Earlier last week, I attended a two-day symposium on game-based learning at The Esteves College of Education, part of the Sage Colleges, in Troy, New York. It was rather an enjoyable experience for me, especially as someone who is new to the “unconference” scene. I came away from it with some new ideas and a renewed sense of energy.
Instead of going over each individual session I attended, I’ll just focus on first impressions and key concepts I learned from my time at #GiE12. First, I was glad that I was not subjected to Death By PowerPoint (Keynote). The presentations were brief, playful, and utilized different styles and tools like Prezi. Many presenters used many images and cartoons to get their points across, which helped underscore one of the symposium’s main points: learning should be fun.
There were many various sessions on available online games, quests, and even traditional board games. There were two particular NSF-funded researchers who created biology games for the Nintendo DSi. As I listened and tweeted, I realized that it really isn’t about the technology at all. Those tools will come and go. What I needed to focus on as an educator was the way I taught, and how I utilized the design process to achieve my goals.
“Teachers are designers by nature. They design every day.” – Sean Dikkers (@sdikkers)
If I could sum up my learning experience at this symposium, I would say that it is about creating an environment for students to play and learn, and then letting them make it better by giving them choice. I realized this when I experimented with iPads, finally used my wiki, and let my classes have more choice over their projects. The students created more things. In their feedback comments, many said they had more fun when they had choice over what to research and produce.
I tried to teach the way I was taught in the beginning of the year, and I was miserable. I realized that I went into teaching because my experiences as a biologist intern were fun. Science is fun to me. It seems intuitive, but these are things that are not taught in an education college course. I had to do away with the idea that playing in the science classroom was non-productive.
“Play is the natural state of learning and inquiry.”- Brock Dubbels
Another key concept I came away with from #GiE12 were the verbs. A lot of specific keywords were thrown around during those two days, verbs like “play”, “fail”, “practice”. There’s a lot of DOING. Reflecting back on my first year, I have to admit there wasn’t a lot of that. There was a lot of watching, listening, writing, but not a lot of experimenting, or playing. Why? Because I was afraid of that one verb: failing. That’s part of the games, though, isn’t it? Part of figuring things out is failing and trying again. I didn’t stress that too much as a teacher, but I should. I talk a lot about perseverance, but it never dawned on me that I should have also talked to them about failure.
There are definitely a lot of new ideas rattling around in my head, and I need time to let them settle and figure out how I can use them to help me improve this year. It is surprising to me that I walk away with general ideas rather than specific tools or URLs. I would have to say that one of my strongest impressions from #GiE12 was the extremely positive and optimistic outlook of its many participants.
Some educators kept bringing up problems, but I know that seeing the glass as half-full rather than half-empty is crucial. The fact that there were educators, administrators, and superintendents attending a two-day symposium on technology in the middle of the summer is proof that change is happening. It may not be a lot right now, but it is enough. Small steps eventually lead you where you want to be.