The Gaming Classroom: The Overly-Hyped Educational Video Game – Part 1 of 3

Video games, video games, video games. Everyone plays video games. On the TV, on the computer, on the iPhone, iPad, and basically any device that has a screen. I see it everywhere. In New York City where I live, I see adults playing video games on their phones in the subway going to and from work. You can’t text or make phone calls down in the subway, so you might as well play video games to pass the time. Or so that’s the way it appears to me.

We are creating a species of the human race that have learned to spend most of its leisure time, and time in between other more important responsibilities, to playing games. What about a conversation with your neighbor, or paying attention to your surroundings, or “collecting” your thoughts? These simple aspects of life have been replaced with a new past time called gaming.

Gaming is so ubiquitous that it has already entered the education system as a technique for learning and improving student’s test scores.

Gaming In The Classroom

It’s not new that video games have entered the education system. But the tide has certainly turned and is beginning an uncontrollable flood into our classrooms. Children are growing up in a supposedly high tech classroom in which they are going to be increasingly more and more surrounded by games. It seems like it’s the only thing that grabs their attention these days, so the education system has decided to go with the flow and bring gaming into the classroom.

One gaming system in particular, DimensionU Educational Game Suite, created by Tabulus Digita, has made enormous strides in entering the education system and has achieved some attractive results. Or so it seems…

This article will be a 3-part series discussing the results of three different studies done using the DimensionU game suite on students K-12.

Study #1: Increased Test Scores And A Play On Words

  • A University of Central Florida study found that students who played the games demonstrated greater gain scores from pre-test to post-test (mean increase of 8.07) than students who did not play the game (mean increase of 3.74);

Wait, Not So Fast!

Certainly, I support any technology that can help students achieve higher test scores. The United States is so far behind in Math, Reading, and Science that even a small improvement is welcome.

But, I’m not satisfied with the results of the studies found above.

Let’s read into the studies more deeply. First, the University of Central Florida study used the word “mean” to describe the “average” increase in test scores. Though statisticians debate that there is a huge difference between the meaning of the two words, I will replace “mean” with “average” to make my points more clearly. By using the word “mean” in this study infers that the calculation was made by the total sum of all test scores divided by the number of tests taken. We’re basically talking about the average test scores of all the students. It’s Division 101. So, the average test score increased by 8.07% for the students who played the educational video games compared to a 3.74% average increase in test scores for the students that did not play any games.

Let’s put this into more practical terms. If we assume that students had an average test score of 75 out of 100, then the students who played the games increased to an average score of 81 compared to a 78 for the students that didn’t play games. Not bad but not great either. The truth is that most of the students had very below average grades in Math before the study even began. So in my opinion, at best the results took a “very low” student in Math and raised him/her to just a “low” student in Math. Still below-average. I would have liked to have seen the study done on students who already achieved passing grades in Math to take part in this study.

Why Video Games Are Not The Answer
Are we really going to put our faith in the future education of our children in video games? That study was done over two 9-week periods. And what the results don’t tell you unless you read the full report is that a majority of the students had extremely low grades in Math. 64% were considered “very low” in mathematical skills prior to the study. Only 4% were considered high. That means an 8% increase in math scores would still have kept these students in the “low” part of the skills category.

Teaching Laziness In The Classroom

I support any technique that increases Math scores. Certainly, these below-average students need as much help as they can get. What I fear, is that they will only learn “how to learn” with video games. I don’t want video games to become a replacement to other forms of learning that are effective but necessarily in vogue. Plus, technology has already proven to make us lazy. Do we want to teach laziness in the classroom too?

How has mankind expanded knowledge through the millennia? From learning math fundamentals through a video game system? Let’s not forget how we all arrived to this point in history. It was because some really smart people contributed ideas to society that we now get to enjoy in this modern civilization that we habitat. These “smart people” weren’t born with intelligence, they developed it through work and study.

Where Are The Hard Facts To Backup Gaming In School?

I will also mention that it has been difficult to get hard numerical data for the benefits of gaming on test scores in Math, Reading, and Science. We are still in its infancy. Let’s move forward carefully, skeptically, and deliberately. We want to remain mindful that the well-being of future generations is at stake here.

There’s Another Solution That Few Want To Pay Attention To

We’re searching for solutions in technology for all of our problems including our education system. Well, there is a solution that has been in existence for thousands of years and its benefits can easily be traced as far back as the Renaissance Period.

The solution is to learn a musical instrument. Learning how to read and play music does not break down math and reading into separate video games to learn each subject or task one and a time. Learning music stimulates both left and right hemispheres of the brain at the same time, which accelerates the building of mathematical and linguistic intelligences. I’ve been reading about how video games improve multi-tasking skills which is great, but, music has been doing this for hundreds of years. It just doesn’t have the “sexy” appeal of newer, more technological ways.

In Part 2 of this article, I will discuss in more detail the second study of DimensionU on students’ test scores, and also begin to compare the results of studying music on test scores, using hard facts and numerical data to make a clearer comparison.

