When I was a kid, we had a computer in the back of the classroom that took floppy disks (do you know what that is, you young whipper-snappers?), and played games that were educational. And it was only very rarely that any of the children in my class could even use the computer.
I still remember going into the library and playing educational/teaching games where I saved baby turtles from being poached, and solved math questions to gain points.
My friends and I, after playing these games, wished that our entire day could be spent playing video games. And, it looks like a school in New York did just that!
According to an article in The New York Times, the experimental Quest to Learn school in NYC, which is founded by game designer Katie Salen, is just plain amazing. The school uses custom-designed video games and activities to teach and focus attention.
And, best of all, instead of getting grades, you level up from “pre-novice,” to “novice,” “apprentice,” “senior” and finally “master.”
Where was the hell was this school when I was growing up?
In Smallab [situated multimedia art learning lab] sessions, students hold wands and Sputnik-like orbs whose movements are picked up by 12 scaffold-mounted motion-capture cameras and have an immediate effect inside the game space, which is beamed from a nearby computer onto the floor via overhead projector. It is a little bit like playing a multiplayer Wii game while standing inside the game instead of in front of it. Students can thus learn chemical titration by pushing king-size molecules around the virtual space. They can study geology by building and shifting digital layers of sediment and fossils on the classroom floor or explore complementary and supplementary angles by racing the clock to move a giant virtual protractor around the floor.
As new as the Smallab concept is, it is already showing promise when it comes to improving learning results: Birchfield and his colleagues say that in a small 2009 study, they found that at-risk ninth graders in earth sciences scored consistently and significantly higher on content-area tests when they had also done Smallab exercises. A second study compared the Smallab approach with traditional hands-on lab experimentation, with the group that used mixed-reality again showing greater retention and mastery. As it is more generally with games, the cognitive elements at work are not entirely understood, but they are of great interest to a growing number of learning scientists. Did the students learn more using digital mixed-reality because the process was more physical than hearing a classroom lecture or performing a lab experiment? Because it was more collaborative or more visual? Or was it simply because it seemed novel and more fun?