Video Game Learning

I was reading this post over at Clif Mims blog and it really struck me.

How does playing video games mirror learning in the classroom?

I am no expert on video games and have never really played that many. I'm an old school Nintendo and Sega player. I've played my share of Rock Band and Guitar Hero but I've never played on a Wii or done most of what's popular now.

But from my limited experience, whenever you are learning or teaching someone how to play a video game, what is the first thing you do?

Hand them a controller.

You might explain what a few buttons mean but that's it.

You jump in and start playing, clicking crazily until you finally figure out what is going on.

Then you die.


Each time you figure out new maneuvers, new places to hide, new ways to score points, new ways to stay alive. And you keep playing over and over until you master it and move on to the next level.

How does this reflect what learning in the classroom looks like?

It doesn't.

In comparing teaching math to teaching video games, here is my analogy. First, I will explain the instructions of the game to you (I might have you read some of it out loud). Then, I will attempt to tell you how this game is relevant to your daily life (because it's not interesting enough for you to care). Next, I will play the game while you watch (sitting still and not talking). Then, I will give you a controller and let you play. Before you can finish the first level, class is over and your homework is to go home and master the entire game. Have fun!

I'm not sure I'm adequately conveying my point here. I don't know how to teach math in the way I would like to, like playing a video game. I think it's similar to problem-based learning. Let's just jump in and start playing but how do you do that with math? I don't know how to make solving math problems look as interesting as playing a video game but the skill set is the same: problem solving, logical thinking, manipulation of information, strategic thinking, elimination of unnecessary information, improving on each additional attempt, critical thinking, step-by-step solutions, etc. How do you make it work so that students want to try over and over again until they master it? How can we create a support team for students to go to and get "cheat codes" or play online like with video games?

Dan Meyer on his blog has started the What Can You Do With This? Series. He uses a picture or video to display something that poses what looks like an easy to answer question. Students can easily guess an answer without risking looking stupid. The questions are practically begging to be answered and the lesson easily transitions into answering the question, almost without the students realizing it's math. I would love to do that for every lesson but first of all, finding the media that will fit every lesson is hard enough. Second of all, I'm not sure I'm smart enough to even know how to use or solve the problem myself. Third, how could you make the course cohesive and flow nicely into each other? Fourth, although the students would be incredibly engaged and learning, how does this type of teaching prepare them for standardized testing? I know that interesting/engaging lessons and scoring well on standardized testing are not mutually exclusive, but it sure seems like it. For all the curriculum planners/consultants/writers out there, this is the kind of work we need you for!! Let's take one relevant piece of media, and build it into a lesson plan while at the same time incorporating things that prepare students for testing.

Obviously, this is not my idea at all and will take people much smarter than me to develop. But I love it. I'm obsessed with thinking about it. I can't even plan anything for this school year because I know it will all suck compared to what little I've seen and what I want it to look like. I'm stumped by my perfectionism. I could start planning lessons the way I learned in college but it is lacking in so much that I can't even rationalize doing that to my students. So in response, I've done nothing. Take that.

Do we ever have to explain video games relevancy? Do they have any? Regardless of the answers to those questions, we don't have to convince students to play them, correct? Some things we do because they are fun, entertaining, or just because we want to. How do we get education to look like that? How do we get students learning again? Jesse at Math Be Brave addresses similar issues in her post, "Why Does It Matter?"

I want to build my curriculum from the student perspective of "Would I enjoy this if I didn't have to do it?"

Of course they have to do it. But, you know...


  1. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. There's no way for you to start out your first year and have a beautiful engaging, provoking lesson for every single class every single day. Take the first step and build one lesson (or find one that someone else has made) and make it your own. Meanwhile you still have to teach, and guess what, if you give out a worksheet once in a while, it doesn't make you a bad teacher. Once you've got one and you've tried it out, then build another one. It takes time to
    become a great teacher.

  2. I know, I know. I have a hard time accepting good when I know better is achievable. Nevermind, that those other teachers are in their 3rd, 5th, or 7th year of teaching. Experience is one of the key characteristics of a great teacher but it's also the one thing you can't rush. Time is expensive and I don't wanna pay!

  3. I never saw a game for math up to this moment, but I would like you to see some of the Download Games, perhaps you can get some ideas that will help you. Just make the lesson interesting, and I know students will be happy learning math, I love Math subjects even without games :)

  4. I've used a lot of games in the classroom but I'm a fan of the free kind!