Games – What exactly are kids learning?

[Cross-posted at U Tech Tips]

Games and the value of game-based learning has been a hot topic for me lately, so I was thrilled to come across Tom Chatfield’s article, Why playing in the virtual world has an awful lot to teach children in the Guardian on the 10th January 2010 (hat tip to @paulmaglione for the link). Tom argues that there is more to games than meets the eye.

For perhaps the most remarkable thing about modern video games is the degree to which they offer not a sullen and silent unreality, but a realm that’s thick with difficulties, obligations, judgments and allegiances. If we are to understand the 21st century and the generation who will inherit it, it’s crucial that we learn to describe the dynamics of this gaming life: a place that’s not so much about escaping the commitments and interactions that make friendships “real” as about a sophisticated set of satisfactions with their own increasingly urgent reality and challenges.

Super Mario BrosKatie Salen, professor of design and technology at Parsons The New School for Design argues that traditionally, games have not been seen as challenging realities, but rather as time-wasting activities:

There is a long history of understanding games as sort of leisure activities, as a kind of waste of time. And that when we see kids playing games that maybe our first reaction is to say, “Oh well they’re just playing, they’re just kind of wasting time.” There isn’t a sense of even sitting down with the child and asking them… “What’s going on in your head right now?” Because if you sit down and talk to a game player about what they’re doing, an incredible narrative will come out of their mouth about the complex problem they’re working on. A set of specialist vocabulary will spew out of their mouth…
[see the full video here]

From my reading on the subject, there are a number of key learning areas that games help players develop. Here are a few of the main ones.

Games Develop Literacy SkillsMoshi_passable

Many people underestimate the amount of literacy involved in game-playing. Instructions and other comments on the website require reasonably sophisticated levels of reading. James Paul Gee, an Arizona State University professor and leading figure in the field of games in education, argues, “Some people even say that games are killing reading and writing – far from it! They’re actually engaging kids with reading and writing more than ever.” [See the full video here]

By way of example, in Moshi Monsters – a game students at my school have been playing with gusto – your monster tells you how he/she is feeling, with quite a wide vocabulary. My monster has been elated, effervescent, marginal, and sunny lately, but the other day he was just passable. One of our K2 classes created their own monster, and play it as a class first thing in the morning. What a great way to discuss and develop new vocabulary!

In the context of Moshi Monsters, the “specialist vocabulary” that Katie Salen speaks of, includes Moshlings and Rox – both of which I am extremely confident all players would be able to explain clearly.

mystMessage boards are also popular with students as a way of communicating with others. On my message board, students have asked me how to get a particular Moshling, commented on my room and so on. It is great to see the dialogue that it generates, and the buzz in the ICT lab is electric, to say the least!

Tim Rylands, often credited as one of the forerunners of  gaming in education,  brought the computer game Myst into his classroom to develop literacy skills, with great success – he won a Becta ICT in Practice Award for his work in 2005. Since then, projects have been developed by schools and learning institutions around the world, including Learning & Teaching Scotland, who use games such as Guitar Hero and Myst to  stimulate creative and descriptive writing. They have been receiving positive feedback from teachers and students alike.

Games Develop Creativity

Scratch_001Gee states in his video for Edutopia, “Kids want to produce, they don’t just want to consume.” This is certainly true of the Playstation 3 hit, Little Big Planet, which has user generate content as a major part of the game.

At my school, the Grade 2-5’s are devouring Scratch, the MIT-developed computer programming software for kids. Scratch provides an extremely user-friendly platform where users can upload their own games, or download and make changes/improvements to other people’s games and upload them again for the community to try. One of our Grade 5 students contributed a game which he has translated into 3 languages – Chinese, Dutch and English! The code behind this game (and others that the students in my class produce) is extremely sophisticated, and more often than not, beyond my comprehension!

Games Develop Critical Thinking Skills

Samorost_1Players need to use critical thinking skills when playing games. Problem solving and decision making skills, together with logical thinking, sequencing and strategy-making are all reinforced. James Paul Gee argues that playing a game is like a continuous stream of assessment. If you fail to work out what steps need to be taken, and in which order, you will not progress further in the game. Games such as Samorost (and other games created by Amanita Design, including Samorost 2 and Machinarium) are fabulous for all the skills mentioned above. Kids love to play them together, and thrive on the challenge of coming up with possible solutions to rather daunting problems.

