Video Games and Learning: A “Game-Changer”

As part of EPIC Teaching Academy (a game-based PD opportunity in my school system), I just watched this short video from James Paul Gee. I could go into his credentials for days, but just Google him. I did; I was impressed. My assignment was to write a brief reflection… a brief reflection doesn’t suffice the power of the words in this short video.  Alas, a blog post about this video, which was truly a “game-changer” for me.

A video game is only a set of problems.  It doesn’t matter what the problems are. You must solve the set of problems in order to win.”  Thinking back to my childhood, Super Mario Brothers was the first video game I remember playing.  If it froze, or went to the snow screen, I’d just blow in the cartridge, reinsert the game, and voila!  While playing the game, my mission was to rescue the princess.  I learned quickly which blocks to hit when I jumped and which tunnels had those obnoxious fire-breathing plants coming out of them.  I learned where to jump, and where the vines to climb for extra points were hidden.  I solved the set of problems before me; even though I was frustrated at times and had to walk away and regroup, I’d always return to try again.  Shouldn’t we want our schools to be like that?  I want my students to be frustrated; I want things to get hard for them.  More importantly, I want them so engaged that they want to come back and try again.

“It has to be successful in teaching people to play it because it will go broke if it doesn’t…We have evolved an almost perfect way to teach these incredibly complex games.”  If we, as educators, are not successful in teaching our students to “play school”, what happens to their future?  What about those students who are good at “playing school”, but really haven’t learned anything along the way, except how to take a test?  I have seen those tests; I have taken those tests.  Even without understanding what I was reading, I could eliminate two answer choices.  Does that mean I knew the material?  No, it means I’m a good test-taker.  On the flip side, what about those “bad test-takers”?  Are they really struggling with the content, or are they struggling with the test?

And to the assessment discussion…

“Assessment and testing is what drives our current school system; if you’re not happy with how schools teach today, they teach that way because of the tests we have.”  If we change the test, we change the system.  I actually believe that testing can be a good thing.  In the book How We Learn by Benedict Carey, Carey underlines how testing is one of the best ways of learning, if it is done correctly.  Multiple formative assessments performed at various intervals with immediate feedback is the key, not a high-stakes summative multiple-choice test.

“Let’s say a kid plays Halo on hard… for 30-40 hours and he finishes Halo.  Would you be tempted to give him a Halo test? No, not at all.  You’d say the game already tested him.”  You actually trust the design and learning of Halo more than the design and learning of the algebra class.  Think about these video games and apply the concept of formative assessment to each level.  Did a lightbulb just go off in your head?  It should have.  In video games, you gain a small bit of knowledge and begin to apply it.  Chances are, gaining the knowledge comes through failure.  I gained knowledge about the fire-breathing plants in the tunnels in Super Mario Brothers by getting hit by one of the fire balls and dying.  I avoided them from that point forward (until I learned to kill them with my own fire… and kill them I did.).  I had immediate feedback – I either died, avoided the plant, or killed the plant.  I continually used that knowledge throughout the rest of the game.  When I first started playing World of Warcraft, I wanted someone to tell me how to play.  I was told, “let the game teach you”.  I didn’t understand that, until it started teaching me; I learned through small formative assessments along the way.  I used what Gee describes as “situated and embodied learning “.  I solved problems with what I knew about that quest.

“Schools in America, for the first time in history, have genuine competition.  That’s because companies large and small are selling 24-7 learning, customized to you, outside of school.”  Our competition is no longer other countries’ educational systems, but the two within our own country.  We have “skill and drill schools” where basic numeric facts and literacy are being taught, and we have “21st century schools [where] kids are producing their own knowledge.”  I’m not saying that video games is the only way to teach; I’m not planning to change my entire media center into a room for gaming.  I am saying however, that video games have created a perfect venue for educating students.  Critical thinking and problem solving are embedded in games.  As educators, why would we NOT use them?