What Teaching Roles and Tasks Are Occurring in the Music Classroom?

I once carried out a study in a high school in London, England aimed at identifying teaching roles and tasks occurring in the music classroom. The results of the study led to the conclusion that to varying degrees music teachers-during teaching episodes-assume roles of Enabler, Guide, Instructor and Assessor.

All 48 student who participated in the study said that their teachers carried out various teaching activities. When these activities were analysed, they were found to be associated with the teaching role of enabler. In this role, teachers set up conditions in which their students acquire information. For example, one student said that teachers made available several worksheets on Rock n’ Roll lyrics which helped students to make up their own song. Teachers used the internet and other technologies to aid in creating the conditions in which students could acquire information, skills and participate in music composition. For example, they used a video camera to capture students’ performance. Students would then access recordings of their performance via the school’s virtual learning environment (VLE) to self-critique. Teachers also presented students with links to YouTube video clips of examples of the genre they were studying.

Again, all 48 students to varying degrees highlighted teaching activities which placed their teachers in the role of guide. In this role, teachers were involved in giving various levels of support aimed at helping students to achieve greater understanding and skills necessary to engage with their composition and performance. For example, giving information regarding the origin of Brit pop or Rock n’ Roll, showing students, via the internet, professional performances of the genre, playing audio examples for students and providing paper-based material with chord progression and rhymes and advising students about various aspects of the compositional process.

Cain (1985) states that the teaching role of instructor, that is, giving direct instructions to students, is one that teachers in the music classroom adopt fully. This teaching role was also assumed by teachers in the study. In this role they taught skills and concepts for example, how to play a chord or the drum-kit or how to play selected percussion instruments. Twenty six (26) students spoke about tasks which were associated with this role. This seems to suggest that teachers assumed the role of instructor almost equally with the roles of enabler and guide.

Only 9 students in the study hinted at teachers’ role of assessor who carried out the task of giving feedback generally, and feedback on the videotaped performances of various students’ compositions. During the study it was observed that the main method of assessment utilised by teachers was the use of a rubric to assess group performances. This McQuarrie and Sherwin (2013) highlight as the number one assessment methods used in the music composition and performance classroom.

Given the nature of the music classroom, teachers’ ability to effortlessly assume and switch between the roles of instructor, guide, enabler and assessor is not just a requirement, but invaluable to successful music teaching.

References

Cain, T. (1985). Teacher as Guide: The Teacher’s Role in the Secondary School Music Lesson. British Journal of Music Education, 2, 5-18. doi: 10.1017/S0265051700004575

McQuarrie, S, H., X., & Sherwin, R, G. (2013). Assessment in Music Education: Relationships between Classroom Practice and Professional Publication Topics. Research and Issues in Music Education, 11, 1, (not paginated).

US Education Rankings: 9 Strategies For Raising Education Rankings Thru Increasing Education’s Value

In researching this article, I noticed stats about economics and education. Yes, we know that the higher the education we have, the more money we make. This doesn’t address the VALUE OF EDUCATION TO THE STUDENT.

Education must hold value for students, whether this be getting an education to get a high paying job, ranking first in our class, feeling the satisfaction of learning, enlightening ourselves, pleasing our families. Value is personal, and we all invest in what has value on our own terms.

When we are young, especially, we need the guidance of our mentors, including educators, family, friends, society and media, any of which can lead us well or not. If we are taught that the most important thing is to spend 15 hours a day studying, we may believe it. If we are taught that education doesn’t matter because the salary per hour of slinging crack depends upon how much time we spend out of school, we still have a good chance of realizing that this is a bad lesson. If we are given a creative array of lessons that will affect how we value education, we have a better shot at building a foundation and understanding the positive nature of education for ourselves than if we are taught rote, unrelated facts.

I recall a running debate I had with a friend about responsibility and teaching. Was it the teacher’s job to do whatever it took to impart the lesson to the student who didn’t understand it the first time along with the others, or was it the student’s responsibility to study to the ends of the earth to understand the lesson?

I was raised in a progressive, nurturing household where learning was pleasurable, and I never felt fear in asking questions, in not understanding a lesson. I just said I needed help and got it. My opposing friend in this debate was raised by foreign parents. His father (by U.S. standards) oppressed him and brought fear to his heart that shook him should he not be first in the class. In this case, it looks like environment had a lot to do with our various sides.

I believe teachers should be willing to morph their methods in such a way that the lesson is understood by each student, also creating an atmosphere where the student loves the knowledge, doesn’t fear failure and blossoms because of it. My opposing friend was sure that any student who could not understand the lesson was not trying hard enough and had on her/his shoulders the responsibility of figuring out the lesson alone. He saw this as the only mark of a true student. He also expected to be physically reprimanded.

What I see is that the best learning comes out of cooperative education and out of creative learning environments where the lesson integrates with life lessons, builds social stature and touches upon current trends.

Here are nine sample lessons that could fit into the technological and creative pace of our current world.