Zoombinis is a very popular computer game (and has been since its release in the mid ’90s), requiring complicated mathematical thinking skills. According to Amazon,

Zoombinis Logical Journey challenges children to employ such basic fundamentals of mathematical thinking as organizing information, reasoning of evidence, finding and making patterns, and systematic testing of hypotheses.

zoombinisWe loaded it on some computers in the lab, and had a games focus for our most recent Wired Wednesday professional development with staff, and it was funny how many teachers remembered it from 10 years ago when their kids played it. One teacher even asked to take it home, because it was that engaging! 

Gee, in an interview with Gamezone, argues:

…people are too hung up about learning “content” in the sense of facts. What we need people to learn is how to think deeply about complex systems (e.g., modern workplaces, the environment, international relations, social interactions, cultures, etc.) where everything interacts in complicated ways with everything else and bad decisions can make for disasters.

The thinking skills developed in gaming are transferable across a range of contexts, which will be of great benefit to our students in the workplaces of the future.

Gee explains in the same interview,

Good games stay inside, but at the outer edge of the player’s growing competence, feeling challenging, but “doable.” This creates a sense of pleasurable frustration.

It has also been described as ‘hard fun’. I’m sure many of us have been in the situation where a game has  been too easy or too hard. Those just-right games really hook us in to the point where our concept of time melts away – or as Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, Hungarian professor of Psychology famously refers to it – the state of flow. According to Wikipedia, flow is:

the mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing by a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.

Games are SocialMachinarium in the Lab 002 (Medium)

The old-fashioned notion of gamers in seclusion, having no human contact is a thing of the past. The majority of games today have a huge social component, including sophisticated discussion forums. Tom Chatfield again suggests:

Visit any website devoted to hosting player discussions of games like World of Warcraft, for instance, and you’ll find not hundreds but tens of thousands of comments flying between players who debate every aspect of the game, from weapon-hit percentages to mathematical analyses of the most efficient sequence in which to use a character’s abilities. It will range from the sublime to the ridiculous, and will be riddled with private codes, slang, trolls, flames, and everything else the internet so excels at delivering.

What you’ll find above all, though, is a love of discussion almost for its own sake; and an immensely broad and well-informed range of critical analyses. It’s not unknown for doctors of economics or maths to wade into the fray – and find themselves bested by other still more meticulous chains of gamer reasoning.

Participation in the social communities surrounding games, interacting with friends in multiplayer games, and contributing to discussion forums all help develop communication and collaboration skills. The ability to communication and collaborate with others is increasing in importance – take the ISTE Nets for example. Being able to establish a rapport with others, in a range of situations will help today’s students in future contexts.

Game-playing provides leadership and peer-learning opportunities for students. Games can level the playing field. Tom Chatfield notes that, “A virtual world is a tremendous leveller in terms of wealth, age, appearance, ethnicity and such like…” It means a child can be an expert, a student can be the most knowledgeable source of information.What a powerful concept for a student in a classroom – I have something of value to offer my peers and my teachers.

playstation_FlottenheimerAs Joseph Joubert, the French essayist famously said, “To teach is to learn twice.” In the context of the lab, the students I see playing games are a very supportive community, keen to help newcomers develop their understanding of the game. This fits in beautifully with  Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger’s Communities of Practice theory of learning, where,

“It is through the process of sharing information and experiences with the group that the members learn from each other, and have an opportunity to develop themselves personally and professionally.”

Face-to-face friendships develop through similar online  interests, and this is certainly evident in my ICT Lab.

James Paul Gee speaks of these communities of practice as “passion communities” constructed via social networking, where members are usually held to quite rigorous standards in their area of passion. To the novice, feedback is given, support is provided, but standards are not be lowered.

Rachel Williams for the Guardian, notes that according to a government-appointed expert,

Children spend so much time in front of the television and computer games, and so little time with adults that one child in six has difficulty learning to talk…

parent with kids & playstationIt is easy to put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the television and computer game industry, instead of focusing on the role parents and other adults have to play in a child’s language development. Rather than throw the baby out with the bathwater, this is a powerful opportunity for parents to involve themselves in the lives of their children, and play games together. The discussion arising from shared game-playing would surely help children develop those crucially important communication skills, and create a nice shared activity for parents and children.

In Summary

I truly believe gaming and game-based learning has a lot to offer our students. I hope this has provided an alternative perspective on gaming, and an insight into what our kids are learning through game-playing.

I would be interested in hearing how other educators have used gaming in their classrooms, and to what effect. Please share your expertise!

People to Watch

Tom Barrett‘s blog features a lot of great game-based learning information

James Paul Gee

Tim Rylandswebsite has writing samples and videos of work produced by students using Myst and other games.

