NYCC 2014: Video Games and Education Panel
For quite some time i’ve always tried to be an advocate for video games as an educational tool. I remember being in school back in the 80’s wanting to get some PC (which was a Mac back then) time to play Lemonade Stand and Oregon Trail. After a while the teach also got Where In the World Is Carmen San Diego. In each of these games therer were underlying principles that the game was trying to get across. The teachers didn’t really take too much time to drive home what each one of the games were either trying to teach or reveal. There’s more to Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego than just geography lessons. It does manage to teach problem solving and decision making skills to a point.
Driving home the importance of teaching the actual principles was one of the core talking points that the NYCC panel for Video Games and Education used. Each of the members on the panel either were or are teachers that are advocates for the use of video games in schools. They all utilize video games as a tool for the learning that their children experience. Speaking about the importance of building upon the usage of video games and technology in the classroom, each educator seeks to reach and encourage kids today to learn and have a passion for learning.
Let’s face it. Video games are here, huge, and a sizable part of our society. Think about it. Almost everyone that has or has had a smart phone has at least tried ONE game while they were waiting someplace. Others may have broken that game-a-phobia by playing one of the many addictive Facebook games. There are even college courses for kids to take where they learn how to professionally play competitive games that are now being covered by popular networks like ESPN.
Taking that a step further, children nowadays are using tablets and websites and other tech in schools much moreso now than ever before. This exposure to technology at times can be a half-hearted attempt to get kids familiar with tech when in actuality they may just be doing the same work on the technology that they could be doing on paper. While this is a good step, it isn’t fully utilizing the power that technology can bring. Making Powerpoint presentations isn’t the full usage of PC’s and tech that can be brought to the classroom.
The panel made it clear that since there is passion behind kids playing games, it only makes sense that educators make more of a concerted effort to utilize them in schools. In that I mean having actual courses about game design or even just surrounding the use of games to teach core standard principles. They also made it clear that using games does not eliminate the need for teachers to drive home the principles behind the skills they are using to play the game.
One educator named Sue Parler of DePaul High School made it clear that she was a big advocate of Minecraft as well as the philosophies of John Dewey. While constantly quoting his theories on education. She made it clear that it only makes sense to utilize that which stimulates the minds of the youth today since there is no telling what new jobs they will have (that do not exist today) when they hit the workforce. She explained how she would use Minecraft to teach Quantum Physics and even programming.
On of the best icebreakers that she had that she even uses for her own game programming course was that ideas border on the stupid. Who would have thought that having a yellow mouth looking creature eating dots while being chased by ghosts would become one of the most recognizable and fun games in the world! Just saying what the game is about would certainly be considered a dumb idea, right? Honestly, think of how many other games are like that. The trick is finding a way to not only make the experience fun but make it meaningful in some way. In that same vein, she was able to leverage that revelation to get her kids to think out of the box and promote their creativity. Typically it is in those positive environments that innovation springs from.
Another educator from Newark, NJ (whom I hope to get on the show to talk about his experiences) named Justin De Voe from the Newark Leadership Academy spoke on how his dream of using video games as a tool grew into something that has him teaching various core principles by both playing AND making video games. While the others on the panel utilized power points, Justin’s passion for teaching, education, and video games dazzled as he effortlessly described his journey to bring video games to the classroom in a positive way. He spoke of how he would use Madden to introduce the concept of statistics, God of War for certain literary characters and more which was such a powerful magnet for learning that he eventually started seeing rival gang members becoming friends in his classes playing games together. He even got them to pool together and write the baseline story for a fighting game which required the students to research literary figures and describe what their special attacks and powers would be in the game. Every aspect of how they wanted that character to be in the game had to be backed up with facts from the stories and books that they pooled them from.
The last of the educators was Brenden Trombley who spoke of the Institute of Play sponsored Quest To Learn experimental school that they are trying in NYC. By using gamification and other tools such as role playing and video games, this school is taking a whole new approach on teaching the core standards from the traditional method of learning. Many people seem to learn better by doing and video games are a great simulation style experience to allow them to get some hands on virtual experience in decision making in various instances. At Institute of Play they put this theory to the test using a great deal of different video game style tools (whether playing or creating them) to get the learning going.
He stressed how game based learning principles were the basis behind their approach at the school and how it would truly stimulate a love for learning in a way that traditional schools don’t (but certainly could) try. He dispelled a number of misconceptions about the school such as it being a video game only school where all the kids do is play video games and learn. Nathan explained that the teachers play a vital role in choosing specific games to introduce and/or provide experience in certain lessons. In a way, Nathan explained his role to be a sort of Master Teacher where he would develop card games or board games or suggest video games to the teachers to use in their classrooms.
In the end, all of those who attended agreed in tapping into the passion of the students is the way to spark their interest. The trick is finding meaningful games and elaborating on the core principle of the lesson that it is exposing the kids to. By doing so, it is quite possible to reach so many more kids and feed their apathy for learning in the classroom. Not to mention that, think of how appropriately design video games could be used in special education for autistic kids or others with ADHD and other disorders. Capturing those disengaged or challenged minds is the key to keeping them and that is what education is all about…passion and learning.