At face value, it sounds like a great idea. And it comes from Bill Gates!
Imagine if kids poured their time and passion into a video game that taught them math concepts while they barely noticed, because it was so enjoyable.
Kids are bored in the classroom—partially due to the growing technological culture—so we should make the classroom more fun. Like video games! Video games are fun!
This is a great vision, but it faces two major hurdles:
- Regular video games are more fun than educational videogames.
- It’s hard for video games to effectively educate.
Enter Pamela Paul, with a well-worded challenge to Gates’s vision:
Do we want children to “barely notice” when they develop valuable skills? Not to learn that hard work plays a role in that acquisition? It’s important to realize early on that mastery often requires persevering through tedious, repetitive tasks and hard-to-grasp subject matter.
How’s this for a radical alternative? Let children play games that are not educational in their free time…Then, once they’re in the classroom, they can challenge themselves. Deliberate practice of less-than-exhilarating rote work isn’t necessarily fun but they need to get used to it — and learn to derive from it meaningful reward, a pleasure far greater than the record high score.
If school is designed to prepare students for life as adults, it needs to go beyond “learning”. It needs to add (at minimum) “work ethic” to its list of values. I’m not sure how you can measure work ethic, but we need to figure out a way.
When I substitute, I find myself telling students this all the time:
It’s not important that you learn [this particular fact]. It’s important that you learn how to work hard at something.
Make Time for Play
If we’re going to recommit to students working hard, we need to balance that time too. Kids need recess, and older kids need a break. Robert Evans (in his #4 point in this Cracked article) lists a variety of studies showing the benefits to recess and down time:
- Children are better behaved in the classroom.
- Children pay better attention in the classroom.
Everyone needs a break, not just younger children. It’s no coincidence that most high schools’ classes last only 45-50 minutes. In my graduate courses (three hours straight), I found it easier to pay attention in classes that had built-in breaks.
If we value hard work and relaxation, we can challenge the short attention spans while still making school tolerable.
Endnote: Gates doesn’t actually recommend computer-only learning, if you read through the link. But the quote epitomizes the desire of learning technology.