Game theory already at play in curricula!

One of the great things about the net is that you get to follow the evolution of ideas from many differing places. And in a good discussion thread, there can be more solid information than one can find in a book.

In a post last month, I described my hopes for the gains available when our students’ interactivity and mastery of RPG (role-playing games) and video games could be brought into the curriculum. Our digital natives want control of their learning, want their challenges customized, and tend to want room for their stratagems. For the most part, they can only daydream of class work exciting as gaming. But web 2.0 resources have changed things.

Turns out that in some American public elementary schools, at least for the last year, students have practiced skills and learned new information in their mathematics class and their history classes. A so-called “Great Merge” between Game Theory”>game theory and classroom practice has arrived, and it engages students.

Game Theory, I’ve learned, is field of mathematics that puts humans in simulations, gives them various datasets, roles, and desired outcomes, and then observes and records the stratagems and choices, and their consequences, given the other players and other givens. Equations are drawn out of these “games” that help social scientists understand human behavior better.

But Game Theory”>game theory is already being applied in lots of elementary math courses, according to a Classroom 2.0 discussion. With 2.0 game engines available, the sorts of scenario-based problem/project based learning that high school English teachers at my school have been using for many successful years could be easily translated into the more engaging package/platform. Another case of new skin for the old ceremony.

Interestingly, these games leverage every human’s natural desire for challenge, community, and competition, but they include no actual humans besides the learners. Since a child is playing against him/herself as s/he plays through the levels, even when s/he “loses” an episode, s/he still wins, having thereby gained information or skills useful in the next attempt.

And how easy would assessment be! A series of levels in a game are nothing else but formative assessments, are they? And if sequenced and correlated well, what good preparation these “games” would be for higher-stakes summative tests. To provide for RTI and continuous improvement, the learner’s scores can be analyzed against game/curriculum/lesson development, adjustments made in the latter, and better student learning gained in perpetuity as a result. Exciting!

But am I not a bit sanguine in the fervor of my enthusiasm? I mean, games, shmames. Putting curricula on game platforms just shifts the medium, it alters neither the content nor the outcomes substantially, does it?

It’s worth remembering that when he was at Yale, GWBush was especially good at two things: nicknames and Risk (a popular American role-playing game of world conquest). The game-platform seemed to work for him, right? (perhaps too well!)

Some titles that I want to read to deepen my knowledge of educational games: What Video Games have to teach us about learning and literacy by James Gee, and “Don’t bother me mom, I’m learning” by Marc Prensky.

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