Video games are often at the center of negative press for their effect on children. But that's not the only story that can be told. Video games used as teaching tools can change lives and impart excellent skills.
With news of any youth in possession of a gun or worse being the perpetrator of a shooting, the eyes of the world fall on their consumption of media: What video game did that child play last? Names like Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty have become synonymous with a supposed cultural degradation, the blame of many for the rise of youth violence and gun homicides.
But children can also learn from the creation of and interaction with video games dispelling the harsh stigma of the child/video game complex and bringing a revolution to the educational system. A revolution that will be gamified.
Video games utilized for education can have unique and positive effects. Two programs make this very clear: The National STEM Video Game Challenge is an annual call for middle to high schoolers to submit their own video game designs and compete on the national level with other children their age. By designing their own games, children learn the ins and outs of coding, strategy and digital creation.
The Mind Research Institute's ST Math video game is another example of education gamification, as it utilizes the medium of a video game to teach students to conceptualize math in brand new ways. This lets children have a visual representation of math problems in motion; what was once just numbers placed flat in a textbook now dance to life with a digital companion to aid in figuring out solutions.
The gamification of education is radical and effective. Such alternative methods to today's education system deserve a closer look.
The 2013 National STEM Video Game Challenge is a call for youth to design and submit their own video games in an effort to increase science and technology learning. This challenge, started in 2010, was created in response to the White House’s push towards STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education. The goal is simple—plant an interest in technology and engineering by spurring youth to create their own video games. The question lies in if the students are actually able to build a platform themselves.
Turns out—to no surprise—they can. Here are the winners from the 2013 Challenge, with video game designs encompassing everything from community and literacy, to math, science and health.
Through the project, kids learn and take away a myriad of lessons about communication, collaboration, problem solving and systems and computer thinking. The high number of educational Challenge submissions speaks to the interest of youth to see video games with an academic framework. It’s taking a medium already used by students and developing the games in a way that benefits their progress in school.
Matthew Peterson from the Mind Research Institute argues that learning through video games—sans words—is the key to increased learning opportunities. With an emphasis on math education, the MRI aims to forever change how students achieve success in math.
For example, MRI’s ST Math software is a video game where each level depicts a new math problem for the player to solve. Problems are presented without words, and instead inferred through pictures and numbers. An animated penguin is the friendly guide throughout each level—users must solve the math problem so that the penguin can cross the screen.
In his TED Talk, Peterson speaks about how teaching math through video games is the key to raising test scores, granting educational opportunities and achieving success for the future.
Youth thrive in being their own purveyors of their educational journey. Textbooks and paperwork provide only one way for students to engage in mathematics, a method that does not account for the variances in the many ways children learn. ST Math’s utilization of avatars, movement, and interactivity with problem solving grants players the agency needed to acquire a solid command of math skills. MRI's dataset shows the improvement of math test proficiency in schools across America who used ST Math for one to two years.
The conversation surrounding children and video games can be shifted to reveal the hugely positive hack it's creating in the educational system at this very moment. Kids may be born into the care of screens, but if utilized in the right ways, those screens can create significant improvement in areas like science, tech and math.