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Gaming as Learning or Learning as Gaming? Huh…

I talked a lot in the last post about stressing importance on what shall we put more focus on. What is more important – English or Math and why most companies focus on Math rather than English whereas it should be other way around.

We decided that in the product that we develop we would be putting an equal emphasis on both Math and English and hence have roped in 3 Math and 3 English teachers with tons of experience to help us create the best content.

Developing the best content and packaging it in the best way and delivering are 2 different ball games.

So I started studying what interests the students in Grades 1 to 8 where we are starting and how can we make them enjoy and learn Math and English.

I looked at about 50-60 websites providing Math training and a few providing English training and realized most of them try to do it in one of the 2 ways

  1. Gaming as learning
  2. Learning as gaming

Gaming as learning

Here games are the actual learning tools.

Most of the websites ‘try’ to develop games and throw in Math problems in between believing that the students will learn and enjoy. I saw some really lame action games that throw in math problems in between. Awwww.  This may work for 1st or 2nd grade student to some extent but older children are just too smart and have played enough Android and iPhone games to see the difference.

What they are trying to do it trick the students into learning making them believe that they are actually playing a game.

If you have an intricately build game like ‘Angry Birds’ that teaches the concepts of physics inbuilt and it amazing fun that’s ok. Rovio has done a great job and put in a lot of efforts. It doesn’t hide concepts to teach physics behind the game. THE GAME IS THE CONCEPT. And it takes lot of hard work to do it. To teach various concepts of Math and English in a similar way is a daunting task. Which I believe no one has been able to do it in a decent way so far. Dreambox Learning is making a good effort doing that but again they fail at another aspect. They may be able to teach a few (not all) fundamental concepts to the students using games but do not advance further. They do not take the student to the next level to more complex – critical thinking problems. The kind asked in CoGAT, NNAT, and other competitive or gifted student’s tests. This limits their teaching ability. Mathalicious is creating videos to understand Math from a practical approach; yes this helps but follows the same limitation as dreambox.

So Gaming as Learning typically doesn’t work or if it works doesn’t solve the whole problem only a part of the problem.

Learning as Gaming

Here learning tools remain the learning tools but are incentivized as playing a game.

To understand the concept of incentivizing I played a lot of games kids played and enjoyed and I got hooked on to them badly. It took me 3 days to complete this blog post as I would find some game and start playing it. None of them tried to teach me Math or any other thing. It was just fun.

I played ‘Temple Run’ a lot and other games like ‘Subway Surfer’, ‘Paper Toss’, ‘Draw Something’, ‘Air Hockey’, ‘Nuts’ , ‘Fruit Ninja’, ‘Tiny Wings’, ‘Jet Pack’ etc.

All were amazing fun. What I realized that the reason I hooked up to these games was not only they were fun and great graphics and everything but they encouraged me all the way. If I run 300 meters I would get a Novice Runner tag in Temple Run or at 200 hits I become a Ninja in Fruit Ninja and that made me feel good and I kept on getting better and better. And I kept on playing, I was never demotivated. I was pushed beyond my limits.

Why can’t we push our students in the same way to learn Math and English without demotivating them? Why can’t we make them achieve something beyond their limits encouraging them all the way? Why do we have to hide behind lame games or excessive pressure to make the students learn something? Learning should be fun anyways and with a little incentive put in, it could bring in amazing results.

I am not saying Learning as Gaming is the answer. There are limitations as well. Students get so hooked on the point system that they forget that there is actual learning to be done or the incentives are designed so badly that it actually demotivates rather than motivating. Bringing the parents and teachers on board could be a challenge as well.

However, it seems to be a much cleaner and at this moment a better approach than creating games to teach Math or English. Math and English should be able to stand by themselves. Students should be able to enjoy them and learn new things that amaze them. It doesn’t need to be hidden behind the mask of a game. Of course, a little gift here and there and a reward point always pushes the student.

    Hardik Parikh is the Co-founder of PracTutor. PracTutor is a personalized fun way to master Common Core Math and English. All kids – whether they need intervention, accelerated learning or career and college readiness – can achieve their goals within PracTutor.