Katie Salen

Further Reading

Background to Games Based Learning – Learning & Teaching Scotland

Using the Technology of Today, in the Classroom Today – the Education Arcade

Unlimited Learning – Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association

Photo Credits:

Mario – Nahuel31, Playstation – Flottenheimer, Parent & children with playstation – sean dreilinger, Myst image – ldrose,  Zoombinis image – matt.agnello, Images from games captured using Jing


Peace of Mind = $3.99

post-surgeryMy 2 year old son had an accident yesterday. He fell off his bike and split the bridge of his nose clean open. 8 stitches later, he is just fine, but as I’m sure you know, head wounds bleed pretty badly – so when my husband and our live-in nanny Raquel came in from the playground with Griffin covered in blood, there was a moment where time stood still.

I knew I had to keep everyone (including my four-year-old daughter) calm, and knew Griffin would need to go to A & E, but even so, I found myself dazed and forgetful. I went to the kitchen to get some ice, but once I got there, I forgot what it was I needed and had to retrace my steps. I couldn’t remember where I put the phone I was using only minutes earlier.

I guess I was in a bit of shock, which is probably understandable. My husband and Raquel had both done first aid training in the last 6 months, but they were equally dazed by the event. Luckily for us, we were able to get to a hospital quickly, and everything turned out fine, but it made me wonder – what if it were something more serious?

First aid & CPRThen, thanks to a tip off by @teachernz, I read this article, about a man trapped in the rubble of Haiti’s earthquake, who used information in an app called Pocket First Aid & CPR to help save his life. It seems to me, that $3.99 is a small price to pay for peace of mind, so I have downloaded the app (though if you want a free version, iFirst Aid Lite is another alternative).

Now I know that while my husband and I are at work, Raquel has access to our iPod Touch, which will have up-to-date information that will help ensure that even if she isn’t sure what to do in the event of an accident, she has a mobile device to get specific information and videos from, straight away. Pocket First Aid & CPR even has a space for medical profiles that you can fill in for each member of the family, with information such as blood type, allergies, birth date, insurance details and weight. How great is that?

Even in my dazed state, my iPhone was one item I did remember to bring with me to the emergency room, and it proved extremely handy. Griffin watched his favourite movie, Cars, which helped calm him down. When he was being stitched up, I was able to text message and/or email friends and family, to let them know what was going on.

So take my advice: keep your phones charged, and think about downloading a first aid app yourself!

Peace of Mind = $3.99

post-surgeryMy 2 year old son had an accident yesterday. He fell off his bike and split the bridge of his nose clean open. 8 stitches later, he is just fine, but as I’m sure you know, head wounds bleed pretty badly – so when my husband and our live-in nanny Raquel came in from the playground with Griffin covered in blood, there was a moment where time stood still.

I knew I had to keep everyone (including my four-year-old daughter) calm, and knew Griffin would need to go to A & E, but even so, I found myself dazed and forgetful. I went to the kitchen to get some ice, but once I got there, I forgot what it was I needed and had to retrace my steps. I couldn’t remember where I put the phone I was using only minutes earlier.

I guess I was in a bit of shock, which is probably understandable. My husband and Raquel had both done first aid training in the last 6 months, but they were equally dazed by the event. Luckily for us, we were able to get to a hospital quickly, and everything turned out fine, but it made me wonder – what if it were something more serious?

First aid & CPRThen, thanks to a tip off by @teachernz, I read this article, about a man trapped in the rubble of Haiti’s earthquake, who used information in an app called Pocket First Aid & CPR to help save his life. It seems to me, that $3.99 is a small price to pay for peace of mind, so I have downloaded the app (though if you want a free version, iFirst Aid Lite is another alternative).

Now I know that while my husband and I are at work, Raquel has access to our iPod Touch, which will have up-to-date information that will help ensure that even if she isn’t sure what to do in the event of an accident, she has a mobile device to get specific information and videos from, straight away. Pocket First Aid & CPR even has a space for medical profiles that you can fill in for each member of the family, with information such as blood type, allergies, birth date, insurance details and weight. How great is that?

Even in my dazed state, my iPhone was one item I did remember to bring with me to the emergency room, and it proved extremely handy. Griffin watched his favourite movie, Cars, which helped calm him down. When he was being stitched up, I was able to text message and/or email friends and family, to let them know what was going on.

So take my advice: keep your phones charged, and think about downloading a first aid app yourself!

iPhone/iPod Touch Wired Wednesday

As so many teachers came back from the Christmas holiday with a new iPhone/iPod Touch, I decided to make the first Wired Wednesday for 2010 focused on apps.

