Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Meeting challenges for fun and profit

The 5th grader I am closest to has been having trouble in math.  He can count out basic facts pretty well, especially in addition.  But not in the other basic processes.  More troublesome, the more complex operations of multiplication and division require many applications of the basic single digit facts, calling on basic them rapidly and often.

Meanwhile this video game warrior deeply loves getting to new levels in several types of games: actual computer games, Wii games with special equipment and a wand that allows physical action affect the game, games on a Nintendo DS, a pocket-sized game console.  Most of all, he loves the iPad and games on it.  Those games require just finger use, no mouse, no wand.

The very popular and successful Angry Birds has swept onto the scene.  The link leads to a Wikipedia article that says more than 3.3 million hours of playing Angry Birds occur EACH DAY on the planet.  My guy likes the game very much but he likes other games as well.  When I pick him up after school, he is quiet and subdued about the day in school but then his memory supplies the latest goings-on with his game adventures.  The detail and energy he puts into the games and into such activities as finding You-tube videos that supply playing hints contrasts strongly with his desire to learn his math facts and do long division.

He is a sharp thinker.  I asked him how I could get some of his energy and delight shown for video games re-directed toward math.  (One of his teachers, who knows him very well, predicted that someday math would be a deep interest for him but it hasn't happened yet.)  He thought for a minute and suggested he needed a video game that requires math to play.

Lynn loaded Math Ninja onto her iPad and he spent a steady couple of hours playing it.  He was delighted that he "sailed through" many levels of the game and announced that he was beginning to consider trying it on the medium difficulty instead of easy.

The books Everything Bad is Good for You by respected science writer Steven Johnson and Reality is Broken by gamer and game theorist Jane McGonigal PhD are examples of serious thinkers who see increasing value and application of games.  University departments of gaming, in this country and abroad, show the recognition of the potential of games for entertainment, education and training.  Today's games involve psychology, computer science and business methods as well as mathematics, art and music.

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