Gaming in Schools?

My daughter loves a show on TV called “Good Game Spawn Point”. It’s a super fun, interesting talk show about all things gaming. She was watching it tonight when one of the hosts suddenly declared:

Sometimes I think I learn more from video games than I ever did in school. Maths, science, problem solving, reading, history, geography, how to work as a team…

© Cherrymerry | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos
© Cherrymerry | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

It was an intro to the next segment of a show: an interview with a teacher who has begun to integrate commercial video games (such as Formula 1 Racing, Sonic Racing etc) into the classroom, mostly into science lessons, “to make it more interesting for the students”.

When asked what inspired her to begin using commercial video games as a teaching tool, she answered: “I play a lot of games myself, and when I play them I realise that with a lot of games, you actually need to apply a lot of skills like maths, logic, problem solving, team work in multiplayer mode… When I watch the kids playing games, they’re really motivated and they like it, so I investigated different types of games that I could put into the classroom.”

Bajo, the host of the show and interviewer for this segment, observed some children in the classroom, who were trying to find out if talking on a phone, or holding it on your shoulder, distracts you when you’re driving. The conclusion? “So far we’ve learned that driving without a phone is much safer than driving with a phone.”

Well, that doesn’t sound like rocket science, but I’m sure the kids absorbed the lesson more effectively, and had more fun doing it, than if they’d just been told the information or had statistics presented to them.

Bajo asked the teacher if she had seen many improvements in how they learn, to which she replied, “Yes, because they are having fun so they understand it a lot better. When we introduce concepts that are not familiar to them and we actually put a game into it, they connect with the game and they’ll be less fearful of the topic. They’re more likely to actually want to learn it. The kids who are normally really shy won’t be shy when they play the game because the games do encourage you to have a go. It’s okay to fail in the game.”

At one stage the children were all asked to sit around the edge of the classroom, while two were selected to play a game on the Kinect (Xbox) console. I’m not sure if this is standard procedure (two children playing while the others look on), but it seemed to be so based on other footage they showed. One of the “children” was Bajo, the presenter.

After they had played the game, the teacher gave her assessment:

“You displayed some really good teamwork skills. When Daniel gave instructions, you followed them. But I think you got a little bit distracted sometimes, waving your hands, and Daniel was trying to get you back on track.”

Okaaaaay well, again, not rocket science. But at least they were having fun, right? Even if they were somewhat “distracted”.

Some of the children were asked what they like about being able to play video games in the classroom:

“Well, the games are fun and they help you learn better.”

“Everyone gets to participate and it’s really fair.”

“People don’t usually think video games can be educational, but we’ve found a way to make it educational, because it’s, like, more interesting than getting a paper and pen and just writing down stuff or copying down stuff or just getting a book.”

Kudos to the teacher for trying to modernise the classroom, but I question whether simply making it more fun by the inclusion of video games is really enough. I’m sure it is better than without the games, but the use of the games in the classroom seemed …. Dumbed down. Scripted.

The games were being used as a tool to try to get the children more engaged in the teacher-driven curriculum. Using what the students love to “teach” the lessons the teacher wants them to learn, to complete the tasks set down by the teacher. It seemed to simply be a more creative, modern way to “put information into children’s heads”.

Having short turns of a game (accompanied by expected outcomes and lessons to be learned) and sharing it around thirty children is very different to the natural learning that occurs when children are thoroughly engrossed in and captivated by a game. It is very different to a child at home getting deeply into the levels and complexities of the game, solving puzzles, exploring complex worlds, completing levels and challenges that sometimes take hours or more.

How wonderful it would be if the teacher was able to trust in the intrinsic nature of children to learn through play. If the learning flowed more naturally, as an unscripted side effect of playing the games; if the games were more central rather than just serving the teacher-driven goal. Who knows where it might lead!! Imagine groups of children engrossed in gaming, with the adult interacting naturally, playing alongside, chatting to the kids while they play.

Funnily enough, that is actually what does happen in an unschooling household!! 

Whilst the teacher began her journey by recognising the learning that was naturally happening when she played video games at home (without anyone expecting her to learn, or feeling the need to “teach” her by using the games to draw out “lessons”), she ended up failing to transfer to the children in her care that same trust in natural learning as a byproduct of gaming.

As Steven Johnson says in Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter video games are not “rotting our brains” but are in fact becoming more and more sophisticated tools for learning, posing new cognitive challenges that are actually making our minds measurably sharper. There really is no need to dumb them down and turn them in to “lessons”.

In the words of the final girl interviewed for the show, video games in the classroom “make everything seem fun, even though it’s really boring.”

Kids are smart! They would obviously prefer to be able to do gaming and other fun things in the classroom, but they’re quite able to learn from the games without having to have that learning scripted for them. And in fact, they are more likely to intrinsically learn something new and “cutting edge” if they are able to really delve into the complexities of the game, rather than focus on completing set tasks that supposedly help them learn what the teacher wants to teach them!

I am so very glad that my unschooled children are privileged to live in an environment where there is absolute trust that learning happens. All the time. Every day. Even while gaming. ESPECIALLY while gaming. And without a lesson needing to be taught.

5 thoughts on “Gaming in Schools?”

  1. Hmmm that final quote from the girl was telling: “In the words of the final girl interviewed for the show, video games in the classroom “make everything seem fun, even though it’s really boring.””. That would get old quick!!! Great post!

  2. That is so funny, how the teacher gets it, and yet don’t get I after all. My kids watch all kinds of stuff on the TV and play all kinds of computer games, and from those arises like a trillion questions that challenge me every day (even though I have an M.Sc.) – I don’t have to chew anything up for them, they find it just fine on their own.

    1. So true. I think it is very hard for teachers to get out of their teacher-y mindset and trust that children will naturally learn. I guess that’s the way they’ve been trained and the way schools are set up. I mean, it’s great they’ve added the gaming, it’s just a pity they’ve dumbed it down.

      1. I just realisere that I’ve suffleres from the same kind of teacherism myself but in another area: Shopping… I was feeling guilty that I didn’t teach My kids about money and nutrition etc etc when we went shopping… Like my homeschooling (not unschooling) friend does. But really, if I trust them, they will pick up what they need when they need it – and probably a lot more if I don’t force it down their throat.

        1. So true. If they know you are available, and they see you shopping and making nutritional choices, they will naturally pick a lot up, and they won’t be dumbed down by everything being turned into a lesson, so their interest level will be high when they really want to find out stuff. 🙂

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