Here is the talk I gave at CMC-North last weekend: Video Games & Making Math More Like Things Students Like.
Students generally prefer video games to our math classes and I wanted to know why. So I played a lot of video games and read a bit about video games and drew some conclusions. I also asked my in-laws to play two video games in front of a camera so we could watch their learning process and draw comparisons to our students.
These are the six lessons I learned:
- Video games get to the point.
- The real world is overrated.
- Video games have an open middle.
- The middle grows more challenging and more interesting at the same time.
- Instruction is visual, embedded in practice, and only as needed.
- Video games lower the cost of failure.
As one of those weird AP Lit and AP Calc teachers – and a gamer – I think “story” is key in video gaming. Psychologists (like Willingham) and sociologists talk about the “story bias” of the brain. Nearly all long video games have a heavy story element. You are a character embedded in a story, be it open-ended or scripted. So often when I’m frustrated with bad game design I’ll push through because I’m committed to the story. So often when I finish the “missions” I give up on the well-designed “side-quests” because the story has rushed out of the game and it’s just a task-garden again.
I’ll play Angry Birds for a few minutes. I’ll play Temple Run till I beat my friend’s score. But I won’t put 20 hours into a game until I find a story I want to be invested in. (In the same breath, I’ll say that – in the sense of “story” that Willingham uses it – Angry Birds and Temple Run have their stories, too. Far more than many “story” problems in math books like to pretend that have.)
Not sure how you get rich story into math. How to become characters whose adventures we become invested in, not the scripted Jane who is trying to maximize the area of his pasture or the open-ended John who is trying to find a good way to estimate the number of people in a photo.
Anyway – the first lesson I learn from video games is: humans will spend hours on a good yarn.
My Panama Canal metaphor was just a joke from the onset so I had to admire Joshua Greene’s continued debunking.