Imagine you are a kid again. Your mother comes in at six-thirty A.M. sharp every morning to wake you up and ship you off to school. You think to yourself every morning as you groggily slump through the morning routine, ‘man, I hate school.’ You go to class and half listen to your teacher who is pulling her hair out trying to get you to memorize information before the big test. You go home completely unsatisfied with the last six hours of your life and can’t wait to engage yourself in something that gets your heart pumping. Unfortunately, this format of schooling remains in use. State testing has augmented into a heavy weight placed on the shoulders of the very students it is evaluating while teachers struggle to compete for their attention with forms of highly stimulating entertainment. But what if there was a way to get kids excited when they wake up at the break of dawn? What if there was a way to make kids thrilled to do school work, on site and at home? Videogames may be the very answer to these questions. Studies have shown that educational games promote positive stress, induce creativity and teach materials more efficiently. Incorporating not only videogames but any type of game into the kindergarten through twelfth grade curriculum could solve the effectiveness issue with the modern schooling system.
As a result of the No Child Left Behind bill, school has fallen beneath a smothering government blanket. State tests have a strangle hold on schools and their teachers. Like the Gestapo of education, whoever does not meet the standards gets cut. Brooke Berger discusses this issue in her article titled “Don’t Teach to the Test”. Apparently, Berger announces, 82 percent of US schools are currently failing, according to an estimation by Arne Duncan Secretary of Education. Such an astoundingly large percentage can be quite alarming, but our schools are not that bad. The numbers on paper do not accurately depict the situation. For example, a student can come into a grade very under prepared, say “a fifth grader…reading at a high-second-grade level,” and make tremendous improvement (Berger). But if that student is still just below the level of the rest of his peers, despite his big leap, he gets “no credit for that advancement. Nor [does] the teacher, nor [does] the school” (Berger). It is this fallacy that has produced the skewed numbers produced to the public for thousands of schools across the nation.
These misleading and frightful statistics also affect the curriculum. Often times, schools will focus exclusively on preparing their kids for a specific standardized test; they do away with their curriculum and concentrate on a state test prep booklet. That is like preparing for an arm wrestling competition by only working out your right bicep for a year. When the competition is over, you are stuck with a weak body and an abnormal right arm. It is an anomaly many students are being faced with after they earn their high school diploma. They have to recondition themselves for the real world because the tactics they picked up while preparing for state tests are not correct.
The standardized test enslaved educational system of today’s schools is also, ironically, hurting the job market. Students are being taught to take a test instead of learning well rounded skills. Mike Elswick, author of the article “State Education Focus on Standardized Testing Hurts Job Market,” claims that the modern schooling system only prepares students for a four year college path, which is clearly not the correct route for everyone. However, there is such a stress on testing that students who thrive in hands on technical work suffer and ultimately drop out. Tom Pauken, a Texas Workforce commissioner, sees the result of these smart students dropping out of school because of a lack of interest. He claims to want “at least three optional pathways high school students could follow, depending upon their interests and abilities… a math and science focus, one with an arts and humanities emphasis and a third with a vocational technical focus” (Elswick). This would center on the personal skills of each student so that they could be successful throughout high school and beyond. If videogames were incorporated, this could be something easily produced. The games that each individual student enjoys playing the most would obviously be those in which he is naturally talented at. He could play them all he wants not only at school but in his free time as well. This kind of dedication eventually leads to skills advanced enough to enter the work force and become a valuable employee. Not only that, but the student would have a career doing something he loves doing, which is ultimately invaluable.
Another aspect of learning which today’s schools are struggling with is creativity. As kids progress through elementary, middle and high school, their creativity begins to diminish. With every class just being another lecture to get through, eyes begin to glaze over and movements seem robotic. They just stare at something long enough for it to stay there until after the test in finished, then poof! It is gone. This mundane habit can be detrimental to a student later on in life when they are looking for a job and cannot remember basic skills supposedly taught in high school.
In the article The Educational Benefits of Videogames by Mark Griffiths, one of the pro-video game education attributes he lists is that “videogames may help adolescents regress to child-hood play (because of the ability to suspend reality in videogame playing)” (Griffiths 2). This is actually more important than one might first suspect. In a show called Brain Games on the Natural Geographic channel, the human brain is analyzed through entertaining experiments. In one experiment, adults were shown an abstract picture (for example, a circle with a line above and below it) and were asked to give possibilities as to what it could be. The adults only came up with one or two possibilities and then drew a blank. However, when the same image was presented to children, they came up with a plethora of answers and never were really stumped. This shows that adults have been trained to have exact simple answers and do not think out of the box whereas the mind of a child is unfiltered and creative. So in prodding adolescents to think like children, videogames actually boost creative thinking, which is an essential asset in almost any field of post grade school study.
