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Res. 3: Quest to Learn

The whole reason I picked the topic of games and education was the bit in Reality is Broken about the Quest to Learn school in New York City. So I decided to get some more information on just that. When I told my parents about the idea, their first reaction was ‘that’s cool but it’s probably a really expensive private school.’ However, to their surprise and mine, it is actually a pioneering public school. Of course, they have funding from foundations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Intel Foundation, but such support shows how revolutionary this is.

A little navigation through the well designed web site and I stumbled upon a section called ‘Why Games & Learning’. The section explained that the old way of learning valued memorization and regurgitation. Parents trying to help their children with their grade school homework have found that this method did not work that well. Instead, as the web site explains, “success in the twenty-first century depends on education that treats higher order skills, like the ability to think, solve complex problems or interact critically through language and media” (“Why Games & Learning | Institute of Play”). This supports the research found in several other articles that examines the effectiveness of video games education. Instead of just restating words on a piece of paper, the kids are able to visualize and put the concepts into practice. This is especially useful as a form of education for visual learners as they get to pin what they are learning to pictures and objects on the screen.

Another aspect of the Quest to Learn project that the article points out that is vital to successful education is its ability to make failing fun and constructive. Similar to what McGonigal explained in her discussion on Monkey Ball, the article states:

Much of the activity of play consists in failing to reach the goal established by a game’s rules. And yet players rarely experience this failure as an obstacle to trying again and again, as they work toward mastery. There is something in play that gives players permission to take risks considered outlandish or impossible in “real life.” There is something in play that activates the tenacity and persistence required for effective learning. (“Why Games & Learning | Institute of Play”)

When one fails in the current school system, there are little, if any, opportunities to make up for it. It comes in the form of a bad grade on homework, a quiz or an exam. This creates a load of negative stress on the developing mind of a student. State exams are a startling example of how much stress is put on these kids. Specifically in New York, the state exams have spiraled out of control. The state is pressuring students to do well on state mandated exams because of the diminishing graduation rates. Unlike when I was in school, if a student does poorly on the state exams, there is a chance that he could actually fail the grade and have to repeat or go to summer school. This also puts teachers under tremendous pressure to cover all the information that could potentially be on the state exam, which is a lot. My little brothers have both faced this rapid fire of information and there have been many nights of crying in frustration at the homework table. With Quest for Learning, the repercussions for failing are no more than your character dying in a video game. You will re-spawn and start again. And often, something funny will happen when a student fails, which lets them laugh it off and try again. Since the games are fun they seem voluntary, which creates positive stress.

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