Saturday, January 29, 2005

Computer Games and Education

Gettysburg, Then and Now. Posted by Hello

Every once in awhile I hear how computers are the wave of the future in education. Edison thought that movie projectors were going to be the wave of the future, and while movies are now integrated into American education, Edison would no doubt recognize in today's classrooms the key features of classrooms in his day--a teacher and teacher's desk, a board at the front of class (now a whiteboard, then a blackboard), and rows of students.

Given my conservative views, I'm inclined to believe that a hundred years from now, classrooms will still look pretty much the same. Sure, there will be yet-unthought-of technologies in the classrooms, but I envision a teacher, some form of presentation board, and rows of students. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be....

Yet I'm no Luddite. I'm all for integrating appropriate technologies into the classroom. Where some people make a mistake, though, is in believing that the technology is the end unto itself, that it's there for its own sake, and not merely as a tool to help students learn. As an example, what's the point of having an internet connection in every classroom? If it's not somehow advancing the curriculum, it doesn't need to be there.

What about educational games? My son has had several over the years. He's had math games, spelling games, reading games, in addition to the game games. Do games like Carmen Sandiego, the Jumpstart series, Oregon Trail, and the like truly advance education? Can they?

I've addressed this topic before, on an education maillist of which I am a member. Here's what I wrote on the subject just over a year ago. Afterwards I'll update you. From December 2003:

I'll admit that *some* games *can* have *some*
educational value.

For instance, my great-great-great-grandfather was
drafted into the Union Army, into a Pennsylvania
regiment, during the Civil War. I visited the
Gettysburg battlefield when I was 12. I graduated
from West Point, and (while there) studied the Civil War in general
and the Gettysburg battle in particular. I even own
the Ken Burns documentary on the Civil War.

None of that was enough to interest me all that much
in Gettysburg.

However, enter the computer game Sid Meier's
Gettysburg! (Note: don't settle for any
other--they're all cheap imitations! Sid Meier is the
guru for simulation games, so get the best). Fight
any of the battles of that campaign, or even let the
computer create some "speculative" battles to test
your own generalship! *That* got me interested in
Civil War tactics and in Gettysburg in particular. In
fact, the game is so detailed that I have looked at
pictures in books and been able to identify specific
buildings and locations--all because of the game!

I let my 7-yr-old son fight the battles. Like me,
he'll choose either side, depending on the particular
fight. He's quite good, at least for being 7, and has
asked many questions about that battle, that war, and
the times.

I even bought the dvd movie Gettysburg and we watched
it together. I'll admit, though, that he was much
more interested in it during the battle scenes.

Anyway, we're planning a trip to Gettysburg this
summer. I'll take my school laptop and put the game
on it. Imagine looking at the game, seeing Little
Round Top and the surrounding environs--while standing
on Little Round Top! I think such a trip will be more
important to him at 8 than it was to me at 12.

So there's my one anecdote in support of computer
gaming. Of course, the moral of the story: now that
my son and I are interested, thanks to the game, the
REAL learning can begin!

As you can see from the picture at the top of this post, we went. I did take the laptop and we did sit on Little Round Top and we did compare what we were actually seeing to the terrain map in the game. We did see the Lutheran Seminary, the entrance to the Evergreen Cemetery (from which Cemetery Hill and Cemetery Ridge get their names), the copse of trees at the High Water Mark/the Angle, and so much more. We saw "the rebel sharpshooter position" in the Devil's Den, the field across which Pickett's Charge took place, and the spot on which President Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address.

The game sparked the interest, and then the real learning did begin.


KimJ said...

When I was a kid, I begged my parents for an Atari video game system. My parents got me a TI-99-4A computer. It had many of the same games, but it also had educational cartridges and tapes. I learned the bones of the body, how to read music, and how to program in BASIC. Computers can definitely be educational, but I think only with proper guidance (and, in my case, a rapid boredom with the three or so games I had).

I did have a French teacher once who said the only new technology he wanted to see in the classroom was an auto-erasing blackboard. He hated constantly erasing and inhaling the chalk dust. (We didn't have those fancy whiteboards.)

Mr. Warsnak said...

I just came across your blog and I like what I see. I am a conservative teacher from Kansas and its is always nice to see what other teachers are doing and thinking. Do you have any plans for integrating your blog into your classroom?

Darren said...

I have *no* plans to integrate this into my classroom instruction. In fact, I've told only a few trusted colleagues that this blog even exists. No doubt something will happen or be said at school that will prompt me to write, and I would rather minimize the chance that someone would be offended by such a posting (even though I would, of course, leave their name out). Anyway, I teach math and don't see how I could integrate blogging into my curriculum. If you have ideas, please let me know!

Thanks for dropping by :-) I'll go check out your blog as well.

And KimJ, I had a TRS-80 Pocket Computer, Level I. It had 4k of memory! I, too, taught myself BASIC and wrote some rudimentary programs. Circa 1981.

I'm pretty happy with an overhead projector. I don't use graphing calculators in class (since they can store alphanumeric data, which invites cheating) but having a quality graphing program and a computer connected to a tv would sure come in handy sometimes.