Choosing an Educational Game

Game

Choosing an Educational Game

If you decide that educational games might be useful for your child, it might seem like there are way too many things to consider. How popular they are, what themes and subjects to focus on, how recommended they are and so on. And while there are a lot of educational games out there, I hope I can help you narrow down your options — not based on what the games seem like on the surface, but on what type of learning your child will experience when they’re playing.

What is your Child Actually Doing while Playing?

One of the most important things to keep in mind is what your child will actually be doing when they play a game. A lot of educational products have rewarding elements like character customization, pets, apartments, etc., but obviously this shouldn’t be where your child is spending all their time in a game. So it’s good to ask: Are they spending their time problem-solving? Are they engaging deeply on educational subjects? Not just memorizing content, but actually participating in it?

The following story illustrates this quite clearly:

“A teacher once told me that for a fourth-grade unit on the Underground Railroad he had his students bake biscuits, because this was a staple food for runaway slaves. He asked what I thought about the assignment. I pointed out that his students probably thought for forty seconds about the relationship of biscuits to the Underground Railroad, and for forty minutes about measuring flour, mixing shortening, and so on. Whatever students think about is what they will remember.” (Willingham)

Of course, if the teacher’s goal is to practice measuring and cooking, that’s great.  But if their goal was learning about the Underground Railroad, they fell short.  This is because of the key concept: “Memory is the residue of thought.”  This is one of the biggest takeaways from Willingham’s book, “Why Don’t Students Like School: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom,” which I highly recommend!

So with any material, consider what your child is actually going to be thinking about. What are they going to spend time doing? Because that’s what they’re going to get out of it.

Lower-Order Practice vs. Higher-Order Conceptual

I generally categorize educational games into two groups: Lower-Order Practice and Higher-Order Conceptual Learning. Both have their functions in a child’s learning, so let’s take a closer look:

Lower-Order Practice

Lower-Order Practice is the kind of learning where children answer questions and practice remembering content, but don’t actually learn the concepts or do anything particularly unique with them. For example, a child has to be taught how to do the math problem before they do a math-themed version of this type of game. A Lower-Order Practice game isn’t great for learning the content for the first time or helping them understand the concepts behind it.

And we’ve all seen this type of activity before: glorified worksheets with better-than-average behavioral and motivational science behind them.

I use the term Lower-Order in reference to Bloom’s Taxonomy of educational goals. In Lower-Order Practice games, the activities take place in the lower half of thinking skills:

  • Remember what they’ve learned by recognizing and recalling information;
  • Understand by classifying, comparing, or other activities;
  • Apply by using what they’ve learned on other problems, sometimes in new contexts or slightly harder examples.

I should emphasize that there’s nothing inherently wrong with Lower-Order Practice, because we do need to practice these skills and be able to memorize information. All the hype about how we don’t need to memorize information anymore because we can look everything up on Google is just that — hype.

Math is an easy way to explain why this is important: in general, people can only hold 5-9 items in working memory at a time. Therefore, if you don’t memorize your times tables by the time you get to algebra, it’s hard to have to constantly pause in the middle of solving a problem to do multiplication, as you end up dropping items out of your working memory. In the exact same sense, we can’t perform higher-order thinking skills like creating, connecting points, and being creative unless we already know the basics. So there’s definitely a need for practice and repetition to make sure the basics are mastered.

This form of educational gaming works well across several types of devices: mobile, tablets, and computers, though most Lower-Order Practice games are apps or web-based for quick, in-and-out sessions lasting for a relatively short period of time. For example, the games available at Coolmath.com, Funbrain.com, and ABCya.com are largely simple practice games. I’ve had teachers tell me that these types of games generally retain their students’ interest for about 10 minutes.

Higher-Order Conceptual Learning

Games with Higher-Order Conceptual Learning use systems, problem-solving, and more in-depth types of gameplay to help the player develop a strong conceptual understanding, and they often use a constructivist approach to learning.

These type of games really take advantage of the power of what games can do, with potentially open-ended systems that let players experiment and get a much better, deeper understanding.