1. Have students make individual videos or one group video showing a segment of history. This leaves the subject matter open and stimulates the imagination. An example of this is to film an ant walking up the building, the falling of a leaf in autumn from tree to ground or some group project that is more involved. If no equipment is available, students can act out the material and record it on paper. Or call a local law firm and ask them to donate or let you borrow a video camera.

2. Take students on a photographic field trip. If there is no means for bus transportation, the field trip can be as far as around the building or on the school grounds. The theme can be about measurement, for example, if it is a math lesson. The photos would show the angles of bridges, the slope of a roof, the uprightness of a telephone pole, the angle of twigs in a bird’s nest. The photos would then be exhibited in a photo gallery where each student would get to invite parents or other meaningful adults. Inviting “others” insures there is a support system so that the event is not traumatic for students whose families don’t usually participate or do not exist. The presence of other significant adults, including other teachers, coaches, clergy, social workers, tutors, would allow for each student to be supported and for no one to feel alone. If there are no cameras available, a local camera store might be willing to provide a loan. Or Canon might participate with a loan or a gift to enhance the lives of your students who could pass on the cameras to every class in the school, if necessary.

3. Create a social issue in the classroom that requires a judge and a jury, such as trying a thief who stole to feed her/his family. Have students act out the parts of each role. Have students take turns being “innocent” and “guilty,” judge and jury. Then, take a field trip to the courthouse or local magistrate. Arrange to sit in on a session or, structure prohibiting that, have the magistrate talk about justice and our American way.

4a. Create a mock central market in the classroom where students buy and sell wares and practice their math skills. Have the money they use in this market be based upon tokens that they have earned through a Good Samaritan program in the classroom. Those who help another during the day get a token. The program develops citizenship, planning and math. Then, take the students out on a field trip and give them each a dollar that you get from petty cash or your pocket. No student money should be used. Only the dollar that you give the student. The mission: see who can bring back the most items for one dollar. Thus, we include budgeting as part of the lesson.

4b. Create a mini stock exchange in the classroom. Use large beans to buy and sell shares. Have a professional trader come to explain basic concepts.

5. Have each student write a poem that rhymes. Then call a local rock star or rap star to come in and turn the poem into a song that the whole class learns. Yes, the music teacher could lead this activity, but celebrity sells in business and education and invites the juices of creativity to flow in the classroom, instills confidence and will involve community celebrities in the betterment of education.

6a. Have a drum circle in the classroom. Call a local drummer to come in and lead. Teach three to five messages from old drum communication. Talk about communication through drumming and have each student drum one message that you have taught during this lesson. Have the others interpret the message.

6b. As a follow-up lesson, have a cell phone tech come in and talk about the method of cell tower transmission. Then talk about the differences in social communication between drumming and cell phones.

7. Have each student think up an example of how we use math in the world. Exclude being able to go buy something in a store, online or on the phone. Call a local app maker to donate an app that has the class photo and an individual photo with each student’s idea as part of an app that pulls up. Then have the app maker talk about the skills s/he had to acquire to learn app making.

8a. Pick a theme including success, education, happiness, for example. Have students create an abstract painting that represents this theme and have them present it. In-school project only, since some parents are not at home to help and some parents do the project for the student. Film the presentations as well as the creative process. Post the art on the classroom website. If there is no classroom website, call a local web person and ask if s/he will donate putting up (online) a page with the students’ presentations.

8b. Go to a local museum or research the art at the museum online and find art that represents the particular theme to each individual person.

9. Have a regular tea time once a week. This will develop unity of community. Call a local tea specialist to start you off with how to have tea and some of the history of tea. This quiet time will give the class a spirit of camaraderie while developing value for quiet reflection and experiencing its benefits.

To summarize, these ideas are samples, for different grades, different social climates. The idea is to give school value to the student, to make the lessons relevant to the life of the student, so that we increase the number of students in school and US educational rankings. How many times do we slack off on a task because it is not pleasing to us? And, yet, we slave away at another task because we like it. I remember working hard for my 6th grade teacher because one of the ways he showed he cared was by letting us get the school piano and wheel it into the classroom on Friday afternoons. Everyone sang; I got to play the piano and sing. This added value to education for everyone.

We even discussed the lyrics, which, I learned 12 years later, getting an M.A. in Music Therapy, had extreme importance in molding us. Which brings us to the next point: how do creative modules such as these fit into the present system? That is a discussion for the article titled Education 2.0: 5 Ways To Make Exceptional Lessons Of Yesterday The Educational Normal Of Today, soon to be published.

The most exhilarating part of teaching comes when the student receives the knowledge. Most of us in the profession enjoy the creativity it takes to teach, motivate and inspire. This is the skill set that builds value in the student.

Singing the education blues won’t work. Looking at charts of where we rank in the world education system can motivate but is not the answer: http://xrl.us/guardian2010educrank. We need in-road builders to make these types of lessons the norm, rather than special events. It is one thing to offer an isolated lesson such as the photography trip in number 2. above. It is quite another to build this structure into our current educational infrastructure. Onward, teachers. Now is the time.