A Place for Games?

What is a game? Can you learn from all games? Why do educators see some games/apps as educational and others as not? What is the criteria for an educational app? These are the questions winding around in my brain. Each person in my family has been eager to help me find apps for my classroom. What’s interesting is that each member of the family views apps in a different way. This has me thinking about how I’ll need to work with my students to develop criteria for selecting apps for our learning environment. I’m wondering if our criteria will change over the year as we learn more about the iPad as a tool for learning. I’m also thinking about what apps will appeal to which students and why.

As with most new technology pieces I have started with what I know. I know I’ll be doing some word study tasks and literacy work stations in my classroom as part of a balanced literacy program. I began searching and found lots of ‘games’ for developing word skills. I began to worry because many of them were flashcard style or worksheet based. This was not what I deem as ‘educational’. I was looking for apps that supported Patricia Cunningham’s “Making Words” and Marie Clay’s “make and break” strategies. I downloaded Skywrite, Glow Draw, Graffiti Draw! Fridgit, Bigger Words, Chalk, Word Dropping and Dictionary. I am pleased with these apps and definitely see them as part of the word study component of the literacy program. I looked at what my sons were downloading and saw the apps were sports games, racing games and such. I was instantly surprised at the graphics of the Baseball game. I can see that gaming has definitely changed, the graphics were as clear as my HD bigscreen TV. I have to admit that it’s easy to become addicted to the baseball game. I’m embarrassed to admit that my initial response was “Hey guys, that’s fun but I’m looking for learning games/apps for my classroom.” As soon as the words came out of my mouth I thought, What would Mark Prensky say? Why as a parent and a teacher do I automatically think that gaming has no learning value in a classroom setting? I retreated and asked my son to justify his learning through the game Baseball. He was able to explain his thought processes, the critical thinking that takes place, the problem solving, the stats, and the prediction skills needed to be successful in the game. As I watched him play the game I immediately thought about the media connections because CHEVY is throughout the entire game. The logo is on the app, on the mats and on the scoreboard. I can see how I could use this and justify it as a critical media task. However, I’m feeling a pull. I know that video games have purpose and educational value but where is their place in a literacy program? Is there a place? Can my students and I justify our thinking to our visitors and administrators? Should I take a risk and include some games/apps of this nature and see where my students go with them? Am I brave enough? ( Note: I realize this is only one small use of the iPad and I do have blogs set up for students and will include many other tasks and activities)

Advice? Cautions? Feedback? Is there a place for games in a literacy program and if so how and why?