To Game or Not to Game in Education

In my master’s course, our last assignment was to play a game for three hours.  We were to play Kingdom Rush.  I did not jump right into the game, I took 2 minutes to watch the trailer first.  I probably should have read some instructions, but like I believe most students would do, I just started playing.  I got stuck on level 3 and continued to play it over and over without ever moving beyond the level.  After the first two failed attempts at level 3, I found myself checking my texts and fighting the urge to switch the screen over to my e-mail.  I could not see the value of continuing with this game.  It was not going to make me better in any way, it was going to waste my time to go look up information on how to pass this level when I had so many other things I SHOULD be doing.

When my three hours were over I was thrilled.  The entire time I was playing the game I was thinking about all the things I should be doing.  Needless to say, I did not reach a state of FLOW.  FLOW is complete happiness to the point of losing sense of time because you are so consumed with the task at hand. I believe I did not reach this is because I use games to relax.  I need to be ‘on’ all day in my job and it is mentally exhausting.  When I play a game or read a book for pleasure, I do not want to think strategy, I just want to use it to take my mind off everything else for awhile.

There are digital assignments that would result in me going through the stages of FLOW.  If I had been asked to read about gaming and the benefits or effects on students, I may have reached every level.  If I had been asked to use a technology that I could see myself using in the future such as doing video creation, I could see myself doing that for hours beyond what I needed to do to complete the assignment because I was in a state of FLOW.

We were also asked to read the stages of what makes a good game.  I actually think this game does all of these things.  The only piece I think could be improved is the feedback.  Sometimes I would upgrade and I wasn’t really sure what to do with the items.  Of course I could have gone and looked up the information, but I just did not care enough to do it.  So, this game covered most of the items that make something a good game so why did I not reach flow?  Because I just didn’t care if I moved on or not.  If it had been a game of real estate investment and I was competing against others for properties and having to pay taxes etc, I would have been very motivated to do well because I love learning about real estate so that would be a fun game to me.  For some people, it needs to be a topic of interest.

After all this reflecting it hit me.  I was having the same reaction to this game that some of my children have to their homework.  They cannot see the value of investing the time into learning a challenging math problem.  In English, they tend to write sloppy and do not check their spelling because they would rather go play a video game or go play with friends.  When the challenging math problem is presented they read it quickly and then declare they do not get it.  They take no time to think through the problem or attempt to solve it, it is the immediate response given when they are forced to think through the problem.  I was opposite of this in school.  I always wanted to make sure I knew every step of the problem.  I wanted to know why and how.  This intense studying I went through was not always because I could relate the content to real life, it was because I was motivated by the grading game.  I needed an A and nothing else would do.  I saw a purpose in this A.  It was going to get me scholarships, college acceptance, more job opportunities and so on.  As an adult taking a class, I still want the A but I now value the experience and content application in a way I never did before.  By content application I mean that I take whatever we are learning and try to apply it to my job or my life on my own instead of waiting for the teacher to do it for me.  I want to understand why and how for reasons other than getting an A.  If only every student could be in the workforce for awhile before going to college.  I think they would look at their college experience in an entirely different way.  I compared myself to my children during this process.  I am completely opposite of my son, the only one of my children who games on a consistent basis.  Give my son a video game and he will take the time to do all kinds of strategizing.  He has now played Kingdom Rush more than I have and he is playing it for pleasure (and he has passed level 3).  He is thinking critically about where to place the towers and how to beat the bad guys so it has been a great experience for him.  My concern is, can he control the amount of time he needs to be in a state of FLOW.  When we were at a family gathering the other day he wanted to leave so he could play the game which just made me sad.  He did not ask if we could play a bored game or do something together while we were all there as a family.  While games are a good learning tool, they are also addictive.

When I think of gaming in the classroom, I believe it is a great option for some, but it is not the right choice for every student.  Some students will have a hard time seeing the point of the game and therefore not give forth much effort.  Even if there are questions or assignments built around the game, I think some students will have trouble making the connection.  I believe gaming could be considered one of today’s learning styles, but as with all learning styles, it not a one size fits all.  My son would love learning from a game in the classroom.  His homework would suddenly become fun.

What digital experience have you had that has resulted in you being in a state of FLOW?  Ask your students if there are games they play or something they do online that causes them to lose all track of time.  Their answers may be inspiration to create a new assignment!


Bringing Students Together in the 21st Century

On Tuesday, October 13th Jared Colley and Joel Garza presented their idea for an interactive and engaging assignment in English that resulted in a new community of students.   The original idea was to host a conference for students to share their work with students from different schools.   This would give them a real audience to deliver the information to and receive feedback from.  After a lot of back and forth, they ended up with a digital solution for the 21st century students.

