Level Up or Out

An interesting series of articles appeared in the New York Times Sunday Magazine this past week covering technology in education. Interesting to me because of the variety of approaches discussed, from drill-based learning to home schooling. One of the pieces discussed the use of video games as learning aids, and covered a new middle school here in New York that has a curriculum largely based around video games. It was a little hard to discern what level of integration gaming has with learning there, but there was a brief mention of what one might term normal learning activities (like reading) place. I'm a bit torn on the efficacy of this approach, and perhaps because this piece is a little lighter in facts and heavier on first-person interpretation. I am a little leery of breathless descriptions of people who only two years ago were running street art and puppet shows now commanding an entire middle school. There is some mention made of dopamine studies, but it all sounds extremely thin and premature.

My children are already well aware of what level they are on in most of their subjects where such measurements are taken (Reading, Math). They are fairly competitive, and I don't know how much more pressure they need in that area. What does appeal to me are the constructivist principles that seem to be at work in some of the learning. Kids building their own games is a very old approach, so its good to see it updated here. There was mention of game design and design thinking playing a role in the development of the curriculum, which is encouraging, because if it is done right it can bring the invaluable knowledge the educational system has acquired with newer understandings of motivation and reward.

I wonder if these principles can be used to instill a joy of long-form reading, and the kind of discussion that can accompany the development of close reading skills. Perhaps an "Om Reader", like the OmmWriter, but with more incentives and networking can be a part of children's learning experience. I don't particularly like it, but the "Popular Highlights" feature in the Kindle seems a step in this direction. IDEO released a concept video of three approaches to reading tools, and while the last one named "Alice" seemed the most interesting, I found the other two to be fluffed out features, not standalone products.

It points to the desperation our society feels about the state of education in our country, and how little we seem to know about how children learn. My guess is that we know quite a bit, in a general sense, but we keep trying to scale this knowledge up and apply to all children, which is where it falls apart. Perhaps that's the problem, and programs like this might help us make the brave decision to allow for much greater latitude in how our children are educated.