Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Week 2: Should Students Play Games In School?

Video games are a part of our children's lives whether we'd like them to be or not.  As a mom, I fought off the "demand" (by commercials, culture) to get a video game player to have in our home, but eventually acquiesced, much to children's happiness (not without rigid rules, though!).  As my children progressed through school, that video game player wasn't the only place where my kids played games- they also played them on the computer, because they were playing educational games for practice of their academic subjects.  Never would I be able to entice them to practice math riddles or science quests as much as those games.  They loved playing them, and they were all the better for it.

As a teacher, I also see the value in using software to play games.  There is definitely a time and place for those instructional games, but they definitely can and do get kids excited about exploring a topic for the first time or honing their skills.  In my physics class, we played all kinds of games.  Of course, this was a driven group to begin with, so they loved the challenges of the games that were mostly produced by universities, such as the University of Colorado Physics Department.  Great games they had, including being able to shoot a Buick from a cannon, after calculating how high and at what force you would have to use to hit a certain distance.  When we were studying electromagnetism they could position positive and negative particles on a board to try to move a particle into a "goal".  They would race to see who could move the particle the fastest to the goal.  Yes, we had lab exercises where they practiced some of these principles in real life, but nothing like what was available to them via software.   In my Earth Science class, students would love to team up and play a "Jeopardy" game to review a topic.   We could also use software that had been developed to simulate the viscosity of lava depending on characteristics such as water content, silica content, etc., and they could create Hawaii-like "gentle" volcanoes or super explosive ones like Mt. St. Helen's.   These games would capture the interest of almost all my students.

  I would go as far as to say that maybe the naysayers about software games in class are those who are not yet comfortable using a computer, or don't have much experience.  Of course the software has to be evaluated as to its effectiveness, just like any other teaching strategy, and it does not take the place of the teacher who facilitates learning.  That goes without saying.

I can't imagine a classroom without incorporating some of the most effective ways to catch a kid's attention in today's world.  Software games are here to stay and we should take advantage of what we can.

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