After their e-mail exchanges, they decided to have all the students read the same texts and communicate with each other through media.  They would ask each other questions, present their ideas and critique each other’s work.   The classes started by communicating through MP3 files but they discovered they did not want to wait so long to hear from one another, and the blog site was born.  The blog site allowed the instructors to post helpful information and pose questions to students in other schools instantly.  What eventually happened is the students took over the blog modeling the instructor behavior.  The results were fantastic.  Students loved having a live audience.  They challenged each other, encouraged each other and felt great pride when students in one of the other schools gave them compliments.  A sports analogy made during the presentation may help to convey this.  In sports, the game allows the players to meet with athletes from other schools to display their talents and recognize their weaknesses.  The collaboration in the English classroom let this same process happen.

In addition to the benefits this experience provided the students, the teachers also made their own discoveries.  The communication among the teachers lead to a much more insightful call for papers than any one of them would have come up with on their own.  They pushed themselves to learn new technologies that today’s students are interested in and some students currently use.  Using these technologies resulted in lessons on digital literacy which is so important for students.  The teachers were also pushed to work through the different anxieties they felt about using technology, comparing their teaching abilities to others, having their students share their work with the world and once they worked through all of this, great things happened.

These types of assignments give students the opportunity to build a network outside of their classroom.  They are challenged in new and exciting ways that fit into their lifestyle.  They are forced to think about digital literacy along during the assignment which they may not have otherwise gotten from the course.  Collaboration and communication like this should not be limited to the English classroom.  During the presentation, teachers were chatting about how to get started.  What ideas do you have?  I posted a couple of links below that I think are a great place to start.

Skype other classrooms:

Blog other classrooms:

Speak with others in a different language:

Making thoughts a reality, 3D printing

The other day, I received an e-mail from my husband.  E-mail seems to be our main form of communication these days.  This particular e-mail was different from our typical conversations which revolve around our children’s schedules.  In the e-mail, my husband suggested we buy a 3D printer for our children.  I knew immediately that he had not researched the costs involved in purchasing the printer and ink.  Although it is not in our budget to purchase a 3D printer, it did inspire me to read about the benefits of this hefty investment for children.  But first, what is a 3D printer?  A 3D printer allows you to build an idea as an image and then print it as a 3D object.  I have never done it, but my daughter and son created plastic animals while we were vacationing in Chicago.  Pretty cool!

Typically I would continue this blog entry with a story about one of the instructors I work with, however, I am deviating from this because I do not know any instructors who have access to a 3D printer.

In my search for information on 3D printers in education, I came across 3D Printing Systems’ site.  This site is trying to sell a product, however, I found some of the information to be very interesting.  3D printers are more than just cool, they are educational.  I perked up at this comment, “3D printing gives students the unlimited ability to design, test and engineer with hands on exposure to additive manufacturing and gives them an advantage at the dawn of the next revolution in digital manufacturing. Nearly every subject has a potential engagement.”  Think, teachers of multiple different disciplines could build an ongoing project with students around this one piece of equipment.  Students may have to build different parts to a car or to a human body or to a house or… The possibilities are endless.  They would have to use critical thinking skills, math, engineering, biology (when building a body) and more.  I think students would love this and would be so engaged that it wouldn’t feel like work to them.

The Educational and Mobile Learning site lists these benefits:

  • It provides teachers with 3 dimensional visual aids that they can use in their classroom particularly in illustrating a hard to grasp concept
  • 3D printers make it easy for teachers to seize the interest of their students compared to just showing the pictorial representations of objects.
  • It enhances hands-on learning and learning by doing. Using this prototyping  technology, students will be able to produce realistic 3 dimensional mini-models . ( great for engineering, architecture, and multi-media arts students ).
  • It provides more room for interactive class activities. In biology, for instance, teachers can create a 3D model of the human heart, head. skeleten…etc to teach students about the human body.

It is hard to find a down side to using these in the classroom.  On the TechRebulic Trudi Lawless shares her experiences with 3D printers in the classroom.  She is a huge fan, her students love it but she did point out two drawbacks.  The first drawback is the speed. 3D printers are slow, especially if you are teaching in a classroom full of young minds.  The second concern was my first concern when I received the e-mail from my husband, the cost.  The printer itself carries a hefty price tag, but the ongoing cost of the ink needs to be taken into consideration too.

How are you using a 3D printer in your classroom?  Please share your experiences with us.  For those who are looking to add a 3D printer to the classroom, or for those parents who want to advocate for it, what suggestions do you have for funding?