Do Classroom Games Help Students Learn?

It’s been a long week, an endless winter. Students file into my classroom, looking weary.

“Can’t we just play a game today?” one of them asks.

In the last thirty years, many standard teaching methods have lost favor. We are discouraged from lecturing, drilling,  and other teacher-centric teaching methods because they do not ‘engage’ students. Group work, hands-on activities, layered curriculum, differentiated instruction are all the rage.

Games fit neatly into a child-centered classroom. But are they a valid way to teach? Do kids actually learn better by playing games than through other activities?

My answer: sometimes, but usually not.

In a foreign language classroom, we do many things: we read, we write, we listen, we talk. The goal is to form habits of memory and use.

There is a time limit for these activities: fifty minutes a day, five days a week, 180 days a year. Three years of instruction add up to 27,000 minutes (before subtracting announcements, assemblies, and other random interruptions.) As any language teacher (or learner) can tell you, this is barely enough to learn to communicate in another language. Many people think it would be nice to be able to speak another language, but have no idea of the time and effort demanded.

Where do games fit in? More

Digital Natives

If you’re starting to think about summer vacation, here’s a great idea: whale watching — in Lake Michigan!

For several years, I’ve used the Lake Michigan Whales website to teach my students an important lesson: not everything on the internet is true. <gasp!> Usually students find the site, see what it is, but never grasp the obvious: there are no whales in Lake Michigan.

They probably would have thought about it more, but they were busy checking their email and looking for music online. They never do just one thing at a time. If they try to think about just one thing, their minds begin searching out another distraction.

I like to think they would have questioned it, but I know that many would not. When the school was offering swine flu vaccine this winter, one girl told me that she wouldn’t risk it because she’d seen a video of a woman who could only walk backwards after having the vaccine. I asked her if she thought that something like that could be faked. She said, “No — I saw it! It was on You Tube!”

It’s become a commonplace: more and more distraction, less and less thinking goes on. A lot of blogging, texting, tweeting. Instead of thinking about something, we can Google it. Technology is about to replace critical thinking. More

Click Harder

I have a favorite computer guy that I call up when something goes wrong. His first piece of advice is always, “Click harder.” This is accompanied by a dead-pan look (which I can’t see, but know he’s doing) and a slight chuckle.

He used to tell me, “Re-install Windows,” but he knows that I’ve converted to Mac now and am too smart to fall for that.

Usually I’m calling him because I just need to figure out how to do something. Macs rarely have ‘click harder’ problems.

One problem I’m having lately truly is a ‘click harder’ problem: my trackpad is sinking — but only on the corner where I click. My computer guru told me how to configure it so I don’t have to click as much, but it’s a hard habit to break. I am a hard-clicker.

I confess to having worn out several keyboards. On my last laptop I had to have the keyboard replaced because the spacebar wouldn’t work anymore. It’s hard to writewithoutaspacebar. Everything turns into one long word, and the spell-checker goes nuts.

Why am I so hard on keyboards? To answer that, I will have to date myself. More

Long Distance

I saw my son in Japan last night. We Skyped. Finding a time when we’re both awake and not working is a bit of a challenge, but we have managed to do this a few times.

Every now and then, the picture freezes, or breaks up, or the sound disappears, but it works. I don’t know how pixels and bits fly through the air, bounce off a satellite and zoom down into my laptop almost instantaneously, but they do. Or something like that.

Occasionally I have to slap myself so I’ll stop reminding my sons how amazing this is. I wonder what technology they will be gushing about in thirty years. What will their kids get tired of hearing about? “We didn’t have that when I was your age. We had to use a phone if we wanted to text somebody…” More

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