“Can we play computer games here?” It was the first week of school and an eager sixth grade boy showed up in the library at lunch with a bunch of his buddies. Because I try not to let “no” be the first word out of my mouth and because I’d been reading about the ways that games, could be learning tools in schools, I said, “Show me why I should say yes.”
He plugged in his flash drive and gave me a quick tour of the world he had created on a popular “sandbox” type game. His online character had built a house surrounded by a fantastic landscape. Charming, blocky-shaped cows and chicken roamed outside. “Okay,” I told him. “Let’s give it a try.”
Fast forward a year and a half. From the minute the library opens before school and during lunches, our thirty library iPads are likely to be packed with eager players creating their own worlds and inviting others in, racing each other in exotic race cars, or playing other online games. It’s an amazingly diverse group of kids: from the EBD classroom, ELL students, the advanced learners, the homeless ones. Computer games cut across all the cultures and heritages represented in our student body, and the initial gender cap is narrowing as I continue to urge girls to play.
Computer games and the CCSS? I think there’s a case to be made connecting Speaking and Listening 8.2 (Analyze the purpose of information presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and evaluate the motives (e.g., social, commercial, political) behind its presentation.) with my computer game players.
Navigating through a world created by others and contributing your creations to that world requires analysis of the purposes of that world. Is it player versus player? Is generosity or selfishness rewarded? Can we team up to defeat another racer? A preference for visual learning can be a huge advantage in fitting in to the norms of the online gaming world.
Evaluating the motives of those you have invited to co-create or compete in your world is a continual challenge. Should you assume good intentions? What to do when those who have joined your world don’t understand what you want to have happen? What if they wreck what you just built? When things fall apart and tempers flare, I simply point to the Gaming Prime Directive posted on the wall. “If anyone is angry, everyone is all done.” Ninety-nine percent of the time, those involved figure out how to solve the problem and the games go on.
Last spring, my principal went to each of our feeder elementary schools to introduce herself and answer questions from those anxious fifth graders about what to expect at our middle school. None of them wondered about our school mission statement or our test scores, but at almost every school someone asked, “Is it true kids can play computer games?”
There’s no doubt my computer gaming students are learning the 21st century skills of collaboration and creativity. Plus it melted my heart the first time one of my students created a library in their online “sandbox” game.
Next steps? I’m trying to get all the gaming kids to do their Hour of Code. I believe they can go from playing games to creating games. They already have the confidence to create, compete, and survive in their own worlds.
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