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In defense of gaming – or something like it – in the classroom

Submitted by on Wednesday, 23 February 2011 No Comment

Why is it that Boots can “die” endlessly on Mario and still go back for more, yet he used to get frustrated to near tears if he wasn’t the first to answer a question in class?

And how is it that Big Guy can flail on the floor in agony if he misses a spelling word while studying them at home but he’ll keep trying to build cars in Lego Batman?

A teacher in Philadelphia thinks, based on what she’s seeing in her classroom, that it’s because of the nonjudgmental nature of games.

“Watching my students play games I notice that they easily just click ‘retry’ or ‘new game’ or ‘start over’ and keep trying until they master whatever skill that game’s level requires,” she wrote on her blog. “They don’t worry about making mistakes because they know they will get another chance. They learn more and more each time they have to do a level or game task over.”

While I would dispute the last – even Boots has figured out that if dies often enough on one Mario game, Luigi will come along to show him how to finish the level – the rest of the statement is spot on.

If you fall into a stream of angry trouters in Mario world, they eat you and you try again. If the teacher picks someone else’s waving hand before yours, you’ve “lost.” Not that you’ve really “lost” anything, but for a human being hard wired for competition, it’s a loss nonetheless.

If Joker gets you in Batman, your Lego self falls apart. If you miss a spelling word, there’s an actual human being pointing out the goof. No matter how kindly the human being points it out, there’s still ego at stake.

There’s more than that to the teacher’s ideas about gaming-classroom connections and how they can be applied at school. She’s working to incorporate gaming-like aspects into her classroom even absent actual gaming.

And she’s on the right track in examining the appeal of gaming to children. I, too, am slowly realizing that it’s about more than flashing  images and music.

No, I don’t think gaming is the be all and end all – in fact, there’s no evidence that games, in isolation, can teach us anything.

But, yes, we do use gaming for homework. Ironically, we use it most often when the work in question is pure drudgery that has to be done – learning multiplication tables, for example. Big Guy will practice cheerfully for a half hour when it’s online. I can tell you he’d lose patience with flashcards in only a fraction of that time.

He doesn’t even mind if he gets one wrong in the game. With spelling, on the other hand, a missed word always requires a face-saving tantrum about how stupid the work is.

Copyright 2011 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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