CIMG3025 (Medium)

We had a great turn out, and there was a real buzz in the lab as people talked over each other to share their favourite apps. I found it amusing that although we had a bunch of more than 10 educators, the apps that received the most attention were the games! Here are the apps that made the rounds…

Singapore

SG_Buses
SG BusesFree – All the info you need on the Singapore Bus System

Carpark_@_SG
Carpark @ SGFree – Find parking rates & parking locations in Singapore

Laylio
Laylio Free – an app which allows you to listen to Singapore radio stations (I love that the name of the app is how some people pronounce radio here!)

Travel

tripit
Trip it Free – Organize your flights and travel plans with this handy app.

Kids

tozzle
Tozzle $1.99 – An easy app which helps develop touchpad skills. My 2 year-old loves it. There’s also a free version – Tozzle Lite.

facegoo
Facegoo
$0.99 – Photo app that lets you manipulate photos in funny ways. There is also a free version available.

shapes
Toddler Teaser ShapesFree – Simple app which helps kids recognise shapes.

Build_a_Word
Build-a-Word$1.99 – For those fans of Word World, an app which gets children to grab letters to build words. There is also a lite version available.

Preschool_adventure
Preschool Adventure$0.99 – This is a good-value app for preschoolers. There are puzzles about numbers, colours, shapes, body, matching and sounds. A little something for everyone.

Games

Topple
Topple
Free – My 4-year-old’s favourite app of the moment. Stack the blocks and try not to let them topple over. See also Topple 2 Plus+ (free) and Topple 2 ($0.99).

NFSU
Need For Speed Undercover$4.99 – A car racing game that is apparently deserving of its price tag!

eggs_away
Eggs awayFree – Keep your egg balanced by tilting your device.

Trace
Trace Free – app where you have to get your little stick-figure person to the other side using gravity and any lines you make.

Bubblewrap
BubblewrapFree – Enjoy popping bubblewrap as a kid? Relive your childhood with this app!

Waterslide_extreme
Waterslide ExtremeFree – Slide down a giant waterslide in this addictive app.

Unblock_me_free
Unblock Me FreeFree – Slide the blocks of wood around to free the red block.

Cooking_dash
Cooking Dash$2.99 – Manage your restaurant by making sure people are at tables, have what they ordered etc. A Cooking Dash Lite version is available, and there also appear to be other in a similar theme: check out Dinner Dash and Wedding Dash, if you feel so inclined.

Cooking_mama_lite
Cooking Mama LiteFree – This app had us all in stitches. You cook different food, and literally do things like melt the butter in the frying pan or chop onions by moving your device around (as you would if you were cooking), to complete a meal.

Monkey_Swing
Monkey SwingFree – Swing from tree to tree to get your monkey through the jungle.

CIMG3026 (Medium)

CIMG3030 (Medium)

iPhone/iPod Touch Wired Wednesday

As so many teachers came back from the Christmas holiday with a new iPhone/iPod Touch, I decided to make the first Wired Wednesday for 2010 focused on apps.

CIMG3025 (Medium)

We had a great turn out, and there was a real buzz in the lab as people talked over each other to share their favourite apps. I found it amusing that although we had a bunch of more than 10 educators, the apps that received the most attention were the games! Here are the apps that made the rounds…

Singapore

SG_Buses
SG BusesFree – All the info you need on the Singapore Bus System

Carpark_@_SG
Carpark @ SGFree – Find parking rates & parking locations in Singapore

Laylio
Laylio Free – an app which allows you to listen to Singapore radio stations (I love that the name of the app is how some people pronounce radio here!)

Travel

tripit
Trip it Free – Organize your flights and travel plans with this handy app.

Kids

tozzle
Tozzle $1.99 – An easy app which helps develop touchpad skills. My 2 year-old loves it. There’s also a free version – Tozzle Lite.

facegoo
Facegoo
$0.99 – Photo app that lets you manipulate photos in funny ways. There is also a free version available.

shapes
Toddler Teaser ShapesFree – Simple app which helps kids recognise shapes.

Build_a_Word
Build-a-Word$1.99 – For those fans of Word World, an app which gets children to grab letters to build words. There is also a lite version available.

Preschool_adventure
Preschool Adventure$0.99 – This is a good-value app for preschoolers. There are puzzles about numbers, colours, shapes, body, matching and sounds. A little something for everyone.

Games

Topple
Topple
Free – My 4-year-old’s favourite app of the moment. Stack the blocks and try not to let them topple over. See also Topple 2 Plus+ (free) and Topple 2 ($0.99).

NFSU
Need For Speed Undercover$4.99 – A car racing game that is apparently deserving of its price tag!

eggs_away
Eggs awayFree – Keep your egg balanced by tilting your device.

