High school science teacher Paul Anderson has turned his class into a video game. Is he capitulating to the worst aspects of the youth culture? Throwing his hands up in defeat? Not at all. Anderson says he’s exploiting a central quality of games that often goes unnoticed: Games are about learning.
In a recent TED talk, Anderson describes three of the lessons games taught him about learning:
- School should be fun.
- Failure is OK, because students learn from their mistakes. Think about students who try—again and again—to master the next level on a videogame.
- Every student should be able to move at his or her own pace from one level of mastery to the next. Students don’t all move through a game in lock step.
Anderson took a whole summer to apply these and other lessons to his science class, which now looks very different the way it did before. The class includes narrated scenarios, opportunities to apply learning, the ability to take quizzes over and over again until students master material, a “leveling system” where students begin a year with zero points and gradually advance to “grand master” status, and a “leaderboard” where students track their progress against that of other students.
Anderson notes that he is learning from the mistakes he made in his first year of teaching this way. Here are some of the lessons of his early failures:
- Create better “scaffolding” or guidance for students. When students started learning at their own pace, “some of them stalled out, some of them raced ahead, some of them drove right into a wall.”
- Help students with their reading. Students struggled with reading when they began to work more independently, and so some fell behind. In more traditional classrooms, teachers explain textbooks to students.
- Add social elements to the classroom. The technology itself won’t make learning more engaging unless students have the opportunity to be social. That, Anderson says, is one of the reasons why students come to school in the first place.
His concluding message? Do what you’re passionate about, and then fail, learn, repeat. That is a message a gamer can understand.
Hat tip: Joanne Jacobs