Parents and educators often have a love/hate relationship with digital gaming. We see its positive potential, but harnessing it requires time to investigate the options available. Like it or not, though, digital gaming could very well be, if you'll pardon the pun, a game-changer in talent development. Here are four good reasons why:
1. New technology is allowing educators to teach advanced concepts to children at younger ages. Digital developments in the last year, for instance, are going to enable students as young as four years old to program robots and write code in the Center for Talent Development (CTD) Summer Program. By offering Robotics and Animation courses to kids from age 4 to grade 3 in summer 2015, Leapfrog is on the cutting edge of this early childhood education trend.
2. Digital games in schools give gifted learners increased individual attention. In classrooms of many students with a wide range of skill levels, gifted learners can often be last in receiving feedback on their performance. Digital games provide students with immediate feedback on their progress and can help prevent gifted learners from feeling neglected, despite working independently from their peers.
3. Digital games could help decrease the gender gap in STEM fields. Leapfrog's Girl Power Animation course, for girls only, reached capacity enrollment last summer. By attracting more girls to our courses, teachers have been able to observe some interesting details about what entices girls and boys to gaming. (Hint: It's not the same thing!)
4. Games can ease entry into intimidating subject areas and more complex assignments, enticing kids who might otherwise shy away from these challenges. According CTD instructor, Dana Stewart, for example, "Kids are willing to do almost anything if Minecraft is involved."
To learn more about effective uses of digital gaming in homes and classrooms and to see our list of recommended games and apps, please enjoy this issue, and look back at our previous issue for the article "Teaching with Minecraft, One Block at a Time."
Happy gaming and learning in 2015, everyone!
The New York Times has written about adding coding to the curriculum at an early age, and Center for Talent Development (CTD) plans to be a U.S. frontrunner in the movement.
Dana Stewart, a CTD instructor of technology courses, compares coding to writing. "Not everyone is going to be a writer, but we all have to know how to write. Likewise," she says, "computer science is now an essential content area in a liberal arts education, and coding is the basic skill everyone needs to have. Why not give kids that knowledge and advantage as soon as possible?"
The stumbling block, up until now, has been that teaching tools simply haven't been available. New digital gaming developments in the last year, though, are shifting this dynamic.
It might be argued, in fact, that digital gaming is changing the very nature of education. Published last fall, the Mind/Shift Guide to Digital Games and Learning highlights research regarding the positive cognitive, motivational, emotional and social effects of gaming. If engaging students in learning is the first step in developing habits and skills that support them in realizing their academic, civic and career potential, the guide posits that digital games could be the key to helping students thrive.
Ann Gadzikowski, Early Childhood Education coordinator for CTD, believes in the potential of games, but also advocates for proper use of the term. "Some educators and tech experts use the word 'game' very loosely. Anything that is fun or visual is called a game," Gadzikowski says. "At CTD, and in our Leapfrog Program, specifically, we define a game as a goal-oriented activity. You're earning points or attempting to get to the end of a path, for instance, as opposed to simply drawing a picture or making designs. Those are fun activities, but they aren't necessarily games."
"I think one of the exciting things about the Mind/Shift guide is the way it pulls together research ideas and best practices specific to games," Gadzikowski adds. With some success stories in the books and exciting new developments planned for summer 2015, CTD plans to add to this body of knowledge.
Several researchers have touted digital games as the potential key to eliminating the gender gap in STEM fields. CTD's data supports this idea. Five years ago, CTD introduced "Girl Power Animation," a course designed only for girls in grade 3. Enrollment of girls taking Animation has grown every year. This past summer, CTD taught animation to more girls than boys. "It's been a nice success story that we've been able to encourage girls to take these tech courses by designating a section just for them," says Gadzikowski.
Teachers of these courses have observed that girls are more interested in telling stories and boys seem more interested in playing games. This data will help CTD attract both genders to its courses. "As we put together new tech courses, we want to provide opportunities for both telling stories and playing games because we know that different children will be drawn to different things," Gadzikowski says.
CTD is the right place for experimentation with digital games because games have particular significance for gifted learners. "When students play a game, they're able to control their learning in a way that they can't in a more open-ended activity. They're able to set a goal for themselves and then prepare a plan or strategy for how they're going to get there," says Gadzikowski. "Additionally—and perhaps most importantly for gifted students—they're able to self-assess their progress because they're receiving feedback through points earned, bells rung, or jewels collected."
For the gifted learner, this immediate feedback can be incredibly valuable. "So often, gifted learners have to be independent learners in a classroom because the rest of the class is behind," explains Gadzikowski. "As they work on their own, they often don't know if they're on the right track; they just know they're on a different track than the other students. Some of the learning games recommended in the Mind/Shift guide are particularly good for helping gifted learners practice metacognition, or an awareness of their own thinking and learning processes. It's not that the games are a replacement for a teacher, but they are a wonderful tool and supplement."
Clearly, not all games are created equal.For parents and educators overwhelmed by the task of deciphering the good from the bad, here are a few CTD-approved options. The Mind/Shift Guide to Digital Games and Learning is another great source of ideas.
Ratings and Reviews of Games and Apps:
Digital Games, Apps and Robotic Devices:
*Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride are Euro-style board games that bright CTD students are able to start playing when they are seven-, eight- and nine-years-old even when the label on the box says they're too young. CTD likes Euro-style games because they are rarely winner-takes-all experiences. Instead, every player accumulates victory points, making it possible to play against yourself even when you're playing with a group. If you don't win the game, you can make a goal of earning more victory points the next time you play and improving your score.