Trace
Trace Free – app where you have to get your little stick-figure person to the other side using gravity and any lines you make.

Bubblewrap
BubblewrapFree – Enjoy popping bubblewrap as a kid? Relive your childhood with this app!

Waterslide_extreme
Waterslide ExtremeFree – Slide down a giant waterslide in this addictive app.

Unblock_me_free
Unblock Me FreeFree – Slide the blocks of wood around to free the red block.

Cooking_dash
Cooking Dash$2.99 – Manage your restaurant by making sure people are at tables, have what they ordered etc. A Cooking Dash Lite version is available, and there also appear to be other in a similar theme: check out Dinner Dash and Wedding Dash, if you feel so inclined.

Cooking_mama_lite
Cooking Mama LiteFree – This app had us all in stitches. You cook different food, and literally do things like melt the butter in the frying pan or chop onions by moving your device around (as you would if you were cooking), to complete a meal.

Monkey_Swing
Monkey SwingFree – Swing from tree to tree to get your monkey through the jungle.

CIMG3026 (Medium)

CIMG3030 (Medium)

Life in the ICT Lab: a Moshi Pit

monster_line_up

The kids in the lab have been mad-keen on Moshi Monsters lately. I can only describe the lab as a Moshi pit at break times!
[I am using Moshi Monsters as a stimulus for descriptive writing with our K2’s, so will blog about how that goes when I am finished.]

Moshi Monsters is a neat little game, really engaging, with a great variety of activities and things to do that can keep kids engaged for hours – literally!

I thought their interest would be a good opportunity to have a chat to them about the ways in which the website aims to hook them in, and get them to sign up as paid members.

At the end of last term, I called a Moshi Meeting for all those interested in playing Moshi Monsters in the lab. Turn-out was predictably high!

I got Moshi Monsters up on the IWB, and asked the assembled group two main questions.

1. How does the Moshi Monsters site try to encourage you to spend more time playing the game?

Spend_Rox

Here are some student responses:

They show you things you can buy with your Rox that are the level above you, so you want to increase your level to be able to buy those things.

They unlock different games when you increase your level.

In the beginning, you can increase your level really quickly, but then it slows down and it takes longer to increase the levels, meaning you have to stay on the computer longer.

They have messages when you walk down the street like, “I wish my owner would redecorate,” meaning you start thinking about improving your room and buying more things. To buy more things, you need more Rox, which means you have to stay on longer and earn them.

How does Moshi Monsters try to encourage you to become a paid member?

Moshi_Members

Here are some student responses:

You can see that there are other areas that you can access if you are a member.

You can do more things – you can send gift etc.

It allows you to choose your own house – you get more choices.

The vast majority of the kids had no idea they were being ‘encouraged’ to spend more time online, but once it was pointed out to them, they realized that they had choices to make, and that of course the website wanted to make it engaging for them to want to pay money for it.

The bottom line is that they became more informed consumers, and I’m pretty happy with that.

Images captured using Jing.

Technology in PYP Workshops? Absolutely!

iphone okWaaaay back in November I had the pleasure of joining the fabulous Paul Langtree to deliver a workshop on Collaborative Planning in the PYP at Seisen International School in Tokyo. I feel it was the best workshop I’ve done to date – the staff were fantastic, open-minded and enthusiastic, and Paul was so great to work with, I felt I had known him all my life!

I was determined to incorporate more technology in the planning and delivery of the workshop than the last PYP workshop I did. Since my conversion to the benefits of backchannel chats, I felt it would be a worthy endeavour!

Luckily for me, Paul was totally on board. Together we used Google Docs to share our resources  and create our workshop plan. We set up a very basic weebly for participants to use, which incorporated some of the videos we showed, and contained a wallwisher to replace the traditional burning questions chart. We set up several laptops for participants to use if they felt so inclined, but of course many of them brought their own. Phones were also welcome.

Highlights

  • Participants checking out the website of the author of an article we shared on their iPhones – they were totally on-task and used technology to further their understanding of the material covered, and learn more about the author.
  • The questions on the wallwisher were great – and many added them at home after the first session.
  • Participants accessing their planners using their laptops – this meant they could type straight onto their planners, avoiding the need for someone to type it up later.
  • It really felt as though the technology was invisible – it was just another tool for people to use if they wished, not a big deal that required a whole lot of explanation and preparation.

Next Steps

  • I’m not sure if the PYP workshop is the best forum for a backchannel chat (as engaging participants in face-to-face conversation is one of the main aims), but I haven’t ruled it out by any means. I have a workshop coming up in February, so it will give me an opportunity to explore some more options.

Photo Credit: Mastrobiggo