It’s all fun and games… until someone learns something.

Last week I attended the Sandbox Summit, a conference that explores how technology affects the way kids play, learn, and connect.  Fittingly, the Summit was hosted at MIT University with the support of the school’s esteemed Media Lab and the Education Arcade.  An incredibly diverse group of individuals came together to share their expertise, ask questions, play, and learn from one another in panel discussions, research presentations (teddy bear robots!), and hands-on workshops … I’m still buzzing and eager to share these ideas and continue the discussion with you!

One session touched on an issue that I’ve been wrestling with for quite some time, and in sharing it here I hope to invite you, a member of our trusted family of educators, to join the conversation and help push this dialogue further.

The issue at hand is simply this… What role can games play in education?

DSC 0065 242x300 It’s all fun and games… until someone learns something.

This question emerged as part of a larger panel discussion on the resistance of educators to validate and embrace online games (i.e. Farmville, World of War Craft) as learning opportunities and invite them into schools.  Knowing these are hugely popular with students in their extra-curricular life, the professors on this panel argued that incorporating game elements into the school arena could not only help more students engage, but also would call out and validate the thinking skills honed through game play.

The major roadblock, these panelists explained, is the misguided argument against the curricular value of game play.  With budgets, resources, and instructional time constrained by the pressures of under-funding and state testing, it’s easy to see how these learning opportunities are quickly dismissed as “just PLAYING GAMES.”

DSCN0075 edited 1 300x225 It’s all fun and games… until someone learns something.

At ThinkFun, our mission to bring games into the classroom to help build 21st century thinking and problem solving skills is often met with similar opposition… and when fun and play is stripped out of the curriculum, students are deprived of new ways to engage and stretch their thinking skills through meaningful play experiences.

I want to hear from you!

How can parents and concerned educators promote the curricular value of play?  How can we find creative ways to incorporate games into the classroom?  Have you had success or overcome opposition in using games as teaching tools?  Please share your thoughts and experiences by commenting here!

8 thoughts on “It’s all fun and games… until someone learns something.

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention It’s all fun and games… until someone learns something. « SmartPlay -- Topsy.com

  2. Jessie Kinney

    Dear Readers:

    I am a English Language Learner Coach and I saw first hand last year during our summer school program that services English language Learners and student that come form Title I schools (free and reduced lunch) a vendor came to our middle school program and teacher “at risk students” how to play educational board games. Each afternoon these students would participate in a different activity, dance, acting, science and educational games. The only afternoon that we were able to maintain their interest was during the board game session. They were engaged and played with students they usually would not interect with. All students strategized with graet ease and fun. It was amazing to see the most difficult kids smiled, laughed and were engaged during the board games. From week to week I saw how they became more strategic and bulit from what they learned the previous sessions. We had great teachers that game them tips, presented each game and their rules and set group norms.

    This summer 2010, our district was not able to hire this vendor, so I have taken upon myself to organize these classes, I have purchased games with a small loan given to me. And I will be teaching students K-8 how to play, think, plan, stratgizes and use the best social skills with their playing partners. Oh yes and have FUN!

    I believe that if we train teachers and make them experts in these games; games such as chutes and ladders will be pur aside and great thinking games will slowly be infused into the classroom. Once students understand how to play these games, they will request their parents to purchase them and most likely will teach their parents to play. LETS TRAIN TEACHERs and they will be played by many many many students form all soscio-econimic backgrounds.

    Games should mot be just thrown into the classroom. A more strategic approach where professional development classes for teachers offered will be a better ways to infuse games into the classroom and into our communitites.

    I would be very happy to collaboarte in such a project.

  3. Charlotte Post author

    Jessie,

    WOW, thanks so much for sharing your story… your ideas about strategically integrating (not simply plopping) games into learning environments are right on, and very much aligned with our education programs and philosophy of using games to teach problem solving here at ThinkFun. Too often teachers, who as we all know are time crunched, stressed, etc., are given resources that, without proper training, go to waste, and without this training the potential to use thinking games as true learning tools is lost.
    Very interested in hearing more about the work you’re doing, the games you’ve chosen, etc… happy to help brainstorm ideas!
    Best, Charlotte

  4. Edie

    Charlotte,
    Yes, teachers must use games to reach all students. And the games must be part of the curriculum. I often used stragey games in my classrooms to help students make connections to content.I have even created a “community” in my classroom complete with a bank, library, court, and stores. By doing so, my students were able to understand the concepts “community”, “assembly line”, “supply and demand” and “scarcity” and the roles of different community workers while using their math skills to keep their own checkbooks and “earning” their paychecks for attendance and god behavior. To the students, it was play, but when the state tests came around, the vocabulary was familiar and the concepts were concrete, not abstract.
    While this does not directly address, ThinkFun games, it does address the importance of games in learning.

  5. Charlotte Post author

    What a great example of making learning meaningful… and fun! Before the tests rolled around, did you ave any resistance from parents or administrators concerned that the students were playing not learning? The fact that this exercise in creating a mock community paid off when it came to students having a better grasp of standardized test concepts is so validating, thanks for sharing this!

  6. Brynn

    I am a new teacher, but my student teaching taught me a lesson as to just how valuable games can be. One of my four preps was a 6th grade remediation math class. The students had not passed their 5th grade tests and many of them had behavior problems. I was able to “bribe” my students with the game 24. It was hard to get these students to just play individually, so I started by making the game a competition. There were seats lined up from the back of the classroom to the front and the more you got right, the farther you moved up. The students loved this. As most of them struggled with the four basic math operations, this game was an important way for them to practice without knowing it. Then, to address the behavior issues, we all made a deal that we would not have Fun Friday (as we came to call it) if any of the students got sent out of the room that entire week. Playing this game on a regular basis was a huge help to building my students’ confidence and their basic math abilities.

  7. Charlotte Post author

    Brynn,
    Thanks so much for sharing your experience – this is a great example of how a simple game can be so much more than a math drill – you were able to inspire your students to push themselves by wrapping game play into a mini competition, but in such a way that it focused on fun – and sounds like it was a very effective “carrot” to encourage good behavior – a win-win! You might be interested in MathDice, another really fun math game that we’ve developed into a tournament program! Check out this year’s Annual Competition (works well in the classroom on a smaller scale as well!)
    http://www.thinkfun.com/smartplayblog/?p=579

    I’d love to hear how you continue to integrate games into your classroom teaching – what grade/subject area are you going to be teaching this year?

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