Tag Archives: games

Games, technology, creativity, and creative reporting

A new study came out from Michigan State University this week – Information technology use and creativity: Findings from the Children and Technology Project by Linda A. Jackson , Edward A. Witt, , Alexander Ivan Games, Hiram E. Fitzgerald,  Alexander von Eye, Yong Zhao.

First problem – it’s behind a paywall. It costs $19.95, or becoming a subscriber of the journal, Computers in Human Behavior. Well, sure, I could pay for it, or better yet, I “know people” and could probably get it free, but then I can’t post it, and worse, I can’t link to it and therefore we (me + you out there) can’t talk about it. Even the links in the abstract to what the tests of creativity are based on do not go anywhere (see the funny little anchors?). The only other information from MSU is the press release.

“This research examined relationships between children’s information technology (IT) use and their creativity. Four types of information technology were considered: computer use, Internet use, videogame playing and cell phone use. A multidimensional measure of creativity was developed based on and test of creative thinking. Participants were 491 12-year olds; 53% were female, 34% were African American and 66% were Caucasian American. Results indicated that videogame playing predicted of all measures of creativity. Regardless of gender or race, greater videogame playing was associated with greater creativity. Type of videogame (e.g., violent, interpersonal) was unrelated to videogame effects on creativity. Gender but not race differences were obtained in the amount and type of videogame playing, but not in creativity. Implications of the findings for future research to test the causal relationship between videogame playing and creativity and to identify mediator and moderator variables are discussed.

Highlights ► Positive relationship between videogame playing and creativity. ► Relationship held across types of videogames (e.g., violent, interpersonal). ► Despite gender and race differences in videogame playing, there were no gender or race difference in creativity.”

Already the abstract has got my antennae tuned. Did they really call videogame playing “Information Technology Use”? I mean, I see what they were going for – do the things kids do with common technology correlate to measures of creativity?

But it really makes me want to see the actual study. I wonder what the correlation was between the three other types of “information technology use” – computer use, Internet use, and cell phone use. What kind of “use” did they test? Was it a survey? What did they ask? Was it just hours? What were the kids doing?  What was the difference between Internet use and computer use (isn’t one a subset of the other?) Questions, questions, questions.

Plus, if ed tech enthusiasts are happy that creativity is linked to videogames, what does it mean that computer and Internet use did not show the same link? For learning game enthusiasts, what does it mean that the link to creativity didn’t depend on what kinds of games the kids played.

Next problem – the press picks up the story, reads the abstract (if we’re lucky) and proceeds to write a story that really isn’t what the research says. That’s true even just reading the abstract.

USA Today Headline Research: Video games help with creativity in boys and girls starts off, “Here’s another reason to include The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword on those holiday shopping lists: children who play video games are more creative.”

OK, so the headline implies that video games are responsible for making children more creative – but the article is fairly carefully worded about assuming that playing videogames MAKES children creative.

The Register (an IT site from the UK) headlineKids! You get back in front of that Xbox right now: Playing videogames makes kids more creative. Positive news for gamers, and their parents. Hours in front of the glowing box hammering zombies as a youngster can make you more creative.”

Several commenters point out that correlation does not equal causation, but there are an equal number of commenters who believe that videogames cause children to be violent, so therefore we will have a lot more creative axe-murderers due to games. So it’s not like you can really look to the comments for wisdom.

There are lots of headlines that get it right, or at least use some caution, using words like “linked” or “tied” to connect creativity to videogames, but from my brief survey, plenty more that get it wrong.

Play More Video Games, Be More Creative? – Parenting.com
Study: Playing Video Games Promotes Creativity
Video Games Are Making Your Kids More Creative
Study Finds Games Make Kids More Creative

Repeat after me… Correlation is not causation!


Games in Education Resources

A lot of people know that in a previous career I was a video game designer. That means that I get asked all the time about educational games. So here’s a wiki I’ve just created with some of the resources about that topic, including a 20 min presentation. I think that there is a lot of hype about games in education, and it’s important not to just take it so literally.