So in Bloom’s Taxonomy, Higher-Order Conceptual Learning has children:

  • Analyze by differentiating, organizing, and attributing as players problem-solve;
  • Evaluate by checking and judging to make decisions;
  • Create to generate hypotheses, plan, design, and produce solutions.

For example, in our game, Tyto Online, players engage in an ecosystem-building Sandbox. They use the basics they’ve learned to analyze their ecosystem, evaluate the evidence to decide what’s causing issues (like, “Why are my jackrabbits dying so quickly?!”), generate a hypothesis (“They have too many predators, or not enough food”), and then produce a solution. Players go through an engaging, iterative cycle of problem-solving and the scientific method constantly during gameplay.

Some of my favorite examples of Higher-Order math games include Motion Math’s games where children do conceptual activities like exploring a number line at various scales; and Dragonbox Learning, where players start by developing the concepts of algebra with balancing puzzles, and then work their way into replacing the symbols with letters and numbers until they’re solving full algebraic equations in the game.

There are even educational games that can enable types of learning that are difficult or impossible to do in real life as a child: build a spaceship with Kerbal Space Program, play with the universe’s physical variables with Universe Sandbox, or create an ecosystem from scratch with Tyto Online.

Session times in Higher-Order educational games are often a lot longer, depending on the game and what your child is exploring. Therefore it makes more sense to use computer installed games or tablets, or at least a setup where your child will feel comfortable playing for 30-60 minutes instead of 10.

Conclusion

For the practical side of timing and devices, consider:

Are you going for “instant” or “active” gaming? One of the most helpful workshops I attended divided mobile & tablet gaming into “instant gaming,” and computer & console gaming into “active gaming.”

  • Instant Gaming: on mobile devices, educational games are grab-and-go, and session times often average only 5 minutes. This can be great for quick reinforcement or other activities.
  • Active Gaming: on consoles or computers, the act of getting set up to play the game can take as long as the entire Instant Gaming experience! Therefore, these sessions are usually much longer and made for replayability, sometimes hours, and can be great for deeper and conceptual learning as players experiment, iterate, and create during their gameplay.

And finally, to assess if a game is right for your child, the main thing I would suggest is:

Consider the outcome you want and compare it to what your child will actually spend their time doing in the game. Are you using the game for practice and review? Do you want to help develop conceptual understanding? Do you want to improve their “21st Century skills,” like problem-solving and collaboration? Does the game help them reach that outcome?

There’s no “one size fits all” approach when it comes to knowing if an educational game is right for your child with so many options out there that fill many different potential needs. While we mainly focus on developing Higher-Order thinking with Tyto Online, we’ve also built in repetition and opportunities for children to understand the basic knowledge they need in order to get the full experience of the game.

To read more about the learning mechanics we use in Tyto Online, head over to our blog post outlining our approach.

 [button link=”https://seahomeschoolers.com/tyto-online-group-buy/” type=”big” newwindow=”yes”] Tyto Online Group Buy[/button]

Find out more:

Immersed Games (the studio): www.immersedgames.com

Tyto Online (the game): www.tytoonline.com

Lindsey Tropf’s personal twitter: @ltropf

About the Author

Game

Lindsey Tropf, Founder & CEO of Immersed Games, was a doctoral candidate at the University of Florida in School Psychology, with a specialization in Program Evaluation and a Minor in Research & Evaluation Methodology, with expertise in data-based decision making. Her background has led to an expertise in teaching & learning, children’s development, social-emotional health, behavioral management, and executive functions. She now works on strategy and vision, product development, business development, marketing, and anywhere else she is needed at Immersed Games.





The Benefits of Secular Eclectic Academic Homeschooling

The Benefit of Homeschooling - Secular Eclectic Academic Homeschooling, Secular Homeschooling, Secular Homeschoolers

By Blair Lee, A Voice from the Middle

There is a revolution going on right now in education. It’s called homeschooling. I am part of a fringe group in this revolution. You don’t hear a lot from us, but there is a group of homeschoolers who consider our style to be secular eclectic academic homeschooling. You don’t hear from us because on the one hand we are the unloved mongrels of the homeschooling community so we keep a low profile, and on the other hand we are too busy figuring out how to best facilitate our children’s education. We spend too much time on academics and have too much structure to be considered unschoolers or child-led learners, and too little time on traditional academics or have too little structure to be considered classical homeschoolers.

