Learning By Playing: Video Games in the Classroom

Sara Corbett, author of the article Learning By Playing: Video Games in the Classroom, explores a middle school classroom in New York City that dives into learning through a different approach than in your average classroom setting. Corbett describes the classroom as nothing but ordinary, however the lessons taught inside the classroom are nothing but unique. Al Doyle teaches within this classroom and has taught for over 32 years in Manhattan, mainly in art and computer graphics. Doyle currently teaches in a school called Quest to Learn that focuses on Sport for the Mind. Students attended this class three times a week and focuses on new media literacies, multimodal and multicultural. In other words Corbett says this is really just a class in technology and game design.

Students learn lessons on enemy movement and the students must observe how the robots in the game move around. After this observation the students are to draw on graph paper a chart of patterns that they have observed within the game. After observing one another’s charts, they would then create their own games. Other lessons in the classroom involved Doyle presenting a video game screen on the white board where the 6th graders would gather in front of it explaining to Doyle the moves he would have to make in order to get through the maze without dying. The students would have to work with one another as a team to get past the robots and to obtain reward points. The entire class is involved in the game together and the focus of the students was extremely engaging as they led Doyle through the maze.

One of Doyle’s students that was extremely engaged gave him advice regarding points and the amount of time he had to get the points. The student suggested that it was not enough points for the cost of time it took to get them. The student offered Doyle another strategy and took his advice when continuing the game. Doyle explained to the student that it was hard for him to pay attention to the time because he did not grow up with these games. As Doyle continued to the play the game and the students cheered and awed with every turn of the character Doyle played, he won with two seconds left. After observing this game play, the author asks, so does this actually teach anything? What have the students learned?

Corbett explains that giving up traditional learning techniques would be extremely radical, however it may be worth it. Especially in an era where children are so digitally savvy and everything is downloadable. Katie Salen, a game designer believes that connecting students to school and the world outside of school can be shown through games. Video games are seen as powerful tools of exploration and because of their speed and capability, students are able to learn more. Because of this these games are central to the education of students. The MacArthur Foundation has given $50 million dollars towards digital media and learning in hopes that similar results will come from Salen’s Quest to Learn school.

The New York City School is somewhat of an experiment to see if technology in schools should serve as a model for new schools being built. By using technology methods in schools, many believe that students will be prepared for the real world in a way that can only happen through the engaging world of digital media and technology, specifically game usage. The students are chosen by lottery to attend the new found school. The school operates on a public school budget, however the MacArthur Foundation keeps the school going with new technology. The school is intensely observed and the students are carefully watched in order to gage the strength and progression of the school.

Salen represents a large group of educators that believe that going to school should be similar to playing a game where students are engaged and motivated in a competitive environment to learn and grow. The students are not given grades, but are given levels of expertise such as pre-novice, novice, apprentice, senior, master. They face challenges on a daily basis that are overcome by working with one another in a group setting. I find this extremely interesting and would love to attend  this school. I wish this type of learning was around when i was in middle school and high school. The students solve problems with the teach offering guidance, but less than traditional instruction.

Each problem has been specifically designed to teach the student a certain lesson, however the student learns the lesson more so on their own rather than the teacher feeding the student information. By working with one another, the students overcome the challenges presented to them. There are many assignments that are traditional, however many assignment involve blogging, video game design, film and podcasts, including playing actual video games of course. A lot of time is spent by students creating games, specifically board games and computer games. Salen believes that building a game is like building a mini world with obstacles, rules and goals. Because of this the game built involves many skills such as math, writing, art, computer programming, deductive reasoning and critical thinking. I agree with this idea because i believe that when a student builds something it takes multiple areas of skills to ensure the game plays out correctly.

This leads us to ask, what types of skills are needed in the everyday world beyond the classroom? Does this type of learning through the Quest to Learn school give students an advantage after they have graduated and are in the working world? Are students more competitive and how do they view new challenges that are brought to their attention? Although this has continued to be an experiment in education, i definitely see this as a step towards broadening education for students. This type of learning will be a way to motivate and engage students in a way that students do not forget what they have learned because of their devotion to the game setting within school.

The article can be found here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/19/magazine/19video-t.html?pagewanted=all

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