My hope is that educators take the time to really explore what games can offer in the classroom – not because games are going to “save” or “revolutionize” education, but that they offer a metaphor of what learner-centered education can be.

By learning more about games, educators can decide for themselves if a particular game is something they want to introduce into their classroom because it supports their beliefs about learning, not because it’s all the rage. Or, they can learn how games carefully balance frustration with success to create engaging challenges.

Finally, I always say that the best way to bring games into the classroom is to let students design their own games. It puts the agency even further into the learner camp. Playing games is fun, but you are always playing by someone else’s rules. Making your own game means that you are in charge, and that’s where real learning can happen.

Games in Education Resources


iPlay no more? Has childhood play been changed by technology?

I recently ran across this interesting study, Children’s Playground Games and Songs in the New Media Age (PDF). Honestly, I don’t remember where or how it came up, but it was one of those things that I had no idea people even studied formally, but once reading it, seemed impossible not to want to know more.

It’s a wonderful antidote to some of the silly pronouncements of late that childhood is “toxic”, that children have no capacity for real play anymore, and of couse pointing to technology as the ogre in this sad myth.

However, this study disputes those claims.

“Needless  to  say,  serious  research  in  this  field  has  usually  discovered  the  opposite.  Our  own project, found  that  play  was  alive  and  well,  more  diverse  in  some  respects  than  ever,  and  drawing  on resources  which  had  both  a  long  historical  lineage  as  well  as  ones  from  contemporary  media cultures.”

This is really a fascinating study, with a website with digital recordings, ethnographic studies, collections of the games, a documentary film,  and interestingly, a panel of youth who provided input and commentary on the study.

Hope you read it!


Gamestar Mechanic – Designing games through gameplay

I spend a fair amount of time encouraging teachers to think about “games in learning” not just as students playing games, but student designing games and other digital experiences. Game design is a great combination of systems thinking and design, offers students a lot of choice within constraints that make for concentrated problem-solving, supports a collaborative classroom, and more. It’s everything most people hope for when we talk about 21st century skills and project-based learning.

One of the issues, however, is that many teachers think that they can’t teach programming. Programming is seen as too difficult, something that is done only by highly trained professionals — the proverbial “rocket scientist.” In reality, programming is just like any other subject. Lots of teachers learn how to teach things that may seem very difficult. I know if you stood me up in front of a class and told me to teach Advanced German or Organic Chemistry I’d run screaming from the room too! But every day, teachers get up and teach all sorts of difficult things – programming is no different.

The great thing today is that there are lots of ways to teach programming to all ages. I’ve written about a few of these options before, but Gamestar Mechanic is a new tool in this toolbox.

Gamestar Mechanic is not exactly a programming language – it’s more like a toolkit, where students can construct games of all kinds. It also provides game-like entry to game design – the initial steps are “challenges” that take you one step at a time, just like a game. There are some other cool features, like an online showcase and community. With initial funding from the MacArthur Foundation (see Digital Media in the Classroom Case Study: Gamestar Mechanic), Gamestar Mechanic was fully released to the public in Fall 2010.

If you are interested in game design for children, the Gamestar Mechanic website is well worth your time. It includes sections for parents and educators, and offers both a free version and a premium version that seem reasonable, with pricing and features both for home and school use.

Related wiki: Games in Education Resources


EdGamer Episode 8 – Sylvia Martinez Says YES to EdGaming

EdGamer Episode 8 – Sylvia Martinez Says YES to EdGaming is live!

Last week I had a wonderful time speaking with Zack Gilbert and Gerry James who do EdGamer podcasts over at EdReach, a new site where lots of educators are collaborating on blogs, podcasts, and more. It was fun (and funny) and we touched on a wide range of subjects beyond games, including how I got into designing games and the work of Generation YES.

