Monday, March 21, 2011

Learning Math with a Video Game

The experience - a few years ago - of watching my daughter persist in mastering a snowboarding video game, while struggling with her math homework convinced me that video games could have a huge impact in education. We haven't seen it yet, but somebody is going to figure it out and make a fortune in the process.

Learning Math with a Video Game:
According to 2008 figures from the Pew Research Center, 97% of today's K-12 students spend many hours each week playing video games. By the time they graduate from high school they will have spent some 10,000 hours doing so. During the course of that game play, they will acquire a vast amount of knowledge about the imaginary worlds portrayed in the games, they will often practice a skill many times until they are fluent in it, and they will attempt to solve a particular challenge many times in order to advance in a game. Would that they devoted some of that time and effort to their schoolwork!

Since video games first began to appear, many educators have expressed the opinion that they offer huge potential for education. The most obvious feature of video games driving this conclusion is the degree to which games engage their players. Any parent who has watched a child spend hours deeply engrossed in a video game, often repeating a particular action many times, will at some time have thought, "Gee, I wish my child would put just one tenth of the same time and effort into their math homework." That sentiment was certainly what first got me thinking about educational uses of video games 25 years ago. "Why not make the challenges the player faces in the game mathematical ones?" I wondered at the time.
One problem with the majority of math ed video games on the market today that will quickly strike anyone who takes a look, is that they are little more than a forced marriage of video game technology and traditional mathematics pedagogy.
if you want to get a good background into the educational potential of video games, I highly recommend the book What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy by Prof James Paul Gee of Arizona State University. And if you want to experience a video game that will really challenge your (logical, not mathematical) problem solving ability, try the free demo version of Portal. If you are like me, you will willingly pay the $14.99 price to convert your free demo into the full version. (BTW, the little animation you see on the demo website is not the game; rather it is an "instructional video within the game". The game itself has high production values.)

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