I started reading Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken and can’t wait to learn more about how gaming is being used for social good. Though I am only on Chapter 1 (yes, I could use more free time. LOL!), I recognize many of the “gamer” traits in my two boys. At just 8 and 5-years old, both kids enjoy playing video games. In fact, my 5-year old has been waking up extra early every day in order to get time alone with the Wii before his brother wakes up. At first, I was disappointed that my younger son felt pressured to exchange sleep for improving his game play. After all, I’d hate to think the Wii was so competitive and/or addicting that my Kindergartener would go to such great lengths to play. However, after chatting with him about why he woke up early, I was surprised (and happy) to learn my 5-year old’s efforts to get better at the Wii were not necessarily aimed at beating his older brother, but for self-improvement and the joy that comes with unlocking new achievements.
And, in case you think play is easy, it really isn’t. Playing games is hard work. McGonigal describes the video game experience as, “…always playing on the very edge of your skill level, always on the brink of falling off. When you do fall off, you feel the urge to climb back on. That’s because there’s virtually nothing as engaging as this state of working at the very limits of your ability – or what both game designers and psychologies call ‘flow.'”
BTW, “flow” is another way of describing the state of extreme happiness. To learn more, take a look at the field of positive psychology.
The thought of voluntarily playing video games because they are difficult, rewarding, and provoke happiness made me think about how we might leverage game mechanics to solve some of society’s challenges. In thinking about failing school systems and how American education is not preparing our kids for the future, I wondered what the role gaming will might be. Here’s what I found.
On one end of the spectrum, schools like New York City’s Quest to Learn is reinventing education by melding game mechanics into middle school education. While it is too early to tell whether the Quest to Learn model is effective, I really like the idea of children learning by doing and exploring the impact of digital media and gaming when it comes to learning.
In case you’re not familiar with Quest to Learn, here’s a video describing their mission, philosophy, and approach to education.
Alright, so if schools built around immersive gaming are on one end of the spectrum, the other end of the spectrum plays host to a slew of companies like Houghton Mifflin, McGraw-Hill, Education City, etc. creating educational games meant to work within or to augment the classroom experience.As serendipity would have it, I was invited by one such educational gaming company, K5 Learning, to review their offering. Here’s the disclosure.
K5 Learning has an online reading and math program for kindergarten to grade 5 students. I’ve been given a 6 week free trial to test and write a review of their program. If you are a blogger, you may want to check out their open invitation to write an online learning review of their program.
I shared the details of the K5 invitation with my boys and asked if they’d like to help me with the product review. Both enthusiastically said, “Yes!” Fingers crossed. I’m hoping K5’s program is both educational and engaging. After all, I believe kids will have a better chance at learning if they enjoy what they’re doing and keep coming back for more.