And of course we talked mostly about games in the classroom – both the hype and the hope that exist out there. The podcast is a nicely edited version of our conversation. Sylvia Martinez Says YES to EdGaming

I so admire podcasters – editing is difficult and time consuming work! Hope there are many more EdGamer episodes, and I’d be happy to spend more time with the Click and Clack of Educational Gaming.


Finding good learning games

Often teachers ask me what kinds of games help kids learn. I know they want a list of “good” games, so they can avoid the “bad” ones. But the problem is that to answer the question, “what’s a good game for learning?” – you really have to start with, “what do you mean by learning?” Now that’s a difficult, downright philosophical question that gets tough right away. But to really talk about whether games have anything to do with learning, and if they can help, you have to ask it.

We also know that most people talking about learning games these days are talking about video games, since they seem to have extraordinary abilities to enthrall kids for long periods of time. It’s obvious that when you play video games, you learn. You learn rules, you gain experience that allows you to adjust your play for greater success, etc. So when you look at educational games, you have to decide if this translates to the kind of learning that you believe in.

There are lots of educational games that use the vocabulary and look of games to create a game-like experience, except that it’s not really fun (unless you already know the answers.) Dragging or shooting things (the correct fraction, igneous rocks, the matching chemical symbol)  is not a game, it’s a fancy worksheet. So – do you believe worksheets and flashcards are good for learning or busywork? Putting it on a screen with 3D graphics should not change your answer to that question.

Do you believe in practice? Alfie Kohn says, “…practicing doesn’t create understanding.” If you have kids who can’t multiply, or haven’t grasped the concept of fractions, will shooting at the right answers with a galactic flamethrower help?

Do you believe in chocolate-covered broccoli? Do students have to be tricked into thinking that they are doing something fun to learn something important?

So the answer to the question, “what’s a good game for learning ____” – is not so simple as a list. It has to be answered with the question – “what do I believe about learning?” leading the way.

  • Do you believe learning is about making meaning – or memorizing?
  • Do you believe that learning is natural, or that children have to be tricked and cajoled into learning?
  • Do you believe that math is a set of skills – or deeper understanding of concepts?
  • Do you believe that faster answers are better answers?
  • Do you believe history is memorizing facts – or understanding complex relationships between events?
  • Do you believe “time on task” is a good measure of learning?
  • Do you believe that vocabulary can and should be learned without context?
  • Do you believe that practice creates understanding?

Even when teachers hear this, they say, “but surely practice is good reinforcement”, “if they gain speed and automaticity on easy problems, they can tackle harder ones”,  or “some students are so far behind they really need the practice” – to which I can only quote Alfie Kohn again, “In reality, it’s the children who don’t understand the underlying concepts who most need an approach to teaching that’s geared to deep understanding.  The more they’re given algorithms and told exactly what to do, the farther behind they fall in terms of grasping these concepts.” (my emphasis)

What this says to me is that using practice to reinforce skills may actually undermine a student’s confidence in their own thought process. They may come to look at learning as a rote skill that is supposed to be automatic, not thoughtful, something that if not immediately obvious, is unreachable.

So finding good games, then, means finding games that reinforce the style of learning that you believe in. Which, in a sea of hype about the benefits of educational games, might not be as easy as it looks!

What do you believe about learning?


Math 2.0 interview with Sylvia Martinez

On Wednesday, Oct. 27 2010 I’ll be talking with Ihor Charischak of the weekly Math 2.0 online chat about Engineering, Game Development, and Math Education.

A couple of careers ago I was an electrical engineer and programmer in aerospace, then did game development for consoles and PCs. Some the games were “educational” and some weren’t, but the process of building a game was certainly educational for me! The connections between these subjects might not be obvious, but I think the connective thread is that “real world” math is disconnected from “school” math in many ways. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to talk about all that and some solutions during our hour together.

Ihor and I are old friends, so this gives an opportunity to make some of our private conversations over the years more public.

