Are They Really Learning Playing Games Online?

Are They Really Learning Playing Games Online?

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You may or may not have heard of some online games like Minecraft, Scratch, FIFA, GTA, Call of Duty, Battlefield, Pokemon Go and other popular online games. There’s two questions I get asked all the time.

  1. Is it bad for my child to game?
  2. What limits do you place on gaming?

First of all, let me just say not all games are equal. Some games are just fun and total time-wasters! And yes, some games are graphically violent and mean. But, some games can be meaningful and purposeful and especially valuable for our kids because they explain concepts and help kids learn, are powerful and pervasive, but most of all they are engaging!

I’m the parent of an avid gamer (aka my 15 year old son) so as you can imagine, there’s a lot of online gaming that happens in our house. Through open and honest conversations with my son and through my own research as an educator, there’s a few conclusions I’ve reached about gaming.

Is my child learning while playing games online?

The short answer is yes. The long answer needs to keep in mind what I said earlier, not all games are equal. Games that encourage problem-solving skills, communication and collaboration skills and reading/writing skills are ones that are meaningful and purposeful.  When we think about Reading and writing skills –  it’s no longer just the traditional skills of reading and writing.

Various research from Learning Designer Jason Engerman (Ph.D) to Tech Entrepreneur and Edtech Pioneer Idit Harel (Ph.D) shows that online games (or gaming) can

  • increase spatial knowledge
  • improve aptitude for math and science
  • improve physical dexterity with keyboards and touch-screens
  • provide opportunities to learn through failure
  • encourage risk-taking in a positive goal-oriented way
  • encourage grit and perseverance
  • value exploration & discovery
  • help develop critical thinking and computational fluency
  • provide opportunities to learn to collaborate & work together to accomplish a task

It’s also worth mentioning that Idit Harel believes playing and making games is fundamental to teaching and learning in a digital world – that through software engineering and coding we can help our kids become critical thinkers and computationally fluent. When thinking about these points, I was reminded of a time that I stopped outside my son’s bedroom door to listen to the conversation he was having with his friends online about their FIFA game and to watch what was happening on the screen. I was surprised by the level of collaboration and communication happening during the game (which is a huge favourite of theirs). This particular game did not result in a win but rather than give up, they deconstructed the game (not that they knew this was what they were essentially doing), strategized their strengths, assigned particular moves and worked together even harder to attain the goal of winning the match. (I really wish I had recorded the conversation!)

Jason Engerman’s dissertation research Call of Duty for Adolescent Boys revealed that learning outcomes may include communication skills, strategic thinking, identity formation and leadership development through teamwork. It’s a worthwhile read if you’re interested. Whilst my son does play Call of Duty every now and then, we have had many open and honest conversations about the graphic nature of this particular game. As a parent, I informed myself (through observation, google and questions) about the content and purpose of the game and decided that it was acceptable for my son. Call of Duty was definitely not appropriate for him at 10, but at 14, I felt that he was mature enough to understand the graphic nature and to recognise the difference between fantasy and reality.  You know your own kids, and you also have your own family values so ultimately you can decide what games are appropriate or not for your children.

Advice from a “Gamer” Parent (aka me)

From my own experiences as the parent of a teenage boy “gamer”, here’s my top tips

  • Strive for Balance.  We used to have a time-limit for Ben’s gaming but now that he’s older we know that he has an active life both online and offline. As parents, it’s also our job to guard against addictive behaviours in any of our life’s activities.
  • Value the gaming that our kids are involved in.  In this TEDTalk video, Ali Carr-Chellman highlights that valuing their gaming activities amounts to respecting them and their culture.  Jane McGonigal believes that gaming can make the world a better place and that competitive, violent fantasy games contribute to the development of strong future leaders and citizens.
  • Invest the time to sit down, watch AND play the game with your child(ren).  A bonus part of this week’s free PDF is a link to a 20 minute video conversation with my amazing friend Tara and her equally amazing daughter Sojo – an avid minecrafter!  This is a must-watch especially when Tara shares her thoughts and advice on being a parent of a “10 year-old gamer” and what she learned when she did this exact thing.
  • Have regular, open and honest conversations with your child(ren). We always say it, and we’re saying it again. This is our key piece of advice for all parents. These conversations will help you to understand what is so appealing about certain games, what your child is learning and how, and will also help you to decide if a game is appropriate or not for your child.

This week at Eduro Learning we’re wrapping up our Parenting in the Digital Age series launch with another freebie PDF – Parent’s Guide to Minecraft (get it here!). This PDF contains a handy quick start guide to Minecraft, some things to be aware of AND some tips, strategies and conversation starters you can have with your children.  You could easily substitute minecraft for any other online game, so the tips, strategies and conversation starters will be just as helpful, no matter what the game.

Writing More Reflectively

Writing More Reflectively

We’re trying to encourage our students to use their blogs to write reflectively, as we lean more and more towards using the blogging platform as a suitable “container” for ePortfolios.  Below is a post that we’re sharing with our G4 and G5 student bloggers.  I’d like to adapt it for our G3 student bloggers as well.  What do you think? What’s missing?

Not sure what to write for a reflection post? Here are a few questions you could ask yourself to help you get started! Some are more suited to Writer’s Workshop or Reader’s Workshop reflections. Some are suitable for Science, Social Studies or Math reflections. Choose the ones that work best for what you would like to say about your learning.

