Dispelling the Myths: Video Games and Educational Value

By: Jenna Duetzmann, staff writer

According to mainstream media, screen time and video games are the root of all evil. Computer and video games turn average children into monsters. Computer and video games are as addicting as drugs and alcohol. Computer and video games will rot your child’s brain. And of course, these media outlets can pull out reams of anecdotal evidence to support their claims.

We here at Engaged Family Gaming disagree with these claims wholeheartedly. Not only do we know plenty of upstanding citizens who have been gamers all their lives, but we have also spent hours and hours searching for and analyzing research that disproves all of these claims.

Last summer, The New America Foundation hosted a panel discussion about technology and games in early education with the following featured speakers:

Joel Levin– “The Minecraft Teacher,” Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School, Co-owner of TeacherGaming, makers of MinecraftEdu

Annie Murphy Paul– Bernard L. Schwartz Fellow, New America Foundation, Author of Brilliant: The New Science of Smart

Scott Traylor– Founder of 360KID

Alice Wilder– Co-Creator and Head of Research and Education for “Super Why!” on PBS

Lisa Guernsey– Director, Early Education Initiative, New America Foundation, Author of Screen Time: How Electronic Media—From Baby Videos to Educational Software—Affects Your Young Child 

You can watch the entire 90 minute panel here:

http://futuretense.newamerica.net/events/2012/getting_schooled_by_a_third_grader

But, if you’re as busy as we are, you might not have that kind of time. Here are some of our brief take-aways from the event that really highlight our perspective. This topic is one of the critical reasons that this site exists. We hope to dispel the myth of computer and video games as evil with real and timely facts! The people in this panel are experts in the educational field. There is no political agenda behind the panel. That’s why we are choosing to share it with you. (Additionally, if you’re looking for educational websites, apps, and games for your kids, the first montage in the video has DOZENS)

Take-away #1- Minecraft is a phenomenal educational tool!

Many parents already knew that, but here is a brief overview. Minecraft is a game that allows players to build constructions out of textured cubes in a 3D world. The game includes activities like exploration, gathering resources, crafting, and combat. You can play in survival mode, which requires you to gather resources to maintain health and prevent hunger. You can also play in creative mode, where players have an unlimited supply of resources, the ability to fly, and no health or hunger at all. Many schools have integrated Minecraft into the curriculum to help teach collaboration, planning, building, and digital citizenship (tune in next week for a more detailed discussion on digital citizenship).

Take-away #2- Be vigilant with your digital media choices. As a parent, you still need to be involved in your child’s decisions. Some games are better than others. Some can be learning tools that both you and your children can utilize together. Some are just ‘chocolate covered broccoli’ and not very valuable at all. Nothing is as boring as a cheesy skin over the same old educational drilling. As a parent, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the myriad choices. Be informed, test the games yourself, and stay engaged.

Take-away #3- The gamification of learning and new educational technology tools work very well to provide challenges to your child as well as inspire an intrinsic motivation to learn. Playing games with appropriate level challenges that react to your child’s specific skills can raise the learning bar far better than traditional rewards and punishment. Anne Murphy Paul expanded her thoughts from the event on her blog. You can read it here:

 http://anniemurphypaul.com/2012/08/do-video-games-have-educational-value/#

Take Away #4- Bringing games into the field of learning can help re-spark a child’s intrinsic love of learning that has been lost in today’s test score centric educational environment. Games are often a large part of a child’s home life. Many aspects of their imaginative play is based on something seen in a game. If we acknowledge and support those experiences and turn them into learning opportunities, we are actively engaging the child. We are using something fun and familiar to the child to educate them.

Take Away #5- There is a reason virtual world games and MMO’s (Massively Multiplayer Online games) are increasingly popular. They provide a relatively safe place for parents and children to play together, as well as a place where your child needs to read and write in chat to socialize with other players. Games like Wizard101, Poptropica, and Herotopia are booming right now, and kids bring their discussions about them to school. Are they the most educational games out there? Academically, no. But, they teach your child quite a bit about socialization and are an ideal place for children and adults to play together.

This panel was only a small drop in the ocean of information that supports computer and video games as a learning tool. We think it’s a great first resource for parents looking for facts about the virtues of gaming. There is quite a bit more information out there, and as we see interesting stuff, we will share it with you. Keep your eye on Engaged Family Gaming on Mommy Mondays for more articles like this!

 Looking for more games and math and education? Check out more articles here!

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