Gears of my childhood
I am constantly amazed by the way that video games command attention. People willingly play video games for hours without becoming bored. I can’t blame them, I do the same. However, what excites me is the fact that some children who generally do not do well with memorization can recite the names of hundreds of Pokemon while also listing some of their characteristics. Obviously something is happening that allows these kids to learn and recall this information easily or at least willingly. Something that occurs while they’re playing the game. If we can harness this medium to create effective educational tools the results would be very valuable. The question is, how?
My fascination for using games to promote learning came at an early age. My mother helped me understand that education unleashes potential and that the first step towards fulfilling any dream is to learn about it. Coming from a low income neighborhood however, did not provide many opportunities to seek additional tutoring. My mother met this challenge by creating simple educational games that we would then play together. I remember playing a wide variety of games each with an underlying educational concept that I could use in my studies. I appreciated how much my mother worked with me and since that time I wished to do the same for others.
Growing up, everything was a game to me. I remember doing inequalities and pretending the greater than or less than sign was the mouth of an alligator. To win this game I had to feed the alligator the biggest number I had. I remember taking tests and pretending that I was on a quiz show. The more questions I got right, the more money I got. These little games helped me to focus on the tasks and motivated me to do my best. They also added a bit of excitement to what would otherwise be repetitive tasks.
When I was 16 my love of games introduced me to programming. I remember finding the program GameMaker and being amazed by the fact that I could make things move across a screen by issuing simple commands. It wasn’t long before I had things moving across the screen and crashing into one another. I also remember what didn’t work, and the hours I spent debugging my code. But instead of loathing the debugging process I found myself looking forward to it. I found that I treated debugging much like a riddle that I was eager to solve. I continued to develop my game until one day I was selected to represent my region in the Intel Teen Technology summit. Because of my game I was also featured in a New York Times article showcasing youth and technology. I’ve been programming ever since.
Even now it baffles me that people don’t actively create little games to help them learn. I firmly believe that making small games has helped to me achieve the success I have today. But, even with the advent of Sesame Street, some people still cling to the antiquated idea that if someone is laughing, they probably aren’t learning. This was especially relevant during the time I volunteered at the intel teen technology clubhouse. During that time the card game YU-GI-OH! was very popular. Almost every student that came to the club house was familiar with the game and enjoyed playing it. The coordinators of the teen technology clubhouse, however, saw the card game a a nuisance and tried to ban it. Being the proponent of games I argued that the students were actually learning while they played the game. The coordinators seemed intrigued by this idea and asked me to put together a small presentation about what the students learned while playing the game.
At first I wasn’t sure what I was going to present. Obviously the game required knowledge of addition and subtraction during the “battle” phase, but I wasn’t sure what else. However, as I studied the game with the lens of an educator I began to see multiplication, division, probability, strategy, reading comprehension, and even economics being used while playing the game. What was more exciting was that some of these concepts had not been taught at school meaning that the student had learned that skill simply so that they would be good at the game. The game had served as a tool to encourage learning. I was excited by what I had discovered and the coordinators were impressed that these concepts were present in what they had assumed to be a frivolous activity. Needless to say, the game was not banned.
When I think back to these experiences I can’t help but get excited. I only wish I knew more about effective educational games. There is great power in learning through play, and I can’t thank my mom enough for introducing me that idea.