Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Losers Win!

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” ~Julia Child

In public education, fear of failure is more like an impenetrable fortress of isolation than a stumbling block. Americans have always fancied themselves winners, and in order to prove it to the rest of the world, we have developed an unhealthy obsession with keeping score. The children who score the most points are good students, go to good colleges, and eventually become good citizens.

The illegitimate spawn of this meritocracy based system is High Stakes Testing; the bouncing baby's name, N.C.L.B. We operate under the incorrect assumption that students don't learn and teachers don't teach due to a lack of effort. We therefore introduce HST which increases pressure, leading to fear, anxiety, frustration, and inevitably lower test scores(Stiggins, 1999).

So how do we jump off of this achievement gap sustaining merry-go-round? Not a complicated process, in fact I believe it can be accomplished in two steps.

Step one is not only easily accomplished but it's fun too. Let kids play. In fact actively encourage play in the classroom. I'm not talking about duck-duck-goose, or my own personal favorite, 7-up. I'm talking about digital game based learning.

If you believe as I do, that experience is the best teacher then you are already teetering on the edge of becoming a gamer. Like real life experience, digital gaming comes with a built in feedback loop instantly providing data allowing users to learn as they go.

The difference between gaming and real life; the consequences. If I were a pioneer preparing to journey on the Oregon Trail and I failed to purchase the proper amount of supplies, people would die. If I'm a student playing the Oregon Trail and I don't purchase the requisite supplies, I learn from my mistake, start over, and purchase more the next time. In gaming, losers win because you learn from your mistakes.

Although there is nothing wrong with the classic educational games like Oregon Trail and Reader Rabbit, the competition for our children's attention is stiffer than ever.
In a world populated with Sony PlayStation III and the Nintendo Wii, educators must improve the graphics, interface, and storyline of their products. The good news is we have.

Last summer at NECC in Atlanta I had the pleasure of meeting Ntiedor Etuk, aka NT.
NT is the CEO and co-founder of Tabula Digita Inc. which has combined high-end, 3D graphics with adventure to teach students algebra! His motto, "Learn Math or Die Trying!". Chris Dede was also at the conference touting the results of Harvard's River City Project, a multi-user-virtual-environment fostering inquiry based learning and tapping critical thinking skills. In addition, commercial off the shelf games (COTS) such as Civilization and The Sims continue to make their way into the classroom.

Like I said, step 1 is literally child's play. Step 2, on the other hand, is a little trickier. Check out the blog later this week and I promise to deliver the second half of the educational 2-step to success.

No comments: