Should School be More Like Playing a Game?

Photo courtesy of Institute of Play.

9.17.10 | “What if teachers gave up the vestiges of their educational past, threw away the worksheets, burned the canon and reconfigured the foundation upon which a century of learning has been built?”

So asks The Times Sara Corbett in an article that will appear in the Sunday magazine section. Corbett visits the new Quest2Learn school to find out what happens when educators take on just such an experiment and reimagine what learning could look like if educators think outside the box. 

At Quest2Learn, lessons become “quests,” math and English class become interdisciplinary courses with such titles as Codeworlds and Sports for the Mind. Students “record podcasts, film and edit videos, play video games, blog avidly and occasionally receive video messages from aliens.”

The school is the brainchild of game designer Katie Salen, a professor of design and technology at Parsons the New School for Design who believes learning should be more like playing games: participatory, immersive and fun. [Watch Spotlight’s interview with Salen here].

Salen and her colleagues at Quest2Learn have created a curriculum where educators think like game designers and ask students to collaborate to tackle broad, open-ended problems, which they believe teach important critical thinking skills.

Salen, who Corbett calls an “unlikely prophet” for education, argues that schools need to pay attention to the learning that kids are doing outside of school with digital media.  “You go to a math class, and that is the only place math is happening, and you are supposed to learn math just in that one space,” Salen told the Times.

“There’s been this assumption that school is the only place that learning is happening, that everything a kid is supposed to know is delivered between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., and it happens in the confines of a building. But the fact is that kids are doing a lot of interesting learning outside of school. We acknowledge that, and we are trying to bring that into their learning here.”

The story is chock full of great bits about passionate digital kids engaging in complex game play, producing fabulous YouTube videos and using Twitter to complain about their parents. It’s also great to see concrete examples of social networking being used in the classroom.

Read the full story here. It covers many of the technologies we’ve written about on Spotlight, including SMALLab, the mixed reality platform that teaches math and science.

Have more questions about games and learning in the classroom? You can leave one for James Paul Gee, a games researcher and professor of literacy studies at Arizona State University, in this New York Times forum. Readers have already asked key questions about how teachers can make the best use of gaming technologies, the importance of parental involvement in children’s game play and the effects of video games on brain development.  Gee will post his answers to a selection of reader questions on Sept. 20. Join the conversation.

Read more about Quest2Learn on Spotlight:

A is for Failure—Helping Kids to Fail Faster Can Help Them Learn

NPR Looks at How NYC Games School is Teaching Systems Thinking

Q&A with Katie Salen on What Kids Learned in a Mobile Media Summer Camp

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