Gaming and video games are something which I find frequently brought up in discussions about whether or not technology is appropriate for young learners. I have heard everything from “video games rot children’s brains” to, “they are just sitting there not doing anything!”.
Games have had a bad rap for many years now and I suppose it can be hard to find the benefits of gaming when you hear on the news about situations such as video game addictions or violence due to video games. In my opinion, the media use video games as a scapegoat in these articles to take blame away from other underlying issues. It seems as though video games are quite misunderstood and because of the negative image surrounding games, people are not willing to embrace gaming and to analyze video games for their potential benefits.
“Though there is a growing body of work on the use of technology in the early years, much of the research has focused on multimedia tools and popular culture as pathways to multimodal literacies with relatively little focus on digital games.” (Nolan, J., & Mcbride, M., 2013, p.594)
Like with everything children interact with, moderation is key and games are no exception. I fully believe that children playing video games in the learning environment give children multimodal, engaging and in-depth learning experiences.
First I want to go over why some educators may be reluctant to think of video games as an educational tool. “Digital games, and technology in general, remain a peripheral priority for many early childhood educators whose aversions to digital culture are often articulated according to outdated pedagogical and developmental standpoints.” (Nolan, J., & Mcbride, M., 2013, p.605). One negative of video games I have heard countless times is that children are being isolated and not interacting like they should be. On the contrary, video games are very social and can actually enhance social experiences and participation between peers. Just think of games such as Mario Party where teamwork is a necessary component of the game and friendly competition is encouraged. Another issue with video games which I have heard is that video games would take away from “real” learning in the classroom. Video games are not intended to replace traditional curriculum, then are meant to enhance it. This is why it is so important for educators to know how to use video games and when they are appropriate so that video games are an educational tool and NOT just a time waste. One last concern I have heard is that video games make children lazy and/or violent. Again this is why it is imperative that educators embrace technology and learn how to use it effectively in the classroom. Violent games are typically not educational and should not be an option or concern in the classroom. Video games are also a tool to be used in moderation and not a replacement for a lesson or educator.
So what can video games give children?
An article on video games in the classroom talks about how technology gives children independence.”Unlike traditional institutional schooling, the everyday learning and play that occur with games is organized and directed by the child rather than a teacher.” (Nolan, J., & Mcbride, M., 2013, p.597). Video games allows children to critically think and choose a focused topic of interest which helps to condone an inquiry-based learning environment.
From my own experience, video games give children learning opportunities that are engaging and effective. Children get excited about games and can experience total immersion. Imagine trying to get a group of children as excited for writing a spelling test than they would be when playing a spelling bee game on a computer or iPad.
Gaming can add to learning and can extend to all of the subjects. An art experience could be inspired by a character a child saw in a game, or dramatic play can take place at recess involving a story-line from a favourite video game. My favourite example to use is the game Minecraft and how it can be used as a math teaching tool.
My own personal experiences with the game have led me to several conclusions on why Minecraft supports math learning:
Crafting -Minecraft has hundreds of recipes to craft using ingredients and combinations of items in certain orders. Children can enhance addition as well as counting and ordering skills through the use of the crafting interface in Minecraft
…Also the crafting interface reminds me of a base 10 blocks for counting!
Building – Minecraft is basically virtual Lego and children can construct and count as they play. To be able to get the dimensions right on their block cabin children need to count how many blocks they are going to need. Building with blocks gives children ways to visualize numbers.
Collecting and Sorting In the game children have to maintain an inventory and this requires stacking supplies and moving resources into storage areas. Children can develop basic number sense as they sort materials and figure out how many new materials they need to collect
Overall, I feel that Minecraft has the potential to be one of the best number sense and numeracy video games out there. Educators can have fun, children be immersed in learning and Minecraft becomes a fun tool for mathematics. Let’s all go out and find potential video games which can be used to enhance the learning experience for children!
Nolan, J., & Mcbride, M. (2013). Beyond gamification: reconceptualising game-based learning in early childhood environments. Information, Communication & Society, 17(5), 594-608.doi:10.1080/1369118x.2013.808365
(all photographs used come from Pixabay a non-copyright, free image user)