How Can Families Keep Learning F-U-N for Their Students in This Environment?
“I’m bored!” she shrieked. Then there was a thud, as my three year old daughter flung herself on the floor bemoaning our new state of life. This was the second week of March, or for those of us who live outside of New York in Westchester County, week two of staying at home and social distancing.
As many others across the nation and globe, my three year old was out of school resulting in cancelled after school activities and uncertain scheduled online curriculum for preschool.
I looked at her, befuddled, thinking about how our family, like so many, would keep their little balls of energy engaged, along with the main concerns of safety and health.
Exploring Gaming in Education
Coincidentally, I had been exploring gaming as a medium for education. I had been working on an initiative called Solitaired, with the goal of exploring how classical games can be used in education, from brain training to finding new ways to engage learners.
Recently, my friend and I launched a notable women in tech online solitaire game. We had learned about the Notable Women in Tech Project, which aims to create wikipedia pages of women advancing STEM fields, and took the card deck they created about these women and turned it into a solitaire game.
Our goal was two fold: 1) We wanted to create an engaging and unique way to educate the world about these amazing figures while having fun, and 2) We wanted to demonstrate that education and games could be combined in creative ways.
How the Alphabet Led to a Light Bulb Moment
With my professional goals of exploring gamification in education in mind, I looked at my daughter and started thinking about what kind of educational games she could play. How could she learn, have fun, and stay engaged in this at-home environment?
When I was doing alphabet flashcards with her, a lightbulb went off. I thought, why not play a matching game with uppercase and lowercase letters. As we started playing the game, my daughter enthusiastically started yelling “these match!” When she didn’t identify lowercase “l”, having mistaken it for a capital “I”, it was a teaching moment. She loved it so much, we played the game again later that day.
Why Innovate Games Can be Helpful During the Pandemic
The simple process of creating a game for my daughter reminded me of what my son’s kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Hendler, often preached. She wanted to make kindergarten so enjoyable that her students would not only look forward to kindergarten, but carry that excitement through all of K-12.
Just like Ms. Hendler makes learning enjoyable, what if we went above and beyond to make remote learning in today’s new reality as enjoyable as possible? What if we started seeing remote learning through the lens of games, engagement, entertainment, and creative project based learning? Not only can it be fun, but we can discover new strategies to bring back into the classroom when schools reopen.
As a thought experiment, I just went to a site called GamesRules.com. In their kids section, they mention the card game War as a good game for kids. What if I used War to teach my daughter the concept of larger vs. smaller numbers, or have my kindergartener create cards of planets and their sizes, where the biggest one wins. The point is, with some out of box thinking, perhaps there are new ways to educate and engage across grade levels.
And this is happening. I spoke with Leigh Estabrooks, who is the Invention Education Officer at the Lemelson-MIT program, which encourages invention across K6–12. She mentioned one teacher who is working with students to create face masks at home, some even with 3D printers. Another teacher created a robotics set up in his basement with remote access for students. She also talked about how more teachers are using Kahoot to create trivia and educational games.
No doubt this is a tough period for families, educators, students, let alone the entire nation and globe. Yet, during this time, we have an opportunity to experiment with new forms of education that we couldn’t before. Let’s make the best of it!
About the Author: Neal Taparia built Imagine Easy Solutions, a portfolio of popular educational services that reached over 30M students annually. He’s now working on a new initiative, Solitaired, which explores games as a medium for education.
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