Is playing games a waste of time?

It seems like every week I get fixated on some topic and it seems to pop up everywhere.  This week it was games.  It started on Tuesday when our staff was having a math lunch.  We try and meet once every month or two and watch some of the Math Makes Sense Video series and have math related discussions.  This week our discussion centered around the role of games in math and the games that were available at the back of the Math Makes Sense Pro Guide.  Teachers would like to use them, see value in using them, but were lacking the time to make them.  We came up with a couple of possible solutions for that problem…but my thinking stayed with the topic of games.

In our division our filtering system tags anything to do with games and gaming and blocks it from our use.  I have been frustrated by this the odd time when I am trying to find a quick little game that might add to the program of one of my learning support students.  There is always the constant debate about whether playing games at school is valuable use of time.  I guess it depends on how you define game playing and what skills you think children can get out of playing games.

I was reading a paper on digital learning and media this week published by Henry Jenkins, the director of the Comparative Media Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and others.  It is called, “Confronting Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century”.  The paper described what they thought were the 11 skills one needed to have to participate within the new media culture, a “participatory culture”, they called it.  It was aimed at education and gave many valuable ideas about projects and activities that fit with each skill area.  One of the core media literacy skills discussed was play.

I really never thought of play being a media literacy skill.  It has long been proven that play is important for children and it helps them figure out their bodies, worlds, social systems, etc.  My idea of  play seems to start with playing house or playing cars, not really playing video games.  Can children learn valuable skills from playing video games?

One of the reasons that children learn from play is because games set them up  to take risks and role play in situations that do not have real life consequences.  They can take chances and still turn around and fix their mistakes or they have the option to start over.  I think one could still argue whether that was good or bad.  Could this teach children to ignore real life consequences? What happens when there is no starting over?

I am not a fan of video games, mainly because I am not very good at them and sometimes I cannot tolerate the movement within the game due  to motion sickness. I have trouble watching my son play when he wants to show me something he thinks is sweet.   I do observe lots of gaming going on in my household though… from afar.   The author of this paper would argue, “Games follow something akin to the scientific process.  Player are asked to make their own discoveries and then apply what they learn to new contexts.  No sooner does a player enter a game than he or she begins by identifying core conditions and looking for problems that must be addressed.” If this is the case, then maybe video games do play a valuable role.

According to Don Tapscott ,in his book, “Grown-up digital”, I am slugging through right now,  ” A recent nationwide survey of 2500 U.S. business professionals  searched for differences between those who grew up playing video games and those who did not.  Professionals who grew up playing video games were more serious about achievement, more loyal to their company and their coworkers, more flexible and persistent problem-solvers, and more willing to take on the risks that make sense…net geners have a desire to win collaboratively…” (p. 171)  Once again, it would seem that these would be worthwhile skills for children to learn.

He goes on to say, “To be a guild master in a game like World of  Warcraft, you need to be able to create a vision, find recruits and give them a platform on which to learn, and orchestrate the groups strategy.  To me [Don Tapscott], it sounds a lot like the skills a corporate executive needs, doesn’t it?” To me it sounded a lot like what a teacher must do every day.  We need to create a plan as to what learning outcomes we are targeting, get the students involved, decide what strategies we are going to use and pull it all together.  These sound like skills that could be related to a number of different situations. Come to think of it…perhaps I should of played more video games!

Well, if you look at it like that, it does seem that game playing in school might be valuable.  Now, I am not saying we should plug them in and let them play video games all day, even though some of them would be pretty keen on that.  I just wonder if we are losing some of the value  to be gained from finding a place for games in education such as  the engagement factor, the need for  collaboration and the thinking involved in some gaming situations.  As a learning support teacher, I can’t argue the engagement level of my students goes up when I say we are going to grab a laptop and add to our learning by playing a little game.  Even drill and practice games can be valuable and engaging to students.

The funny thing is… that was not the last thing about games that came my way this week.  When visiting an interesting blog site called PrincipalsPage. Very funny writer!  I linked to a video on the importance of play for adults.  Now I know that I am jumbling together a bunch of  different, unrelated ideas about play. I have jumped  from childhood play, to math games ,to video games and adult play, but I guess my point is…play is important-and should not automatically be dismissed as a waste of time or a dangerous activity .  Even video games in some format can play a role in the school day.

