Game time: a school’s video game-based curriculum is blurring the line between work and play

Imagine walking into second-period math and instead of being handed a work sheet of pre-algebra problems, you’re told to fight a spiky-headed robot and rescue aliens. You might think you’ve stepped into some kind of alternate universe! But for sixth and seventh graders at the Quest to Learn school in New York City, that is just an average day in class. There, teachers are using video games to teach lessons during English, math, science, and social studies courses.

The founders of Quest to Learn say that video games allow kids to learn in an interactive and hands-on way. Plus, they say, video games improve critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. Those are skills students need to master in order to succeed in a career after graduation.

Others, however, think kids should be cracking open books in class, not playing video games, even if the games are education based. They argue that research links increased video game use to poor grades and being overweight. They also say that games can encourage aggressive behavior.

Should video games be a part of the classroom? Current Events student reporters Meriem Djelmami-Hani and Logan Gegg each played out a side.

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PLAY ON

Having a video game-based school system is a good idea because it gives students something to look forward to in school.

A lot of kids talk about video games all the time but not as often about homework. If they had a video game-based curriculum, students would enjoy school more than they do now under the traditional education system. Eli Tallman, a 14-year old from Altamont, Kan., agrees. “Some kids get into video games better than a book,” Eli says. “It could be optional, of course.”

Video games could show students needed information, which is better than having a book that just tells information. In addition, playing video games could shoot students’ grades through the roof because students would enjoy their assignments more.

Using video games in the classroom could also help students improve problem-solving skills because students have to learn to overcome obstacles to beat a game.

Finally, if teachers showed students how to build video games, those students would learn teamwork skills. For example, one student could work on the script while another student works on the graphics.

Then the two students could bring their portions of the project together and give each other advice on how to improve.

LOG OFF

Video games are not appropriate in schools. First and foremost, students learn only a small amount of useful knowledge by playing video games. Even if there were an educational component to a game, students would skip it or answer the questions arbitrarily just to reach the fun portion. There are plenty of other fun activities students can do that would be more productive and educationally enriching.

In addition, playing video games in school would harm students both physically and socially. For example, kids’ eyes would be fixed to monitors, which is unhealthy. Playing video games too much has also been linked to obesity because gaming can mean less time for physical activity. Socially, students wouldn’t be interacting as much with their peers, so they would not learn important communication skills.

Brett Bowers, principal of Homestead High School in Mequon, Wis., agrees. Video games in class “would be a distraction, and students would be lacking a balance in their educational environment,” Bowers says.

Furthermore, using video games in school encourages the use of video games at home, so students could become addicted to video games through school. Instead, schools should teach the power of knowledge. Then students will be self-motivated to achieve academic success, and teachers will not need to incorporate video games in their curricula.

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Get Talking

Ask students: How might video games help people learn? How might video games interfere with learning?

Notes Behind the News

* Quest to Learn’s approach was created by Katie Salen, a professional game designer, a professor of design and technology at Parsons the New School for Design, and the director of the Institute of Play, an organization that studies how games and learning are connected. In creating Quest to Learn, she worked with Robert Torres, a learning scientist and a former school principal, as well as with curriculum and game designers.

* Quest to Learn is in its second year. It is currently a school for grades 6 and 7, but the plan is to add a grade level each year until it comprises grades 6 through 12.

* More and more schools are integrating learning and technology in a variety of ways:

* At Seward Montessori School in Minneapolis, teacher Brock Dubbels has used a Sonic the Hedgehog video game with eighth-grade students to help them understand Odysseus’s journey in The Odyssey.

* At the Cincinnati Country Day School, teacher Jeremiah McCall has used the strategy game Rome: Total War, in which players pretend to be ancient generals. Students compare and contrast the game’s description of a war with historical accounts. Then students design their own battle games.

* At Conlee Elementary School in Las Cruces, N.M., students do five minutes of the Wii game Just Dance at the start of every school day.

Doing More

Divide students into groups. Have each group of students choose one thing they’ve studied (for example, a novel they’ve read in English, a scientific process they’ve investigated, or a war they’ve learned about). Each group should design a game that would help other students understand that book, process, or historic event. Students don’t have to create the actual game, but they should write a description of how it would work, what it would teach, and how the game would differ from a more traditional approach to learning.

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