Math and Science Can Be Fun and Games

I’ve always believed in the work we do at EdGE and that games have real potential to transform education, but after attending this year’s Games for Change Festival, you might say that I am now fully drinking the Kool-Aid. Hell, I’m ready to set up a sidewalk stand and sell it to my friends, neighbors, and thirsty passersby.

I attended a lot of great sessions, but was most impacted by a handful of inspiring keynote speakers. Jane McGonigal opened the festival by telling us how playing games literally saved her life and made her a SuperBetter version of herself. She then showed us a glimpse of how to SuperBetter ourselves, added 7.5 minutes to everyone’s life, and made a very compelling argument for how games can help us avoid the top 5 regrets of the dying. Sounds pretty great, right? Then, Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari (and Chuck E. Cheese!), talked about his newest endeavor, Brainrush, which uses video game metrics to addict students to learning. Each lesson is a mini-game that adapts to the individual student’s skill-level. He gave us a vision of gamified classrooms where teachers would be free from the time-consuming tasks of being clerk, judge, and disciplinarian, and only have to focus on what they are meant to do, what they love to do—mentor students and foster a love for learning. Can you picture it? Finally, Jim Gee blew me away with his description of “Big G” games—games plus affinity spaces (interest-driven online communities where people come together over shared interests and passions for problems they are trying to solve within the game). Each and every one of his 20+ principles for good Big G games really resonated with me, especially the notion that through good games, you shouldn’t be learning just one discipline, but rather learning new skills, problem solving, and mastering expertise. In Dr. Gee’s own words, “We ought to be learning 10 things at once, not one.” Yes!

I think the pen that came in my conference welcome packet said it best: “Math and science can be fun and games.” Designing good games is hard, especially educational games. But, if we can do it, it will be so very worth the effort, and I for one am excited to be part of a team that is taking on this challenge to put the fun back in learning and to make a new generation of more engaged, productive learners.

So, play on my friends. You might just learn something while you’re at it.


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