Wednesday, April 5, 2017

"The Game Believes In You" - Computers, Coding + Education

 "The Game Believes in You: How Digital Play Can Make Our Kids Smarter" by Greg Toppo sucked me in. I ended up finishing this quickly, read the first couple of chapters on the bus. Then last Thursday after my dentist appointment I sat down and read the rest, thus didn't get a lot else done that day. So I guess officially I read the book in March but since I had already decided it was part of my April list ;). 

So this book does a very good job of supporting it's title, it starts with the topic of how math games such as ST Math and it's mascot JiJi the pengion have entered many American elementary schools. One of the best features of this game which I feel is a very strong feature is that there are no language barriers as most of the game is based on visuals. So children who haven't learnt to read or have english as a second language can improve on their math skills also.

Greg also touches on the history of programming and how it has delved into the field of education throughout this. Educational psychologists as early as 1950s-1960s were suggesting that pre-programmed "teaching machines" be brought into the classrooms, they were even going as far as to suggest they replace teachers completely. They felt that the machines would be better equipped in dealing with students differences of learning. Each child would be working at their own speed and learning to their full potential, it was a very idealsitic dream at the time as technology was still not advanced enough to accomodate the concept.

1960s Teaching machine designed by Sidney Pressey & Burrhus Skinner

1960s Jetsons TV Series
This whole topic lead me down the slippery slope of reading about different teaching machines which were being created as early as the 1910s. They have changed greatly over the eras but the basic concept is normally the same, how to teach children efficiently and the most effectively. Greg discusses both the pros and cons of these devices in his book.

 One of the quotes I really liked was from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi "The best moments usually occur when a person's body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile" or "Optimal experience is thus something we make happen". In the 1980s Csikszentmihalyi developed the notion of "optimal experience" or "flow" a state when a person's abilities match the task at hand so perfectly that the work necessary becomes invisible.

Greg also covers a variety of schools which are known for utilizing game design and computers heavily in their curriculiums. Quest To Learn in New York is a good example in this category. There have been many revamps throughout its development and no the kids don't just play computer games all day. A feature at the school is project intensives and what I would call cross pollination of subjects. A very strong feature is that students are required to question how things are constructed and why they are made that way, then asked to reconstruct them. Everyone should always question Why? and How?. Reading the book probably creates as many questions as it answers, but I personally think that is a good sign in a book and a school.

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