About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Toys, games, and education

I was watching a new report yesterday where they were mentioning that children all around the world would be receiving toys thanks to the generosity of donated gifts. My first thought was, "Isn't it more important that they be fed and have access to healthcare (including immunizations and medicines that will keep them alive)?" My next thought was that toys really weren't necessary, and how did we get to the point where a new toy was so important.

As usual, my brain made links that for others might be a stretch. I was reading about a new school in New York City called Quest to Learn. In the article I read, they spoke about this school being a "games-based" curriculum. Well, after researching it a bit more, I realized there was more to the curriculum than games (in fact, it is very similar to my daughter's school). However, the connection I made was the role that "play", "toys", and "games" has in our society.

It used to be that toys and games were used to help develop skills in children. When the US was basically an agrarian economy and before universal education, kids learned to read using the bible or other books a family might have (which often was limited). They would learn skills such as eye hand coordination using toys. Toys also tended to be gender specific which helped teach a child's role in society (i.e. toy soldiers for those who would grow up to "lead" and fight in wars, dolls to help develop child rearing skills).

However, as toys and games, just like everything else in the industrialized world, began to be mass produced, the role of the toy changed from a "learning tool" (after all, children began to attend schools at the same time that the economy became industrialized) to objects of leisure. Leisure time was a result of the industrial revolution, but also helped to fuel the revolution. The age of consumerism was born. The more "things" you have, the higher your status in the consumer economy. As a result, toys also became a symbol of status.

Now, how does this relate to the game based curriculum? For thousands of years, games and toys were learning tools. So why shouldn't there be an element of games in a curriculum? Games and toys help develop critical thinking skills, strategy, creativity, and problem solving skills. If integrated into a curriculum correctly, it also can be a catalyst for learning motivation, team building, and self direction/discipline.

The fear I have is not the Q2L curriculum being one that is too "fun" or not providing enough content, but rather the misuse of this curriculum by teachers and schools who do not understand the underlying principles used to create the curriculum. Namely, I have seen some teachers who use gaming as a "down-time" activity in which teachers can have a break during the day. This is not good education. In fact, I suspect the teachers at Q2L put in a lot more time preparing and facilitating learning than the average teacher.

I am also concerned that students are not learning how to be bored (work is not always exciting and it is important to learn what to do during those down times), nor are learning how to interact with each other to resolve problems (rather than interacting with the technology). This is the only misgiving I see with this new school. My daughter's school does everything in groups, but it is off set with individual assessments. Likewise, while the curriculum is project based, the class does have more traditional learning/lectures when it is necessary for students to interact with the teacher and content. These are not the teacher lecturing the students, as much as group discussion where the teacher follows the lead of the students in answering questions or giving guidance in how to approach a problem.

So perhaps the "toys" and "games" going around the world, if perceived as a way to educate children in a more non-traditional way, will be more than a symbol of status and consumerism. Of course, I still think that alleviating poverty should be our first goal and children can't eat games.


Anonymous said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

V Yonkers said...

Welcome, I hope you will continue to find it helpful and comment.