EdcampWNC was held today in Cullowhee, NC at NCCAT.  There were many first-time edcampers there; it made me reflect on my first edcamp.  My first one was five months ago at the inaugural EdcampWNC… 4 edcamps in 5 months does a body good!  This time I took two colleagues from work and I was excited for them to experience their first edcamp.  We used Google Moderator (which is shutting down in June – hard to believe) to set our session board.

The sessions looked fantastic; it always excites me to see the session board revealed… is that weird?

First up: Virtual Field Trips and Guest Speakers (click title links for collaborative session notes) This session included so many great ideas for breaking down walls in your classroom by allowing your students to tour places virtually.  I have participated in a couple of Mystery Skype sessions and loved them!  In Mystery Skype, two classrooms Skype one another without the students knowing the location of the other classroom.  By asking yes/no questions (can be tweaked to meet your needs), the students narrow down the location of the other classroom.  This is perfect for geography, critical thinking, and collaboration.  Once we discovered the location of both classrooms, the students can hold a short discussion via Skype.  My students loved it and asked to do it again.

In the second session, I used the Rule of Two Feet!  There were so many great topics that I couldn’t sit still in one session.  I started in Teach Like A Pirate (love Dave Burgess and his book) and was instantly inspired by the amazing hooks being used by educators in the classroom.  I followed Gaming in the Classroom via twitter until I couldn’t stand it anymore.  I had to go chat about my new favorite educational tool – games!  There were great discussions about various tools to develop games in the classroom.  Of course there was the obligatory shout-out to Jane McGonigal’s book Reality is Broken, which I hear is amazing & is quickly making my shortlist of books to read!

One of my favorite things about edcamp = small discussions that begin in sessions and lead to big discussions in the halls.


Finally, in the third, and last session of the day, I attended Twitter as a PLN.  I had suggested the topic and became a co-facilitator in the discussion.  The participants ranged from Twitter Newbies to Frequent Fliers.  Twitter changed my professional life, and I feel like I’m doing my fellow educators a disservice if I don’t share the power of Twitter.  From the genius mind of my friend Kenny McKee (@kennycmckee) we held a Twitter chat in the middle of our session to help the newbies feel more empowered to participate in their first Twitter chat.  I personally enjoy attending #nced every other Tuesday night.  Sometimes I just follow along and sometimes I participate; that’s part of the beauty of Twitter.

At the end of the day, we had what was quite possibly one of the best App Smackdowns I have attended.  Sometimes the App Smackdowns can include a lull in action while participants are either deciding on a tool to share, or working up the nerve to share it.  This one was going from the minute it started and continued to get better and better.  I learned about where you can change the lexile levels of current event articles.  They can range from a 4th grade to a 12th grade lexile level!  My favorite was where educators can search a database of great activities according to grade level and Common Core standards.  Then you can create customized “playlists” of activities.  How awesome!  I shared the app KaleidaCam ($1.99) which is exactly what it sounds like. (Thanks Rebecca!) It accesses your camera and camera roll to create Kaleidoscope images.  There’s a cool line symmetry option which I liked best for elementary school.

As always, I enjoyed my day at #edcampwnc.  These things never let me down.  I am already excited about attending EdcampWNC 3.0 in October, 2015.  Until then, there is always Twitter… and my fabulous PLN!

Side Note:  This is my 5th blog post!  This is monumental for two reasons; first, I semi-successfully kept up my first blog for nearly two months.  More importantly, this fulfills my requirement through EPIC Academy to earn my Blog Epic Quest Badge.  I have been so nervous about publishing my blog for all to see (which may likely be a grand total of 5 people), but tonight will mark the first time I will release my blog to my PLN.  Please… be kind.  I will continue updating regularly with the good, bad, and ugly from the perspective of a new “techbrarian”.  I hope something posted through this blog will be of use to someone out there.  