Many secular eclectic academic homeschoolers pull their children out of traditional school or never have them attend it because, although like traditional schools we believe in the importance of academics, we do not believe in the way the academic subjects are being taught, the testing culture, and/or we disagree with the subjects that are being taught. For example, I believe there are certain subjects that should be taught less so that there is time to teach subjects such as computer science. (And I am not talking about less time for science or history when I say this!) I think that subjects such as math and some writing could be incorporated into history and science so that there would be more time for these two very important subjects and so that writing and math could be taught in a way that makes them more relevant.

America is a funny country when it comes to academics. We want to be at the top academically when it comes to things like beating Singapore’s test scores in math or scoring as well on standardized tests as Finland does, but we don’t have a lot of appreciation for academics in most of our communities.

There is a focus on winning and having the top scores on tests, but there is a lack of focus on the sheer beauty of learning. I think the disconnect between school and the inherent beauty of learning comes about because of the misguided focus on “winning” (AKA having the highest test scores) versus getting a good education so you can be intellectually engaged. As I have said before, I am sympathetic to the constraints placed on schools. Schools have to have performance mandates because they are using tax payer dollars, and tax payers want to know that their dollars are being well spent. So… testing happens. That is how schools show they are performing well. Most eclectic, academic homeschoolers think there should be less focus on testing and more focus on having intellectual discussions about issues both big and small. Not because they will solve any problems (or maybe they will), but just because they are interesting to engage in. Interesting people have interests; it is that simple.

The academic benefits of homeschooling when there has been a focus on academics are impressive. I am blown away by the wealth and richness of my son’s education, and how it has led to an intellectual engagement with his academics and his passionate love of learning. He still thinks I am smarter than him, and he is right about some subjects like chemistry, but in other areas he has surpassed me. He has been given the time and resources to delve into his passions. He doesn’t appreciate it yet, but I think he is already standing on my shoulders. By the way, if you think that my son is a gifted student, he’s not. He is a pretty average, typical 15-year-old who happens to be growing up in a family that places a lot of value on the love of learning.

The homeschool community is not necessarily warm and accepting of secular eclectic academics. I have been accused of being a “Teachey teach to the textbook type” and a “school at homer”, both of which are derogatory phrases in the homeschool community. Neither is accurate, but even if they were, big deal. My child is happy and well-adjusted. We all like the way education works in our house. I don’t know why anyone else would care. On the other side of it, I have been asked by classical educators if I wasn’t worried about Sean being able to get into college. The answer to that question is, “No.” My purpose with my son’s education has never been so that he could get into a good college. That will be a natural outcome, but it is not the purpose and that gives me much more flexibility with his education. I started as a student at a community college, and it is a perfectly good path to getting a college degree. College is not the focus or the end-goal for my child. We focus on academics because I want my child to be well educated. That to me is the purpose of an education. And then there is the issue with being secular. Does that mean we are anti-faith? The answer to that is no. It means the materials used for learning present the facts, theories, principles, and models as recommended by a majority of experts in the field being studied. Unless the subject is philosophy, secular academic materials do not take an individual’s philosophy into account. It is not anti-faith. It is pro-learning with minimal bias from the author’s worldview.

The lack of acceptance does not bother me, as you probably guess, since I blog about being an eclectic and academic homeschooler, and I am a scientist who writes secular academic science books. Actually that’s why I decided to write about homeschooling high school. I wanted to help my fellow homeschoolers who are trying like I am to negotiate the path for providing a unique academic education for their kids, while making sure that they have plenty of time for socialization, video games, and all the rest of the things teens are into these days.

