Games can be a very effective and very engaging method for learning for a wide range of learners but as teachers it is our job to choose wisely. The learning should not be contrived. I was asked recently to evaluate a math game to determine if it would be good for use in our classrooms. I believe the object of the game was to explore a fantasy village (though I was never quite sure what the object actually was…). Occasionally I came upon a road block and had to complete a math challenge in order to continue exploring the village. The math challenge was irrelevant to the game, it was just the chore I had to do before I could get back to the fun. Teachers must carefully consider the message this is sending about math!! There are probably thousands of games online for most math concepts. Choose carefully!!
Warning: Choose games carefully!
One of the other concerns I have with computer-based games for learning is that we need to ensure that the objective of the game is a worthy objective, that it fits with what we value as teachers. One example: I don’t use worksheets in my classroom to teach phonics. I don’t believe that teaching phonemic awareness in isolation through worksheets has any positive impact on their reading skills – and can be detrimental because they are generally so mindless (I sure don’t like filling out forms – why would my students???). While computer games designed to improve phonics or phonemic awareness skills may be far more engaging than worksheets, they are just dressed up worksheets. While the kids may learn the isolated skills few kids actually apply these skills to reading.
But they love it…
I find it surprising to see teachers who would never give their Kindergarten students a phonics worksheet, but will sit them down in front of a computer screen doing a glitzy version of the same. They justify this by explaining how much the kids LOVE the activities which always makes me laugh. My two kids LOVE chocolate, potato chips, candy etc. and would be thrilled if I offered these things for dinner each night. I don’t because I know it is not the best thing for them. They also LOVE TV… need I go on?
Playing to Learn Math
This post was inspired by the following fantastic presentation Playing to Learn Math created by Maria Andersen about the use of games to teach math skills. It makes many fantastic points about how and why games can be great learning activities when selected carefully. I need to take some time to play some of the games she recommends to brush up on my Algebra skills!