  • What did you do well?
  • What didn’t go so well?
  • If you could do this again, what would you do differently?
  • How could you improve your work next time?
  • Is what you are currently reading/viewing or studying challenging you in any way? In what way?
  • What is puzzling you as you are reading at present? (About the author, characters, ideas etc.)
  • What specific questions are being raised by what you are reading?
  • Can you make any connections between what you are reading/viewing and everyday life, history, situations in the world, any other subject you are studying or your own life?
  • Write down 3 questions you have for an author of a text you are reading/viewing/studying at present. Explain why you have asked those questions.
  • What are you learning about yourself from what you are reading/viewing/studying? (Your own values, attitudes, and beliefs)

Instead of a question, you could try some of these sentence starters

  • This week I learned…….
  • What I have found difficult about what I have read/viewed/heard this week is…….
  • My writing and reading skills……..(reflect on them and your efforts, areas of strength and weakness providing specific examples)
  • My listening and speaking skills……..(reflect on them and your efforts, areas of strength and weakness providing specific examples)

Or you could try this: (adapted from Service Learning)

—What happened?
—What did you observe?

So What?
—Did you learn a new skill or clarify an interest?
—Did you hear, smell, or feel anything that surprised you?
—How is your experience different from what you expected?
—What impacts the way you view the situation/experience? (What lens are you viewing from?)
—What did you like/dislike about the experience?

Now What?

—What seems to be the root causes of the issues you experienced? OR
—What seems to be the root causes of the issue addressed in this project/learning?

—What other work are you doing help address the difficulties you experienced? OR
—What other work is currently happening to address the issue?
—What learning occurred for you in this experience?
—How can you apply this learning?
—What would you like to learn more about, related to this project/piece of learning?
—What follow-up is needed to address any challenges or difficulties you had with this project/learning?
—What information can you share with your peers/teachers/family?
—If you could do the project/learning again, what would you do differently?

These questions/sentence starters are just a guide to help you get started.

Reflection Image: AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike by TeachingSagittarian

Using Techxperts in the Classroom

Using Techxperts in the Classroom

Classroom management is a challenging skill at the best of times! Thankfully managing a classroom with technology is almost the same as managing a non-technology classroom with some ever-so-slight modifications. Today I want to share with you one of the strategies that makes a significant difference to my stress levels and the management of many digital devices in our classroom. 


It really isn’t necessary for you to know every single thing about every single device or tool that you use in your classroom. Granted, I usually do check out a new tool or device a little more before I introduce it to my students, but generally speaking, my knowledge is usually one step ahead of theirs! A way that I manage this in the classroom is to have “Techxperts” – usually two or three students that the class can ask for help when they are stuck using a particular tool or completing a particular task.

Finding Your Techxperts

There’s two main strategies used to find our techxperts.

Observation through Sandpit Time. Sandpit time is where a new tool is introduced and we just play (dabble) around with it seeing what we can find out in a set period of time. With middle school students, this is usually between 10-15mins – I’d let younger students explore the tool for at least 15-20mins.  At the end of our “sandpit” time we share what we discovered. Sometimes we do this “whole class” other times we set up speed-geeking tables and move around the class learning from each other. This really depends on how much time we have. After doing this, I can easily see who has picked up how to do things relatively quickly with a particular tool. I’ll approach those students who caught my eye and ask if they’d like to be the “techxpert” for that tool.

Specific Training. You’ll begin to find that you have students that always stand out during sandpit time.  As the year goes on, this makes it harder to have a variety of techxperts and I like to empower all students to be leaders or experts in a digital classroom.  To do this, I will ask a small group (usually 3-4 students) to be a techxpert for a particular tool or task. I use this strategy more when I need techxperts for a particular skill rather than knowledge about a tool. (But it does work for both reasons).  I will specifically teach this small group to become experts in a particular skill that we will be using a lot.  For example, I always teach a small group how to insert an image into a blog post (because we do that all the time when we’re blogging).  I always have techxperts that know how to do particular things in iMovie or glogster because we’re always using iMovie or glogster in our project work.  (You can insert what ever software/online tools you use here). A bonus discovery using the specific training method is that some students that normally wouldn’t volunteer, but did the training because I asked them to, really shone as techxperts and consequently being a techxpert made a huge difference to their own confidence!

Both of these strategies do take time, so I always allow for it.  The pay-off for spending time at the start doing either of these strategies really does make a huge difference to the way your classroom works when using the devices.

How Does Everyone Know Who The Techxperts Are?

I created a simple chart with velcro stickies on them (this quickly became two charts) as well as laminated name cards. The charts hung where they were easily seen. I also laminated the charts so that I could write tools on the chart (using a whiteboard pen) as some tools are likely to change during the year. In case you can’t see it, there’s either 3 or 6 velcro stickers per tool so that I could add the number of techxperts needed or available for either the tool (ie: iMovie or Blabberize) or the skill (ie: embed widget or embed image)
The charts worked well especially for any substitute teachers that may be in class for the day. (In NZ we call subs, relief teachers.)

The charts  are recycled each year which is a bonus! This is the third year I’ve used these particular charts – as you can see, I started off using the term expert and later changed it to techxperts earlier this year.

(I know you’ll all understand this – I need to update the charts – it’s on my to-do list (or as we say in NZ the “round-tuit- list” that all teachers have!)



P.S. Round Tuit badges are actually available to purchase from here!