It has been nearly 2 weeks since the NCTIES conference in Raleigh, but it has taken that long to take all the amazing things I learned and sort them into a blog post.  I had heard about the “big technology conference” in Raleigh for years, but never had the opportunity to go.  I was determined this year that I would go, even if it meant taking personal days and paying for everything myself.  I was told that if I submitted a proposal to present and it was accepted, NCTIES would give me complimentary registration for the conference.  I created two proposals in the hopes that one would get accepted.  To my surprise, both were accepted and NCTIES took on a whole new priority for me.  My district does a Teaching and Learning Conference in the weeks before school starts back each year, and I was asked to be on the planning committee for the 2015 conference.  I was beyond thrilled; my proposals had been accepted and I had a way to get to Raleigh!

From the beginning, the conference was amazing!  The Opening Keynote was Kevin Honeycutt, who is energetic, enthusiastic, and passionate about education.  I laughed and I cried within the first 15 minutes.  The first session on the schedule for me was my own session – Makerspaces on a Shoestring Budget.  The session was designed for elementary teachers and media coordinators who knew nothing about makerspaces and wanted to start one as soon as they got back to their school for free!

Upon wrapping up my session, I wanted to hear more from Kevin Honeycutt, so I went to his session about adding Art to STEM.  I love the idea of letting students be in charge of their own learning and allowing them to incorporate their own artistic nature into projects they complete.  I stopped by a student showcase and had a second grader tell me about 3-D printers and LittleBits.  Talk about reality-check… if a second grader can explain it & why it matters to her learning, my students should be doing it.

After lunch, I went to a session that validated my personal philosophy, then I taught my second session.  For this one, I partnered with my Exceptional Children’s Teacher, who is exceptionally amazing!  Our session, 8 Ways to Assess Without Tests, was designed to show educators that paper/pencil, multiple-choice tests are not the way to show student mastery.  Instead, use some engaging Web 2.0 tools to do formative assessments.  Each of the 8 ways we discussed has an analysis function, so teachers can focus more on the excitement of the students rather than the ‘assessment’.  Teachers can analyze the data rather than spend all their time collecting the data and scoring it.  My last session of the day was on Coding in the Media Center.  I had approximately 300 students participate in Hour of Code last year using, so I was excited to hear about other coding programs and how other media coordinators were using it.  The presenters, Robin Williams and Pam Lilley, are friends of mine from the NCDLCN, so it was great to support them and learn something at the same time.

My brain was overloaded after Day 1 of NCTIES.  I went to eat with the TLC Planning Team, then went to the Digital Jam to meet up with my NCDLCN friends and network with others.  It was a great time of card games, networking, and relaxation.

The next morning, I was geared up and ready for Day 2.  The session in which I learned the most was Teaming with Media/Technology for Inquiry in the Elementary Classroom.  These two ladies from Rowan-Salisbury Schools had terrific ideas for implementing inquiry-based, problem-based, and project-based learning in a truly collaborative fashion with classroom teachers.  I am so excited to use these ideas in the coming weeks and prepare for next school year!  Finally, I hit the Best of the Web session with Richard Byrnes and Lucas Gillispie’s EPIC Academy session on Personalized Gamified PD.  Finally, I went to Learning with a Twist of STEAM presented by Steven Anderson (@web20classroom).

Speaking of Lucas Gillispie, he created a whole new layer of fun at NCTIES this year.  In an effort to force people out of their comfort zone and meet new people, he created a Conference Quest for anyone who wanted to spice up their experience.  We did quests like “give a random stranger going the opposite way on the elevator a high-five and have a witness sign the back of this card” and “put money in the vending machine for the next person who visits the machine”.  Some required signatures, some required you to tweet a picture with the hashtags #ncties15 and #cq and some even required someone else to tweet a picture with those hashtags!  Go ahead… search Twitter for #cq and see what comes up – we had a blast!

This whole experience was a time of professional and personal growth.  When I started teaching nearly 10 years ago, I never expected I would find myself attending the biggest technology conference in our state, much less presenting sessions at it.  It went well though – I survived & met amazing people who attended my session as an additional perk, and who knows… I just might do it again.