Tag Archives: elementary school

x3- Books and Video Games as Interchangeable Vice

Davidson’s book got me thinking a great deal about how I experienced learning as a child and what it would have been like if the tables were turned.  As an elementary school student, I was “the bookworm.”  I carried at least one book on my person at all times and was caught reading Goosebumps under my desk in my first-grade math class on more than one occasion.  Eventually, the school librarians gave me a special dispensation of sorts where I was allowed to take out five or six books per week while everyone else only got to take out two.  I read to the exclusion of almost every other activity, and my teachers and parents encouraged me to read as much as I wanted.

My younger brothers, however, were a different story.  Although they were never opposed to reading, in grade school they would have much preferred to play video games.  In the late 1990s and early 2000s, however, parents and teachers looked upon video games with skepticism, which Davidson attributes to concern stemming from the Columbine incident (147).  Much to my brothers’ constant irritation, video games were a privilege at home- you had to ask Mom’s permission to play them, and you were restricted to an hour or so of playing time.  There were no Call Of Duty-esque games in the house until about 2006, when the older of the two was about fourteen, and even after that, both boys had very restricted gaming time.  In the absence of homework or chores that needed to be done, they’d be told to go “read a book.”

Davidson asserts that “games have been considered an important tool for teaching complex principles and honing sophisticated forms of procedural thinking,” and that such activities can teach players to recognize “all parts of a problem, all possibilities for winning and for losing, [. . .] and the best set of responses (procedures) to maximize success” (146).   Science has apparently proven that they improve multitasking abilities, hand-eye coordination, teamwork, and metabolic function, (149-50).  I was not aware of any of this, to be honest.  I’ve never been a gamer, and I don’t see the attraction.   However, now that I understand a bit more of the science behind how games work, things make a bit more sense.

It makes sense now that both of my brothers are great with team work and have a more positive view of dealing with other people.  On the other hand,  I loved the isolation and pure imagination that came with books, and am typically a bit more apprehensive of working with others.  Where I love endlessly discussing strange theoretical ideas and minutia, both of my brothers enjoy and are skilled in the application and processes of creating a cohesive product.  All three of us are skilled, but in markedly different ways.  Of course, all of this begs the question:  Do games and books attract people of a certain personality type, or do they have a heavy hand in creating them?  For space’s sake, I won’t go into that.

In the above clip, from the 2006 Doctor Who episode “Tooth and Claw,” the Doctor encourages his companions– including Queen Victoria herself– to arm themselves with books and knowledge in order to defeat the werewolf-like creature that is terrorizing Torchwood Estate.  In this context,  the books are defensive mechanisms, preparing the Doctor and his companions to deal with the aggressions of a dangerous enemy.   If books were demonized even half as much as video games have been, education and childhood for children around the world would have been markedly different.  If those tables were turned and books were limited and seen as a vice because they were regarded as dangerous and violence-inducing, the Doctor, Rose Tyler, and Queen Victoria might have been in a very different sort of situation.

I was fortunate to have teachers who understood how important reading was to me, and more than one of them made a point to encourage reading, response, and analysis as a part of their curriculum.  My third grade teacher created an optional advanced reading activity group for about twelve students, in which we read different books and had our own special binders for discussion and response.  Davidson seems to agree with my opinion that reading is one of the most important ways to encourage imagination and curiosity in learners of all ages, calling the kindergarteners “the luckiest children on earth” (98).  Not only do they they have the privilege of quiet time to spend reading whatever they choose, but they have an educator who recognizes and encourages independent, self-directed learning.

On page 129, Davidson poses the concept of a year-end “boss-level challenge,” a project (or several smaller related projects) produced from the cumulative learning and particular skills of each student.  It makes so much sense that I’m astounded it hasn’t been implemented more widely in the mainstream.  Instead of testing arbitrary and generally irrelevant knowledge, such a project would give students a platform to develop useful skills like reasoning, communication, the importance of community outreach, and research.  Basically, it sounds like a masters’ thesis for kids that is almost more applicable to real-world situations than an actual master’s thesis.  Whether the project incorporates the skills and ideas they learn from books or video games, all that matters is that it would measure their useful life skills and arm them to be productive contributors to society.

