5 Things Kids Can Learn from Video Games

So I recently read Alice Keeler’s post on 5 Things Teachers Can Learn From Video Games. I come down on the pro-gaming side, and have since the days of Bubble Bobble on the original NES. So if your kids are into video games, do not distress. They might be learning.

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Video games can help your kid with decision-making. Specifically, budgetary ones. Many video games have their own economies, where you can pay for better gear or more lives or whatever. You often have to earn money of some kind and save up. Sometimes you have to make decisions because you can only hold or afford so much in game. And I would rather practice make the wrong choice about what to spend my money on in a video game than in real life.

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Not every video game economy is equally imaginary.

Video games can help kids make friends and build social skills.
Video games can help us learn to be patient, persistent, and face up to challenges. They can help us learn to handle frustration and disappointment. Plus, they are a common hobby these days, and even though kids aren’t supposed to play them at school, it doesn’t stop a lot of cafeteria conversations revolving around them. And often communities are built around video games, whether in or outside of the game itself. I for one participate on Nintendo’s Miiverse; it’s a good place to ask for help if you’re stuck on something in a game, or just journal or comment on your gaming experience. In fact, the most polite argument I think I’ve ever been in during all my years on the Internet was on Miiverse.

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Taking turns! Sharing! Yay!

 

Video games can make your brain do work. Problem-solving is an important part of many video games. Often you have to come at a challenge from new and different directions. That’s learning in progress. They get immediate feedback from the game to tell whether or not their ideas work, and they can learn from it and try again until they succeed. (With breaks if needed, of course.)

Video games can also be an outlet for creative expression, perhaps as part of the game itself, or within the community around it.

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The Legend of Zelda series of games are well-known for the puzzles, among other things.

Video games might inspire your kid to learn more. Kids who want to learn more about a game, or improve their game experience, might seek out books about the game. If books do not exist, they may take to the Internet and scour message boards or other resources to find answers. I also see kids write about their gaming experiences — maybe they’re journaling their experiences; maybe they’re sharing tips and tricks; maybe they’re creating a story for their game character and going more the fictional route. Either way, video games, like any hobby, can spark kids’ interest in a topic and open them up to new kinds of learning experiences.

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Team Science actually lost to Team Art, but I think we still get the picture.

There are psychological benefits to gaming. Sure, I’ve already listed some, but some studies show that video gamers show improvements in basic visual processes, attention and vigilance, executive functioning, and some job-related skills.

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Granted, not every video game is an appropriate choice for every kid (the same way that not every book, movie, or TV show is an appropriate choice for every kid). But that doesn’t condemn the whole medium; even games not purported to be “educational” can provide unique and useful learning experiences.

Disclaimer: I drew all this art (because nerd alert) using Nintendo Wii U Pad or 3DS. Characters depicted are property of Nintendo.

 

Reflections on Hour of Code 2015

Today was our last day of school before winter break, which is a great time to reflect on Hour of Code… because it took us this long to “finish” with it. (“Finish” is in quotation marks for a reason!)
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Things I did that I will do again:

  • We did the Hour of Code during regular scheduled computer lab times. Every class in the school comes to the computer lab once a week for a lesson with me. These classes are forty to fifty minutes long, depending how long transitions take. I never thought I would cram in the Hour of Code in one week, because I planned on it taking at least two class periods per class. Because of other December scheduling conflicts (singing practices for our holiday music program, standardized testing), it actually took most classes three weeks to get a full sixty minutes of coding in.
  • I created accounts for every student that matched the usernames they use for school email addresses. But, I had them use “secret pictures” instead of their usual passwords.
  • I linked to the Hour of Code login sites from our school website. I showed them how to get to the website from our school website.
  • I had planned on doing the Hour of Code since August, so I started working in important words, phrases, and concepts subtly. For example, working in “if statements” during games of Simon Says when we’re filling five minutes in the cafeteria. Or dressing up as Admiral Grace Hopper for Halloween and telling them that debugging story about the moth!
  • Students had some technology free time in the last week of school before break (on classroom Chromebooks, not during computer lab time). Many chose to continue Hour of Code and remembered how get there! I was thrilled and proud and it was probably the best way for other teachers to see and understand what Hour of Code was about. Many students also did Hour of Code at home, or at the public library, and asked if they could do it over break. So… that’s why “finish” was in quotation marks. Because many of these kids are not done! Let’s see whether I can keep this momentum going in 2016.

