing the real world into the virtual. But it should work both ways. 

brb...  Running a dungeon with my guildies, gotta gear up my pally so I can respec from tank to healer…kk,  I'm back.

Jane McGonigal's TED talk is fun. I can imagine the bulk of non-gamers would find it hard to believe that increasing game-playing time 7-fold would solve the world's problems. But I agree that well-designed games with an agenda (reducing oil consumption, teaching students algebra, etc) will become increasingly part of our lives. My daughter learned her multiplication/division facts using a dungeon-based game distributed through Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS). If you can make rote drills engaging, that can address fluency issues in the classroom. But adding more elements of the dimensions of learning is inevitable. A soon-to-be 5th grader, she is playing DragonBox and without knowing it, is learning algebra. Multiplayer games have great potential for building the student-student and student-teacher connections. An important caveat: multi-player gaming has some of the same issues as the real world, including bullying. WoW provides guilds, which might provide a safer environment, but a good guild requires a good leader (teacher).

David Niguidula's article "Digital Portfolios and Curriculum Maps: Linking Teacher and Student Work" from the book by Curriculum 21 discusses how students can build a digital record of their work. Teachers can create curriculum maps that show students what the teachers expects the student to accomplish. A revelation was the idea of letting the students see the curriculum map, see how their portfolio work connects to the curriculum, and then provide feedback to the teacher about the curriculum. Adding systematic student feedback at the curriculum level (at any level for most teachers) seems pretty revolutionary. Why don't we incorporate students into our reflections more frequently? How would van Es & Sherin's video club be different if students participated? Here's an idea: create a Future Teacher's club at a school, and have them participate in some of the curriculum reflections.


  1. I had the same thought when reading David Niguidula's article--why don't we take a more critical and purposeful approach to utilizing students' feedback? Though I am not all that familiar with the business world, I have read a number of periodical articles that mention an increasing effort to boost employee performance and intrinsic investment in their company by using authentic methods of incorporating the ideas and concerns of the employees into management plans and projects. Likewise, we have read chapters in our education texts that describe the value of motivating students through empowerment and meaningful connections to the classroom. What better way to get them invested in school than to let them know their ideas on teaching practices and curriculum may actually be applied to making the overall experience of school better??

  2. I am someone who is not a gamer and hearing that video games should become more a part of our lives wasn't what I was expecting. I know that I did play educational games but I don't know how I would have felt if my education was more game centered. I may have felt things were less serious. Listening to Jane McGonigal was a great way for me to hear how games could be useful.

  3. Mr. Benz,
    I really like the idea of incorporating student feedback, especially at the secondary level. I think in the past we (with good reason) haven't trusted students to be honest and we (with good reason) haven't respected their opinions enough to include them. We also, as teachers, want to believe (with good reason) that even if students don't appreciate what we're teaching them now; they'll appreciate it later. But I am willing to take a chance that my students will provide valuable insight into what works and what doesn't work in terms of their own curriculum. This is, after all, an investment in metacognition.

  4. Pete - OK, I'm getting tired of denouncing Jane McGonical's vision of gamers saving the world as delusional, and will move on.

    Your bit on your daughter's learning math via a game made me remember witnessing elementary and middle-school students using an interactive program called SuccessMaker; have you heard of it? From what I saw, looking over the shoulders of users, it is an interactive math program, not so much a game, that asks students math questions that might involve simple multiple choice, or perhaps the use of a calculator, ruler, or protractor. There are visual and auditory reinforcements for the right answer.

  5. I appreciate your comments about video games taking over... eventually. I remember playing Oregon Trail in social studies class and a math game to improve my addition skills- but once teaching concepts got harder, educational video games stopped being available. Or used. Or both. At least as I was growing up. It is amazing to hear the changes that have taken place in just ten years- the fact that your daughter can practice algebra with a computer game is fascinating!
    I was resistant to the use of video games to solve real world problems, because I believe nothing can replace real life person-to-person interaction. I never thought about bullying being present in the online games, but I still have to ask, just because people act one way in the game, are their actions going to be translated to real life? I think I will be more accepting of video game use when I see some long term studies and hard numbers to back up claims.