To do is to be
To be is to do
So Do We?
It is just good teaching
Games taught me that modeling environments and taking on the roles are powerful ways to teach and learn.
Piaget talked about roles as assimilation. You try on the role and see what part of the character is you.
Gibson talked about environment and context, with affordances and constraints. What the world gives you for advice, warning, limitation, and opportunity.
These ideas are present in embodiment and how we might contextualize our curriculum as an activity system.
One of the big lessons from games is design. Good learning is by design. A teacher, like a game designer creates the environment where we learn.
We are already attempting to embody what we teach in purposeful ways with Professional Content Magnets in our secondary schools. In Minneapolis we have Automotive, Cosmetology, Medicine, Business, and Fine Arts—just to name a couple. What we often don’t do is to integrate the abstractions of the core competencies from the traditional content areas into the context of the professional development. I have noticed that the many of the magnets still teach school the same way. Students still go to math and use a math text book, and they learn Math the same way they do in Auto as they do in Medical — they just have some specialized classes and placement programs that allow students to specialize.
We often do not teach our content in the context of doing the professional work. We do not find Algebra in the everyday world of Engineering, we teach the formulas as content rather than showing how a formula can be used for building a model for an engineering project. There is a new kind of engineering for schools – reverse engineering.
Can we teach physics with an internal combustion engine? Dewey thought so.
Games ask us to take on the roles and then teach us to do things in the context of that role in the simulated environment.
That is embodiment.
Schools can do this too.
We can structure reflection to connect experience to our abstracted tradition of curriculum to generalize and transfer.
If you are playing as a doctor, you will do the things that doctors do.
And as you are acting like a doctor, the game gives you clues to achieve a win-state, in the form of feedback and performance assessment.
Games provide performance assessment in real time embodied in the context of what a doctor does and how a doctor gets feedback. So you learn to be a doctor by playing in a simulated world as a doctor. In the process, you are assessed on your performance by the game. It is how they keep score!
In games students are scored based upon criteria for performance that is built into the activity. The assessment is the activity.
This is different from taking tests on the content and elements of performance in print based tests and questionnaires. Thorndike anyone?
This is what games do when they are well-designed, and this is what curriculum can do when it takes these steps as well. Good teaching is good teaching, but often our teachers are not given the opportunity or resources to create hands-on experience for their students with the content built into the context of doing in the world. We tried to do this a number of years ago with the Profiles of Learning and Performance Packages here in Minnesota, but we just did not do a good job of helping our teachers do it.
Instead, we are writing a paper about what doctors do, “because this is what we do in English.” We are preparing for a time when you can be a doctor. You must write first in school, and then you can apply to medical school. Why are we withholding the fun?
I am sure you are saying to yourself that this reminds you of apprenticeship programs. And “what about the value of a good liberal arts education?”
I am with you. I originally wanted to be a philosopher! I still try to connect great books with issues we face in society. My own eight grader helped me by telling me that “sonic the hedgehop is like Odysseus Mr. Dubbels, he is trying to get home.” We also made our own version of the Odyssey– studying it to make a game. The kids said that Odyssseus was put off the bus (Poseidon Bus Lines anyone?) for being arrogant and had to walk home in a modern day, urban Odyssey.
Actions speak louder than word when it comes to learning.
And words are what many students’ days are full of: in the texts, in the lecture, in homework.
I like words, but it is important that I have experience to write and read about to connect. Something purposeful and fun.
I am here to tell you, you don’t need a computer to make learning environments like this. You can construct modern Odysseys.
I am not saying that what we are doing in school is wrong. Good teaching is good teaching, and there are many things I like to do and teach that have nothing to do with video games. I am an English teacher, and I like to read. I like to write, and I like big ideas.
Shouldn’t we be considering how we might work to teach the words-words-words–abstraction-as-content curriculum
in a more tangible way, that allows students to use the skill sets of an historian or botanist with reading, writing, numeracy, technology, and scientific reasoning built-in, as a botanist or historian would do it in the context of their job?
Imagine being Indiana Jones. Would you prefer to be Indy on a mission or in the lecture hall? I think I like the whip for jumping over a canyon better than using it as a teacher.
We can teach traditional content areas and standards as elements of embodied practice. Most of us use reading, writing, and numeracy in the context of our professions and recreation, not as we do in English class or Geometry.
When was the last time you took a content-test at work?
