Game On!

I have been spending some vacation time with my teenage nephews, one age 14, and one age 11. A lot of our conversations have revolved around gaming. We talk about games around the lunch table and play them on different devices throughout our day. Waiting for tables at restaurants or spending some drive time in the car has allowed a few gaming challenges. We’ve played on cell phones, iPads, game consoles and in the game arcades downtown. When they are in gaming mode, concentration is high and persistence counts.

I am continually amazed by their vast knowledge of game mechanics and game strategies. I have learned a few things about game design from the 14 year old. He can give me good arguments about why a game designer chooses to include certain elements and has well thought out suggestions for a next generation version. He is passionate about gameplay. He is not as passionate about school. Our conversations around school experiences are very different. When I asked him what he was interested in learning, he had many answers. When I asked him what he was interested in learning at school, he said, “not much.” Ouch! His school experience is very traditional with little innovation or technology happening in the classroom. His high school has recently gone 1-to-1 with iPads, but there are teachers who ask students to put them in large plastic bins when they enter the classroom because they don’t want the students distracted by games. Double ouch!

This year’s major topic at ISTE was gaming. Many people are looking at ways to apply gaming to classroom curriculum and employ game mechanics in learning. My nephew thought this was a great idea but didn’t see it happening. He’s right. The conversation is just beginning and technology is still slowly leaking into school districts. However, we must do a better job of training and setting the stage for our teachers to use the tools that they are being given. School districts who take time to establish the value of technology and allow teachers to explore and collaborate on new learning strategies are the ones that will move their staff and students forward into these new frontiers.

I believe that we are just beginning to see the possibilities for gaming in classrooms. However, we must be clear in our direction and establish how we can best utilize game mechanics to support and engage students. Most of all, we must educate and help all teachers understand the value of the experience and teach them how to apply it to their own curriculum design. Handing a student an iPad and then asking them to put it in a plastic bin during class time is a tragedy.

I’m not sure how many ways gaming will play into our learning innovations. I just know that for the last week, I learned, discussed, and bonded with my nephews through Skyrim, Skee Ball, and Angry Birds. It’s been a great week!

cross-posted at Innovate, Create, Educate

Kami Thordarson is a graduate of the 2011 MERIT program through the Krause Center for Innovation and has led classes on project-based learning, digital storytelling, and design thinking. She is the Innovative Strategies Coach for the Los Altos School District. Read more at Innovate, Create, Educate.