Things I will do differently:

  • I will send a letter home to parents explaining Hour of Code to them.
    • That letter can also include directions on how to access Code.org accounts from home, and on different devices, in case parents want to check it out for themselves, or students want to extend their learning independently.
    • Similarly, I will better communicate about Hour of Code to other teachers at school.
  • I will make student accounts AND subdivide them into smaller groups so that they are easier to distribute (and for students to find on a page).
  • Not every kid went back and found errors in their program when they made mistakes. They just clicked-and-dragged the entire thing into the trashcan. That was frustrating because it was often just the more recent steps that were off, and the first steps were fine. We learned the phrase, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater!” But even though I knew this was happening, I am sure it was still happening all over the place, despite my best efforts to prevent it. So I will try to anticipate that happening next year, I’m just not sure how yet.

Things that were just plain awesome, and not because of me:

  • Minecraft was a huge draw. Not only did it draw in kids who already play Minecraft, it drew in kids who had never played it but know it is popular with their peers.
  • Star Wars and Frozen also provided pull for kids, even though I did not start them on those tutorials. I simply told them they existed, and they were welcome to try after doing the Minecraft version first. Some kids worked really hard to get to code characters they already knew and loved. The Star Wars tutorial was a cakewalk to kids who had finished the Minecraft one, too, and they breezed through it even though the content was slightly different. They felt like geniuses.12065592241647756196mystica_LightSaber_(Fantasy)_2.svg.med
  • Actually, yeah, many kids felt like geniuses. A lot of the kids who understood the material quickly were not the same kids who succeed academically with little effort; they were very excited because they could see evidence that they were learning, and feedback was immediate. I remember being frustrated with math as a kid, because when I got a wrong answer, I couldn’t tell it was the wrong answer — I thought it was right until someone told me I was wrong. I could get entire pages of math problems wrong before a teacher realized. With Code.org, you can run your program right away — and it either does what you want it to, or it doesn’t. You know instantly whether you’ve solved it correctly, and if you haven’t, you have the opportunity to fix it before moving on. You can learn so, so much from your mistakes, but only when you know you’re making them! So the immediate feedback is a huge thing, I think.

Overall, I really liked it, and I hope to keep using coding and programming in my classroom this school year and next.

On “Digital Mentoring”

A Facebook friend of mine linked this article from The Atlantic — Parents: Reject Technology Shame. The author describes three different attitudes parents may have towards family use of technology: enablers, who “take their cues from how other kids and families use technology”; limiters, who “focus on minimizing their kids’ use of technology”; and mentors, who actively try to guide their children through navigating technology use.

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As a technology teacher, I am very interested in this topic. I like to think of myself as mentoring students through using technology appropriately. If I don’t teach them, who will they learn from — and what, exactly, will they learn? (Disclaimer: I teach early elementary grades. I might take a different view if I taught students of a younger age, though I think my view would be similar if I was teaching slightly older grades.)

A student’s misstep in the digital world can also be a learning opportunity for teacher (or parent). I would not know how to anticipate the things that could go wrong if students didn’t keep me on my toes! Students may click on advertisements that ask for financial information or install malware-like browser extensions; that means I need to teach them how to evaluate whether a link is okay to explore. Students break or damage various pieces of technology, and learn a little about how to treat these components and take care of them better. Students send each other messages, and learn that after you click “send,” you cannot completely scrub or delete a missive from the internet. Students bring up inappropriate images during a search, and it can become a lesson in turning on “safe search” or choosing search terms more carefully — and, even more importantly than that, they learn that they can tell a trusted adult when something comes up on a screen that makes them uncomfortable. That’s an important thing because I want students to know that they can come to me if someone else sends them something inappropriate, whether it be adult content or a bullying message, and I won’t react with suspicion or disrespect — I can and I will help them navigate that situation. (Would I prefer that a child not have to see things that make them uncomfortable when doing an innocent search? Yes. But I don’t determine the content that already exists on the web. I can only filter it and teach a child to filter it.) The mentoring itself is a work in progress, as it always will be, as technology continuously builds on itself, changing and evolving. And I am willing to learn as we go — an important attitude to model for students as well.

An additional bonus to letting a child make missteps is that they understand the consequences of that misstep, no punishment necessary. (Obviously egregious abuses of technology, particularly after specific instruction, are different – but that hasn’t happened very often to me, either.) If a student can’t make these mistakes and learn from them in a safe environment, then I fear them making these same mistakes at a time in their lives when the stakes are higher.

What it boils down to is, if you want to be the primary source of information and guidance on a given topic, then you need to be proactive about providing information and guidance about that topic. If you are not proactive, your child might end up learning about it from another source you don’t agree with or approve of.