Subject matter expertise comes out in situated performance in my experience. Games are actually built to teach and assess through performance. In addition, games demand mastery and continuous improvement in pursuit of winning the game and even provide replay, scoring, and commentary!
What if we built curriculum in the form of games?
Can you imagine getting an instant replay with color commentary like you get in Madden 2007 on your test? In games, you have to perform with enough mastery to move on, or level up. Games do the assessment as part of their programming.
You may be asking now, “But are there games that can do what a text book does?
“What about the teacher?”
My answer: “do you want your kids learning from textbooks?”
Textbooks are great, but limited in what they can present. And they may serve a valid purpose as a reference point for exploring issues in the contexts of analysis, history of what others have done and thought, as well as jumping-off-points for more serious inquiry and investigation—just like the Wikipedia.
Yes, I know, the wikipedia is only as good as the posters, but at least there is discussion and room for published public dissent on the article in the context of the webpage where the information is posted. Can you do this with a text book?
My work as a media specialist gave me an opportunity to take a serious look at what we were doing with books and how we were using them. I was surprised that my library was more of a repository of relics, curiosities, and histories – as well as some great fiction and how-to-books.
What I was thinking as I weeded out geography texts on Yugoslavia and the USSR, was that much of what we purchase in non-fiction texts actually work better on the World Wide Web. In fact, what makes the WWW better is that we can find starting points for research and inquiry like the Wikipedia; we can read a variety of sites that might inform us and create contrast and opposing viewpoints, as well offer a variety of media opportunities in the form of video on demand, live web-camera viewing, links to other sites, community forums for discussion and community, as well as interactive media like games. And the WWW is generally updated. Not like the books on the USSR and Yugoslavia.
We should be moving beyond the static curriculum of text books.
Games can provide the context and action for our content knowledge in a situated context—almost as good as being there.
Games can do this whether they are computer games, or games that use paper, pencil, and dice.
Further, what games do well is provide context and necessitate performance. I am not the first person to say this and many more have said it better. The big idea here is that games represent an opportunity to be in a role, doing things that people in those roles do, in places where they do them, and then get assessed in that performance. A nice book on this – I like books—is David Shaffer’s book and his take on Epistemic Games. What David proposes is that there are beliefs, acts, and contexts for what the professions do.
A game I like that does this is Global Conflicts Palestine. I have been using this game with middle school students in Minneapolis at Richard Green-Central K8 school to teach about being a journalist; teach about issues in Jerusalem that affect us all as a planet; and issues in composition such as thesis and supporting details, the use of data collection, writing to inform, and rhetorical situations like writer’s purpose, audience, topic, and context. The cool thing is, in this game you play the journalist and you deal with these issues as a journalist. And this includes the creation of the articles from informants you have quoted in the game. You have to do the things I teach in English class, but while playing as a journalist.
Yes, Playing. That typically means fun is included there too!
There are still two unanswered questions here:
“What about the textbooks?” and “what about the teachers?”
Texts can tell a story, provide relevant reference, as well as provide models for how we create texts. I do prefer reading fiction from a book. There will always be a place for texts. But should they be our primary tools?
Teachers become coaches, resources, and designers of instruction. They help students through the experience of becoming. Help students set goals. Assist them in connecting their experience and structuring reflection. They become more connected.
These are not new ideas either, but they have not been implemented. Texts and teachers are often the focus of the classroom experience, even though experience and common sense tell us that student learning should be the focus. Teachers can create contexts, structure reflection, and provide resources like text books and other references to further the growth and learning of their students. They become the designers of content systems, instructional environments, or whatever you want to call them. We do need support in this. As teachers, we are not islands or independent states. Administrators, school boards, other teachers, parents, students, schools of education, game companies, philanthropic entities ( my email is below if you are a philanthropic entity) can all help.
And like I said, many of us do this now. We use cooperative learning, projects, performance, experience, and encourage students to have wonderful ideas. And this is what creates knowledge and innovation. What our country was built upon. But maybe we can take this a step further and become student growth centered. Games can help us do that.
In the next entry, I will be going into aspects of games and how they might be used to extend learning time outside of the classroom and bring the lives of our learners in. Games provide a great opportunity for distance learning. My last post will be a description of how I taught with games and some outcomes, and maybe most importantly, how I was able to get the equipment and make it happen. And to get to the point: I had no grants. I had no special resources. I bought no equipment.