We Need More Games in Schools

Click here to read an original op-ed from the TED speaker who inspired this post and watch the TEDTalk below.

Jane McGonigal's TEDTalk that gave me an extra 7 1/2 minutes of life sparked many thoughts for me, but foremost in my mind was how this could apply to our nation's schools and making them better. Can gaming really revolutionize the way we understand learning, the culture of schools, and how to reach unreachable kids? I think so. Games truly have the potential, if we let them, to turn traditional schooling on its head and unleash human potential unknown in stifling schools today.

Jane's point that we need to game more with kids is critical to the success of games in schools. Teachers are generally not gamers, particularly at the elementary level where we are losing so many young boys who feel alienated from the culture of school. Why? Why is it that so few teachers enjoy gaming? Almost no female elementary teachers are what would be considered hard-core gamers, and only a few more are social gamers playing Words With Friends on Facebook. Certainly this lack of experience contributes to their difficulty seeing the true power of games in their own classrooms. Most teachers do not want to use video games for many reasons including violence, parental disapproval, fear of the unknown, lack of classroom control, and lack of administrative support. Teachers are also inhumanely pressed in classrooms today by overwhelming amounts of testing and assessment and a strict adherence to common core standards. However, I suspect there is another factor that is even more central to teachers' refusal to allow games to take over their classrooms -- their own identity.

I believe that teachers and schools prefer not to admit that kids don't need lectures, or traditional teaching. Admitting this dramatically alters their own identity as a teacher. -- Ali Carr-Chellman

Young men and women who choose to enter teaching do so, in part, because they understand their identity to be the one who gets to stand in front of the classroom, be in charge, and have access to the answer key at the back of the math book. But today, that antiquated notion of what a teacher is simply won't work. If gaming were to be central to a classroom, teachers become coaches, team players, mentors, even true learners with their students. Employing games fully in classrooms begins to recognize that kids already have the entire font of knowledge that teachers used to be, in the palm of their hands in the form of an iPod or iPhone. In almost all cases, iPods, iPhones, and open use of computer technologies are banned in schools during school hours. Why? I believe that teachers and schools prefer not to admit that kids don't need lectures, or traditional teaching. Admitting this dramatically alters their own identity as a teacher.

Kids today can find all the information that they need in the world without teachers. They can play a game better than their teachers, and they can find out online how to beat levels, what tricks they can use to get the next reward, and how to beat the bad guys. They don't need teachers for information any longer. What they absolutely do need, however, are caring people who can encourage them, guide them, socialize them, help them to learn what's out there, and how to get at it -- people who can model a true curiosity for learning more every day. These people are teachers of the future. Learning from games brings this into sharp relief and forces significant changes in the school culture--changes that I argue are definitely more welcoming to boys, active kids, and all curious learners who have an independent streak. It's not the compliance that we needed desperately for schools to teach our kids to become laborers of the past, but it is the excitement, curiosity, motivation, and engagement that is essential to our kids as future workers in an information age.

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