Posted in biology, chemistry, communication and networking, education

Video Games are NOT the same as Math Lessons

I will keep ranting about this until the day I die. I don’t care how many articles and research you throw at me saying that using videos games to teach children Reading, Science, or Math is beneficial; I will throw back at you ten times as many studies and research that say they DON’T!

Scientific American recently published an article with examples of video games being used to teach children different skills.

One is River City, “funded by the National Science Foundation and  developed by programmers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and targeted at students in grades six through nine.” In River City, children learn about how diseases are spread and how humans can affect and be affected by it. Using video games to explore scenarios is old hat, and this one I’m not too concerned by. I played Oregon Trail as a kid, same thing. The graphics even look somewhat similar. Did I learn a little history in the process? Not really. It created a framework for me when I later learned in History class about the Oregon trail and how it related to my life.

But another game they mention, Alien Contact, bugs me to no end. First thing, it isn’t a video game, it’s a treasure hunt using GPS. The idea is that aliens have landed on Earth, and the kids, each assigned different areas of expertise – chemist, linguist, computer expert or FBI agent – and must work together to solve math and word puzzles to figure out what the aliens are up to.

The game has a great concept, I love it in fact: it promotes teamwork, interdisciplinary skills, teaches somewhat real life applications to math and language, and getting out into the real world and breathing some fresh air. So why do they need a GPS in there? “Because kids these days are hooked into technology,” “Because these are also skills kids are going to need to learn.” I don’t buy the “kids need technology” argument for one second for kids in the U.S. I’d much rather see kids using their eyes and looking for clues, not staring deep into a Blackberry looking for where they are.

For kids who have never seen a computer before in their lives, yes, I think that computer classes are useful. Knowing basic computer skills is essential if you are interested in working with anyone outside your village, here or abroad. But for kids living in the U.S., the issue isn’t lack of access to technology, it’s lack of access to exercise and being engaged by something other than a screen. Sure, GPS is a good skill, but do middle school kids need to learn how to use it?

The New York Times put out a story last year about using video games to get kids interested in classic books and “trick” them into reading the book. I know so many students who don’t read the book and just read CliffNotes or watch the movie (assuming their is one), and video games aren’t going to help that trend. The kids who would read the book related to the video game are the same kids who read the book so they can compare it to the movie. I doubt it’s going to “catch” new readers.

For one thing, video games train people to have quick reflexes but short attention spans, whereas a with a book you have to commit yourself to long, concentrated efforts and remembering a lot of facts at the same time.

I can see how video games could be used as a supplemental element of learning, but never a replacement.