I realized that I never actually got to talking about a classroom educational experience, but I will say that I wish this book had been around when I was in elementary school.  If educators had realized the apparent potential that video games have for developing skills applicable to the classroom and real life, I feel like I would have had a very different and more diversely enriching school experience.  I wouldn’t trade my love of books and the enrichment that they’ve contributed to my life for anything.  However,  Now You See It has forced me to consider the value of video games, which I have generally viewed as useless and a waste of time, and think about how learning would be different if it was books that were considered dangerous vices.

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Now You See It, Now I Don’t: How Schools are Failing Our Children

My fourth grade daughter reports that of each school day, she only enjoys 40 minutes. And surprisingly, it’s not lunch and recess.

For less than an hour, she and a handful of other “advanced” students leave the regular classroom and spend time in “enrichment” class. There, Evelyn and her cohort read (more) challenging texts, debate how to solve difficult word problems, and craft creative responses to writing prompts.

“Something I really like is when we break into groups and each group has a set of algebra problems to do,” says Evelyn. “I feel like I learn better that way because I have something that I can share with the other people, and seeing what other people did helps me too.”

As far as enrichment goes, Evelyn’s teacher requires nothing remarkably collaborative, challenging, or interdisciplinary. Yet compared to how learning happens in my daughter’s regular classroom, the approaches taken by her enrichment teacher look revolutionary.

When she goes back to class after enrichment, Evelyn must then make up the work she missed in class; she often brings home a stack of worksheets and worry about whether she will earn an NP (Nearing Proficiency), MP (Meeting Proficiency), or EP (Exceeding Proficiency) on her next standardized test. (How someone can *exceed* proficiency is beyond me, but that’s quibbling over semantics.)

In other words, the learning she and her friends do in enrichment isn’t seen as replacing or even extending the regular curriculum. She still must complete every worksheet in order to ensure solid results on the standardized test that Delaware requires she take three times a year, every year.

When I talked with my daughter about some of the classroom projects Cathy Davidson writes about in her book, Now You See It: How Technology and Brain Science Will Transform Schools and Business for the 21st Century, she expressed admiration and a tinge of jealousy. The process-based methods used by innovative teachers like those at Voyager Academy and Quest 2 Learn were both alien and appealing to her.

Mostly what she longs for is to learn in interesting ways. Nearly every subject–from science to social studies, language arts to math–has the potential to interest her and her classmates, but the perpetual testing cycle and limitations of time and focus discourage fun, curiosity, and questions.

The elementary-aged kids I talk to know that the system is broken; they know that standardized testing, at least in its current form, is a chain hanging around their teachers’ (and by proxy, their educations’) necks. But they’re trapped.

“Standardized tests just show what you wrote. They don’t show what you actually know,” explains Evelyn. “Something like a project can show how much a student cares about their work.”

Evelyn, limited by her formal school experiences as well as by her youth, would probably admire Davidson’s idea of an “exciting end-of-grade test” (130). Davidson proposes an end of year “synthesis” that students would create that would use what they had learned that year. The project would show “each child what he or she could do in the world,” and these ideas would be on display at an “idea sale” (130).

In my searching online for a video intersecting with Davidson’s theoretical concepts and my hopes for my children, I found a video made by a class of 7th graders in Joanna Sanders Bobiash’s Grade 7 class at École Wilfrid Walker School. The video, which won the 2009 “Best in Class” Best Buy Contest, grew out of a collaborative text written by the students based on their goals for the future and the impact of technology on their lives.

See the video here (I’m having trouble getting it to embed from tubechop).

Now, there are many other more polished videos available on Youtube, even those ostensibly made by middle schoolers. This one did not stand out to me because of its professionalism; the video footage and editing is fine and the audio quality is okay.

What moved me deeply was getting to hear the words and voices of young adolescents speaking their goals and dreams. Not by themselves in private. Not to a friend or family member. But as a team, to the world (and in two languages, no less!).

One young woman says, “I want to share my work with the world and learn from their feedback.”

That simultaneous confidence in reaching out and acknowledgement of what one has yet to learn, it seems to me, are at the heart of Davidson’s manifesto: “Confidence in your ability to learn is confidence in your ability to unlearn,” writes Davidson, “to switch assumptions or methods or partnerships in order to do better” (86).

Schools that encourage and reward that simultaneous confidence (learning) and awareness of personal shortcomings (unlearning): that’s what I want for my daughters and my son.

But when another thick packet of worksheets and workbook pages land on the kitchen counter, it’s hard to feel hope that a place like Ms. Bobiash’s 7th grade class and Q2L and Voyager Academy are more than rare mirages in an educational morass.