Gaming to re-engage boys in school

“If a child can’t learn the way we  teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.”

-Ignacio Estrada

The disengagement of boys in our education system has become such old news that — yawn — we barely register it anymore. Rather, we diagnose their need for stimulation as a hyperactive disorder and medicate it. We diagnose their disinterest in our recommended texts as a disability and track them into special classes designed to focus on their shortcomings. The unending focus on deficits leaves them even more disenfranchised than they were and the vicious cycle continues.

But what if we are getting it wrong? What if we are forcing them to learn the way we teach, rather than teaching the way they learn? In the below TEDtalk, Ali Carr-Chellman, “an instructional designer and author who studies the most effective ways to teach kids and to make changes at school,” shares her ideas for re-engaging boys. The deceptively simple technique she recommends is — low and behold — proving effective for a wide range of disengaged learners: “Bring their culture into the classroom.”

In the case of boys, she recommends a bit of gaming. Check it out:

Gaming and Learning . . . Go Hand in Hand?

Emerging research is continuing to unpack some of the pros and cons of “gaming” on students, learning and behavior. For example, a recent study by Iowa State University professors, Dr. Craig Anderson and Dr. Douglas Gentile, found that prosocial games (defined as ones “in which characters help others in nonviolent ways”) can “increase helpful and decrease hurtful behavior.”  While another study by The Ohio State University professor, Dr. Brad Bushman, concluded that “the negative effects of playing violent video games can accumulate over time.”

Yet categorically qualifying video games as either good or bad effectively limits their potential in learning communities. As Dr. Gentile cautions in his article, The Multiple Dimensions of Video Game Effects:

Digital games are routinely vilified or praised. Critics often cite the research on the effects of violent video games, whereas proponents often cite the research on perceptual skills. The irony is that both the the critics and proponents are correct about the effects that games can have. the flaw is that they extend their arguments to conclude that video games are ultimately harmful or beneficial. Recognizing that games have effects on multiple dimensions allows us a way out of this dichotomous thinking.

That said, gaming is proving to be an invaluable tool in therapy related to “autism, cancer, and other disorders.” And it can be effective in classrooms, especially when used with an intentional focus on the “5 dimensions on which video games can affect players. . . ”

  1. The amount of play
  2. The content of play
  3. The game context
  4. The structure of the game
  5. The mechanics of game play

With these complex, dynamic and even subjective variables in mind, check out this (largely positive) infographic on gaming in education from the folks over at Online Schools. (For a more balanced look at gaming and its effects on the brain, see this post on the All Kinds of Minds blog.)

What are your thoughts? How have you utilized games to increase learning and positivitely affect students and what would you like to see in the future? What should we be cautious of when it comes to gaming and students? We would love for you to share your thoughts and in the comment section below.

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Image: Online Schools

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