When: Wed October 27, 2010, 18:30-19:30, US/Pacific (GMT-08:00)*Find your local time zone here.
Participant URL: http://tinyurl.com/math20event
More information: http://mathfuture.wikispaces.com/events

Please join us!

Serious games: FATWORLD

FATWORLD is a video game about the politics of nutrition. It explores the relationships between obesity, nutrition, and socioeconomics in the contemporary U.S. The game’s goal is not to tell people what to eat or how to exercise, but to demonstrate the complex, interwoven relationships between nutrition and factors like budgets, the physical world, subsidies, and regulations. Existing approaches to nutrition advocacy fail to communicate the aggregate effect of everyday health practices. It's one thing to explain that daily exercise and nutrition are important, but people, young and old, have a very hard time wrapping their heads around outcomes five, 10, 50 years away.

You can choose starting weights and health conditions, including predispositions towards ailments like diabetes, heart disease, or food allergies. You'll have to construct menus and recipes, decide what to eat and what to avoid, exercise (or not), and run a restaurant business to serve the members of your community.

FATWORLD comes with numerous foods, recipes, and meal plans, or players can create their own from the foods in their pantry or their imaginations.

via FATWORLD – The Game.

Back to school – games for collaboration and teamwork

Of course we want to encourage students to collaborate and work in teams – but how does this actually happen?

Here’s one idea to kickstart that idea and keep it going all year long – games. But not just any game! Games specifically designed to encourage teamwork and collaboration. Replace simple “icebreakers” with games that set the standard for positive interaction. As time goes on, introduce other games that pave the way for even deeper group work. Encouraging these kinds of habits needs to start day one, it’s not something to do after students “learn the basics.”

Check out this article – “Why Play Games When There’s Work to Do? by Adam Fletcher of The Freechild Project.

Games can be a catalyst for deeper goals. They can bring both cohesion and energy to any group, and are a welcome addition to a teacher’s “bag of tricks”. Playing games with students and youth groups encourages teamwork, models constructive, collaborative behavior, and develops a shared sense of mission.

Two categories of games are especially helpful in setting a tone of collaboration and teamwork for students.

Cooperative games emphasize participation, challenge, and fun, rather than sorting out winners and losers. These kinds of games teach teamwork, empathy, and trust.

Initiative games have players attack a problem and solve it. They teach leadership, problem solving, and collaboration.

I encourage you to read “Why Play Games…” It’s full of practical suggestions and fun game ideas, but is much more than just a list of games. It includes time-tested information about how to choose them, how to introduce them, how to create reflective activities that further magnify the impact of the game itself, and tons of additional resources.

Teachers who lead student tech clubs know that the success of the group depends on much more than tech skills. Teamwork and a sense of mission result in the “we” being more than the “me” and can take a student tech team to the next level.

This isn’t just for student clubs either. If you want students to unlearn the competitive habits that have been drilled into them and work cooperatively, these games will work in classroom situations too. Collaboration and communication may be “21st century skills” but having students play them out in game situations is a timeless idea.

Give this short article a read and I guarantee you will learn one new thing today! “Why Play Games…” By Adam Fletcher

Selected additional resources (there’s a lot more if you click on the article link):

  • Free guide, So, You Wanna Be A Playa? The Freechild Project Guide to Cooperative Games for Social Change by A. Fletcher with K. Kunst. “This insightful new guide will help community workers, teachers, activists, and all kinds of people find fun, engaging, and powerful activities that promote teamwork, communication, and social justice.Click here for a free download.


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Tinkering and Technology

Before this all slips my mind, I wanted to post some thoughts about the conversation I led at Educon 2.2 last weekend called Tinkering Towards Technology Fluency. I had a few slides prepared, and a general list of things I thought would be interesting to discuss, and some questions in case there was a lot of deadly silence. Well, that didn’t happen! What happened was that we had a really interesting conversation, which wandered a bit but no one seemed to mind. That’s the cool part about Educon, the conversations are the point. I learned as much from everyone there as I hope they learned from some of the things I shared.