Long term habits of study do not just embed information into the mind. Instead, they condition it to absorb information and put it to use in real life. This is something discussed by Begoña Gros in her essay Digital Games in Education: The Design of Games-Based Learning Environments. She states “Videogames are useful instruments for learning specific strategies and for acquiring knowledge; they also develop the learning that is characteristic of the culture of the information society, and this learning is likely to have long-term consequences” (Gros). Ultimately, this is what schooling should be aiming for, not just job training.
Another reason why school can seem like such a bore to some students is its pace. In traditional schooling, “groups of students learn at one pace and are given very little freedom to manage the content and pacing of their learning” (Squire). Students are lumped together as if they are all the same person with the same learning habits. This does not make much sense as learning abilities vary significantly from person to person. It seems that in order to cope with each student’s particular learning pace, schools would have to provide a tutor for everyone. As ridiculous as this claim sounds, it may not be too farfetched. With the assistance of a video game in which the “player controls how much she plays and when she plays,” and “players play and practice until they master the game [and] take all of the time they need,” the game acts as a personal tutor without being personalized for each student (Squire).
Another difference between games and traditional schooling, Squire adds, is the fact that gaming promotes communication between students. Sharing tips and trading secrets is part of the fun of mastering a game, and it provides the person passing on the information with a sense of responsibility and importance. It is also a great opportunity to make friends in an environment that is often difficult to do so. On the other side of the spectrum, in the current school system, sharing communicating information is forbidden. It is the ultimate no-no that forces students to isolate themselves from even the closest of peers. This is not promoting plagiarism: obviously students need to create their own work and not just copy somebody else word for word. But for somebody who is stuck on something, creating frustration and helplessness, a little push in the right direction from a friend may be all they need. In fact, with the competitiveness as well as a boost in creativity that comes hand in hand with gaming, students might not even consider copying somebody else. They would want to win on their own instead of somebody else doing it for them. What fun is it to just watch somebody else play videogames?
This communication boost also aids the area of special education. Kids with severe mental retardation and social inadequacies respond very positively to educational videogames.
(Griffiths 2). Along with making learning easier, videogames helped them feel like more of a kid; it gave them something to talk about with other children, confidence in themselves and enthusiasm about further treatment. This is exceptional seeing as children in special needs classes often feel left out and detached from the rest of their peers.
Educational gaming is not just a good idea; it is actually being incorporated in a contemporary setting. A public school in New York City called Quest to Learn: Institute of Play is a pioneering school for this revolutionary method of education. A little navigation through their well designed web site and you can find 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”). This supports the research found in several other articles that examines the effectiveness of videogames 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.
An aspect of the Quest to Learn project that is vital to successful education, the article points out, is its ability to make failing fun and constructive. 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”)
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 startling examples 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. 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. Faced with this rapid fire of information, there will be many nights of frustration at the homework table when students just cannot keep up and fear the penalty of failing. 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. 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. The positive outcomes of the Quest for Learning public school are proof that gaming and education can successfully blend and improve the current system.
Edu-gaming is on the forefront of improving modern day grade school. Hopefully, Quest for Learning gets the recognition it deserves and people acknowledge its success as a prominent solution to an ailing education system. The technology is groundbreaking and the idea is developing. The educational revolution is right at our doorsteps, it is up to us to utilize it to its fullest potential.
Berger, Brooke . “Standardized Testing Is Hurting American Schools.” US News & World Report. N.p., 11 Apr. 2013. Web. 26 June 2013. <http://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2013/04/11/why-excessive-standardized-testing-is-causing-american-schools-to-fail>.
Elswick, Mike. “Official: State education focus on standardized testing hurts job market.” Longview News-Journal. N.p., 4 Aug. 2012. Web. 26 June 2013. <http://www.news-journal.com/news/local/official-state-education-focus-on-standardized-testing-hurts-job-market/article_514b036b-6e8e-5389-8e26-51cc15b6cc7a.html>.
Griffiths, Mark. “The Educational Benefits of Videogames.” Education and Health 20.3 (2002): 47-51.
Gros, Begoña. “Digital Games in Education: The Design of game-based learning.” Journal of Research on Technology in Education 40.1 (2007): 23-38.
Squire, Kurt D. “Video games in education.” Int. J. Intell. Games & Simulation 2.1 (2003): 49-62.
“Use It Or Lose It/10.” Stawarz, John. Brain Games. National Geographic Channel. 10 June 2013. Television.
“Why Games & Learning.” Quest for Learning: Institute of Play. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 June 2013. <http://www.instituteofplay.org/about/context/why-games-learning/>.