Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Critical thinking, learning, and video games

As this school year approaches, I'm trying to figure out innovative, fun, and exciting ways for the kids in the After-School Academy to develop their critical thinking, vocabulary, and reading skills.

Today I came across a brainstorm: video/computer games.

I have never been a fan of drilling kids inside and outside of school so that they could pass the statewide exam nor am I a big fan of kids sitting in front of an X Box 360 (or whatever the latest one is).

However, I believe learning is much bigger than menial, rote learning. Because of this belief, I have turned down grants that offered us TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) tutoring software and, instead, opted to purchase my own reasonably priced educational software that focused on a variety of math, reading, writing, and even music skills.

Despite my attempt to think outside of the box, I noticed that the kids still were easily bored with the games and, instead of actually taking the time to figure out math problems that flashed on the screen, they simply shot the targets and maneuvered the game until it gave a "Correct!" answer and moved them on to the next level.

A new revelation occured to me yesterday after reading an article in Ode magazine (Sept. 2006). In his article, Visscher accurately notes:

Computer games have already become part of the lesson plans in some schools. But these are usually simple games for elementary-school children. They use bright colours and amusing sounds to make math or spelling "fun." But these only take the edge off the age-old practise of rote learning. This is not the type of game-based education Bushnell and Prensky advocate.
The educational games I have been buying do not inspire creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving. They do not generate conversation. They are more of the same rote learning tools that I rail against!

David McDivitt, a history teacher, uses the game Making History in his classroom. His research shows that the students who didn't read textbooks or attend classes but played and discussed Making History learned more about WW II than students in other classes. His students talk about the game outside of the classroom. He overheard a kid once saying, "Hey dude, you weren't supposed to invade my country, we had a defence agreement!" How often do you hear discussions about the politics of leadership after reading a textbook chapter??

DeKanter, co-founder of a software company, agrees:
...in today's world, data is available anywhere on the Internet. What's more important now than learning names and data are the skills to analyze that data and to apply inforamtion to gain insight and make decisions.

I'm afraid that the way we are teaching, especially in the inner cities, is preparing our kids for low-level, menial jobs. We say we want them to succeed. We say we want them to have the same opportunities as other kids. If we truly mean that, then we have to prepare them to be able to compete in our global society. Check back in the next couple of days for a video that explains why this is so critical.

If you're interested in looking into some of the games they recommend, see below. Some are free online and some cost:
Myst: Take a journey of discovery through the exotic island of Myst to solve an ancient family drama. www.mystworlds.com
SimCity: Ever wanted to build your own metropolis? Become the mayor of SimCity! www.simcity.com
Civilization: Create an entire civilization while learning history. www.civ3.com
Food Force: Help millions of starving inhabitants on the fictitious island of Sheylan. Developed by the United Nations World Food Programme. www.food-force.com
The Sims: Control the lives of virtual characters while learning about real life. This is the best-selling game worldwide. www.thesims.com
Making History: Put yoruself in the shoes of European governement leaders during WW II. www.making-history.com
Darfur is Dying: Discover how the Sudanese refugees in Darfur live and the difficulties they face. A co-operative venture initiated by MTV. www.darfurisdying.com
Re-Mission: Roxxi the mini-robot helps you destroy cancer cells on your way to better health. www.re-mission.net
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