Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Dream is Alive...It's Alive!

Imagine walking into a classroom and seeing groups of students gathered around computers--one student in the middle, hands on the keyboard, the others, their eyes fixated on the screen, pointing and barking directions to the student who currently sits as the controller of what goes on on the screen. They're all incredibly engaged, and it's almost as though the group of bystanders is watching the student on the computer play a video game, and with best intentions, they cannot help but to instruct him on the proper steps he needs to take to be successful in the game. This is exactly what is taking place. Yesterday my classroom became ground zero for a different kind of teaching & learning (at least for me)--game-based learning.

The folks over at Pocketwatch Games have created the perfect ecosystem simulation, Wildlife Tycoon, and my students are eating it up. I started to get interested in this approach last spring, and my research led me to this game. After downloading the trial and playing just a few minutes, I knew it would be perfect for teaching my grade level life science concepts. But what I wasn't prepared for was how perfectly my students' behavior would represent what I had read about game-based learning in the classroom. Following is a little of what I have read and how my students' behavior supports it:

James Paul Gee and The Classroom of Popular Culture

Gee mentions several important concepts in his article that my students experienced in just their first day of playing the game. First is the principle of "performance before competence." That is, they learned the game while they played it. The game comes with no manual, and very basic directions are given at the beginning of the game, but my students are quickly figuring it out. Here's a comment from team wildeco at the Wildlife Tycoon blog at my website:
We figured out that flamingos die easily, and that hares don't need water to survive, but flamingos only need
water to live. This means that you have to put the hares by themselves. Our strategy is to first earn the crystals,
then second to achieve your goal. But make sure you don't run out of crystals or flowers, because it sometimes
can be hard to regain them.
And teamteam:
1. i have learned that it is hard to sustain and amount of animals because the predetors eat everything in sight, and that makes it hard to get jewels. you need to have little flowers that let you get food and animals.
2. our stratagy is to make seprate watering holes for sertain animals, so not many of them can be eaten.

Second is the cycle of "consolidation and challenge." The problems presented to my students at the early stage of the game were ones that required them to formulate hypotheses for solving later problems. The game begins with a prologue level that presents players with the basic challenges needed to keep the animals of the ecosystem alive and reach their goals; of course, as the players advance through the levels the goals become more difficult to achieve and they must rely on this consolidation to advance.

Video Games and the Future of Learning by David Williamson Shaffer, Kurt R. Squire, Richard Halverson, and James P. Gee

During the afternoon switch, a new group of students comes to me to learn science and social studies. On a typical day, my homeroom class files out and the others file in and quietly take their seats. Today was different though. As my class left, several students could be overheard talking strategy with the students from the other class.

The authors begin this article by arguing against the commonly held belief that video games are "mere entertainment." On the contrary, video games actually create virtual worlds for learning. These worlds bring players together, making the games a thoroughly social phenomenon. Because there is only one computer with the game for every four students in my class, two students must become "scribes/researchers" and log on to another computer to go to another site where there are hints and tips for playing the game. These students then relay any information back to the two players. Today I'm going to allow my students to start searching the Pocketwatch Games forum for more tips.

One thing that I haven't talked about yet is the content my students are learning without even realizing it. We start debriefing on that next week.

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1 comment:

NYC said...

It's great to see someone else who teaches the same grade as me thinking about the work of Gee. :)