Of course I see the importance of all kinds of play, in school and out.  Just like everything else in school, it has to be done with purpose and reason.

Catch you on the playing field!

Educational gaming…a hot educational topic?

If I thought my brain was exploding before, it certainly is now.  I was unable to make a connection on Tuesday night to Elluminate and so I had to listen to the recorded version this morning.  Sylvia Martinez certainly gave me some food for thought.  I am not a gamer!  I really have a strong feeling of negativity when it comes to video games and me playing them.  I am surrounded by gamers in my family and I know that my students are avid gamers.  I do support gaming as an activity for other people.  When my 11 year old son asks me to watch him do something cool on a video game, I can even get feeling nauseous from the fast action-Good grief!

I am not sure that I have noticed the “hot” debate about video games, mainly because my mind has been occupied with other educational debates.  When I stopped to think about it, I realized that there is a debate out there.  I had a couple of thoughts on why we are having the debate.

1. We cannot deny the movement and the necessity of 21 century learning and engaging children in their learning by giving students what they need and want. I happened to come across a very interesting video at google videos this morning, School Matters: The Games Children Play, that I attempted to include in this post  without any luck, so a link will have to do.  It made a lot of the same points as Sylvia Martinez presented to ECI831, with some other issues added on.  Dr. Henry Jenkins, Director of Comparitive Media Studies at MIT, said the following:

“If you ask a child what is bad about a video game, they will reply, ‘when it is too easy’. If you ask a child what is bad about an assignment, they will reply, “when is it too hard.”  Dr. Jenkins felt that this summed up a fundamental problem with our teaching strategies and felt, as Sylvia Martinez did, that we need to try harder to link video game attributes to things that students are doing in the classroom.

2.  Many teachers and parents do not see the educational value to gaming in school. Sylvia Martinez brought up an interesting point when she said, just because something is labeled ‘educational’ doesn’t mean that it is.  Of  course we all know we can’t believe everything that we read, but do we really stop and think about what we are actually trying to achieve with our “teaching” activities?  I think parents and teachers can be lulled into thinking that we are spending “useful” time if something is labeled “educational”.  The other side of that, I guess is, does everything we are doing have to be educational?  Again it comes back to our definition of education and what we are trying to achieve. We need to be a lot more aware of what the game “says” it does and what we are actually hoping to achieve by having our students play the game.

3.  There seems to be a lot of media hype on the issue of violence in video games and what effect that has on young children.  Of course there are two sides to this debate as well, but the connection does not help when it comes to educating parents on the benefits of the use games in school other than the “educationally” labeled games.

4. The link between the amount of time children spend on playing video games/social media networks and childhood obesity is another topic of debate.  You do not have to look far to see many headlines on this topic. Video games and other sedentary activities get an automatic bad rap.  Schools are under pressure to add in more physical education and get those kids moving and this can help create a negative attitude toward using video games at school.

5. There is a debate about the rise of video games causing the death of reading, and reading is one of the number one factors that is linked to student success. According to James Gee, Professor of Education at the University of Wisconson, also seen the the video, “School Matters: The Games Children Play”  …video gaming and other social media activities actually cause students to do more reading and writing  than ever before, it is just the modes have changed and are not looking the same as our traditional ideas of what constitutes reading and writing.

I had never really thought about the creating side of games before, mainly because I am not a game player and not hugely comfortable with activities that I perceive require huge amounts of technical ability.  I checked out the Scratch game creating site and even though I did not have much time to spend there, I realized, once again, that there are so many tools available that I am not taking advantage of.  It  is funny how everything starts to connect-we are moving toward student controlled learning and it makes sense that designing games puts the learner in charge.

One thing is for sure, the debate will probably continue.  Schools need to work hard to educate parents on gaming by putting forth positive examples.  It meshes so well with all the other changes and debates that are going on right now, that we have a great opportunity to be proactive in squashing some of the negative hype.  Catch you on the back channel.