What I’d like to do here is provide a short skim through the topics I brought to the session. I think many of them either support themes I’ve posted about before, or will in the future. I plan to return to them in the future and explore each one in depth.

This is such a rich area for two main reasons:

  1. Unstructured time is undervalued by School.
  2. Tinkering supports technology and technology supports tinkering.

Random thoughts in no particular order:

Humans yearn for tinkering and playful activity
The popularity of the Food Network, HGTV, and shows like Monster Garage  illustrate how people want to learn from watching others DO things they love. Work is interesting when you can see it happen, and people are interesting when they work. Make magazine is awesome.

Tinkering is social
Yes, there is the stereotype of the lone tinkerer in his basement. But more often, tinkering is a shared, social experience. Social learning with no structure or single, all-knowing teacher can happen! Leveraging the power of social learning seems like something we should be thinking about in this day and age.

French for tinkering, using found objects, playfulness in creation. (Wikipedia)

Tinkering/bricolage vs. the scientific method/analytical design
Seymour Papert, the father of educational technology, defined two styles of problem solving: analytical and bricolage. School only honors one style. What are we losing? (Who are we losing?)

“The bricoleur resembles the painter who stands back between brushstrokes, looks at the canvas, and only after this contemplation, decides what to do next.” Sherry Turkle

Tinkering and gender
The book by Sherry Turkle that I couldn’t remember in the session was “The Second Self”. I also forgot to mention this crucial connection to tinkering and gender issues in technology. Turkle says that tinkering is a “female” approach to technology, calling it “soft mastery” (as opposed to the “hard mastery” of linear, step by step problem solving, flowcharting, and analytical design). However, these “hard” styles are often taught as being superior, with “soft mastery” styles deemed messy or unprofessional. Again, who and what are we losing by ignoring (and denigrating) alternative learning and problem-solving styles?

Tinkering requires similar conditions to project-based learning and games in the classroom. Implementation brings up similar questions
Teachers who are looking at project-based learning or games are struggling with the same issues that arise with tinkering. Time, space, overwhelming curriculum requirements, tests, etc. These all need to be solved in similar ways, and teachers are doing this all around the world. Sharing is important.

More connections with games
James Paul Gee (What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy) says that we should examine the attributes of gaming such as identity and agency and how to bring those to the classroom. We are being too literal with “games in the classroom.” The attributes of tinkering are similar. We have to be willing to give students agency and allow them to develop their own identities as problem-solvers and learners.

Why is tinkering learning?
Tinkering is a uniquely human activity, combining social and creative forces that encompass play and learning.

The problem with the scientific method
A pet peeve of mine is this structured monstrosity called “the scientific method.” We teach it to children like it came down on stone tablets. It’s not how science really works. Science is about wonder and risk and imagination, not checklists.

Risk and design – what happened in engineering in the 80s
When I went to engineering school, they taught us to use the “waterfall” design methodology. Every stage was planned and went in order. Then in the 80s everything changed.

What happened? Computers. Digital design and modeling decreased the cost of making mistakes. You could try things out with little risk or cost. It’s called the spiral design method, or rapid prototyping, sort of like tinkering with an audience. It’s why Google is always in “beta”. Of course it doesn’t work for everything, you can’t release a “beta” skyscraper or tinker a space shuttle, but for digital products, what’s the harm?

The problem is that school hasn’t caught on to this design methodology. What do we need to do to get school design courses to catch up to the real world?

What can we learn from other unstructured (but successful) school activities?
This also connects back to a post I wrote called Technology Literacy and Sustained Tinkering Time which connected the ideas of Sustained Silent Reading to using technology in less structured ways. Schools have embraced Sustained Silent Reading in the face of scripted curriculum and standardized testing – what can advocates for constructivist education learn from this?

Technology literacy without tinkering time is hard to fathom
Maybe we should be talking about technology fluency anyway. Literacy is such a low bar.

Teaching risk free design is so 20th century.

More later – your feedback on what to tackle first is welcome!