How might video games enhance my students’ learning?
In order to answer this question, I had my two kids, Max – 11, and Alex – 9, play some online games that addressed some of the skills they have been working on at school with the question in mind – Do I feel like this helped them acquire the skill/knowledge they are seeking?
First, with Max, who is a fifth grader, we went to a vocabulary games site and chose a game to learn about prefixes. The game involved dragging a line between the prefix and the remainder of the word. In terms of games, it wasn’t very stimulating. The activity, while straightforward, was dull. In educational terms, I wasn’t impressed by the prefix practice. Max got all of the words correct without much trouble. There were “hints” on the site if the player was unsure and he used it once for the word “automaton”. The hint explained that the prefix means “self”. At first, Max thought he was dividing the words up by syllable, so it was a good lesson differentiating between prefixes and syllables in that respect.
The next game Max and Alex both tried out was a multiplication memory game at another games site. The game was basically an electronic version of standard memory games in that they clicked on two cards in a grid and tried to find the product that matched the problem. The game had a timer that stopped once all the matches were made, so they could try to beat their time by playing more than once. There were addition, multiplication, mixed, and algebra versions of the game with varying levels of difficulty. I recommended Max should attempt the algebra one because I felt it would be challenging. It was! The equations required some paper and pencil figuring and Max found it too frustrating in the “timed” format. He gave up quickly. Being the more methodical child, Max played the memory game with some thoughtful methodology. Alex, being more impulsive and concerned with speed, took a more random approach – pressing the cards as quickly as possible to get matches, considering the numbers less thoughtfully. Game review: I like Memory because it is mentally challenging, but it lacks the entertainment value that most kids seek out in electronic games. Education review: I recommend this game for students trying to memorize math facts as another method in their arsenal of learning. Even if they take the “Alex approach” some facts might take hold.
They both chose the site Funbrain.com based on past experience. Let me just summarize that experience: they loved it. Here was the graphics-heavy, opponent-based playing environment that offered video game stimuli. Educational merit? The games were short and offered some good basic math facts practice. I would feel comfortable letting them spend ten to fifteen minutes a day playing at this site. Game merit? The best in terms of simulating a video game.
Lastly, Alex tried a hang-man style game at Funbrain.com. The graphics for the game called Stay Afloat were really nice. I encouraged Alex to choose the category “Countries of Asia” because he has been learning about Asia in school and I felt it would supplement that unit of study. Game merit: Hangman is fun, and it is nice to choose the category to narrow down possible answers, especially if it is directly applicable to the content at school. Graphics are fun – low level of stimulation, though. Educational merit: Nice way to review what countries are in Asia. It forced Alex to mentally review and eliminate answers that did not work with the letters guessed.
Side note: I also like the games offered at pbskids.org because they encourage vocabulary growth and discourage aggression. Of course, my kids will choose the games that have opponents, explosions, and simple mazes if left to their own devices. But, there are educational tools available in game format if used with supervision.
Using my PLN: I look forward to reading what other class members found in reviewing online games and incorporating some of their ideas in my parenting and teaching practice.