I write for the fringe group of us in the middle, who believes there is real value in academics, but who are looking for something more innovative and individual than what is being done in traditional schools. Those of us in the middle think one of the main purposes of an education is that at the end of it a person is well-educated, with the caveat that we define what well-educated means in our house. We also think an education should lead to a person who loves learning and who understands how to learn. We are trying to figure all of this out organically using innovative and eclectic approaches.

(4/2015) Until a couple of days ago, I thought there were only a few of us. I was feeling lonely. I wanted a community of people to brainstorm with, so I put a message out on two Facebook Groups. I was hoping to find the 10 other (or maybe there were even fewer, I worried) secular, eclectic, academic homeschoolers out there. The response to my post has been overwhelming. There are quite a few more than 10 of us, and we need each other.

There are two main reasons we need each other. The first is so we can have a community of like-minded people. Homeschooling is done at home with just your family, so it can be isolating, especially if you don’t have a group that you identify with like unschoolers and classical homeschoolers do. The other reason we need to form a group is ironic. We are academic homeschoolers, but we want to be innovative and eclectic with our academic homeschooling. Because of this there is no book or set of guidelines we can refer to. We are just winging it most of the time. We need to form a group for the same reason that teachers in traditional schools need to get together and talk about what’s going on in their classrooms. We need others to strategize with. We need a forum where we can discuss what’s working and get help on what’s not. We need a place where we can find others to form online co-ops with. Basically we need a group where it feels safe and comfortable to discuss academic issues as they relate to our situation. We need other people who feel the way we do about academic homeschooling to use as a sounding board when we’re figuring things out. We also need a place to be able to come to so we can tell others when we figured it out and it really worked. This helps others, but it’s also nice just to be able to say, “Guess what wonderful thing my child achieved academically,” and know that these other people are going to be proud of the academic achievements of your child, because like you, they care passionately about academics.

This group is going to be about educating and about innovative academics. The emphasis with it is not going to be about how to get your child into college. Getting into college will be a result of this process, but for the purpose of this group it’s not the purpose of the process. I know a bit (but just a bit) about this, because a very well-regarded university reached out to my son in January asking him to apply to their summer program. We did not solicit the application. They solicited our participation. When it comes to college, I am beginning to feel like Kevin Costner standing in a field, “Build it. They will come.” (It being my eclectically educated son.)There will be colleges that don’t agree with me on this. That’s okay. Not every college is right for every person. Eclectic, academic kids should probably seek out eclectic, academic colleges. (Now if we can just get those same colleges to waive standardized test results as part of our child’s college application, Hmmnn…… The way I see it, schools looking to attract homeschool students should rely mainly on portfolios of work from a homeschooled student when deciding if they want to admit the student.) Maybe when Sean goes to college I should work on that instead of joining the Peace Corps. Yes that is one of the things my husband and I are thinking of doing, the Peace Corps I mean, when Sean goes to college.

If this post resonates with you, look for the Facebook Group “Secular, Eclectic, Academic, Homeschoolers,” Secular Eclectic Academic Homeschoolers closed group. It is open to any homeschooler or educator who considers themselves a secular eclectic academic, who appreciates the value of an academically-rich education that is innovative, and who wants to promote that within our homeschool community. There will be no selling on this group. That is not its purpose. This will be a positive force, and only those people who want to have a constructive discussion should sign up for it. The group is open to people of any faith, or lack thereof, but we will not allow any proselytizing. The academics we will be discussing in this group will be secular academics. That does not mean people cannot discuss religion within education, but it has to be from the perspective of academics, and all science discussions will be strictly secular. I look forward to meeting my fellow secular, eclectic, academic homeschoolers!

The benefits of secular homeschooling




The Best Method to Use Is the One that Works

teaching

Blair's pic for articleThe first time I thought about how others learn best was 40 years ago. I went to high school in Conroe, Texas, which is outside of Houston. Our Spanish teacher recruited several of us to volunteer with her church to assist migrant farmers who were illiterate and/or did not speak English. Our job was to help the men learn to read. Working with them was a powerful experience. It is rare for a young person to be made aware of how important knowledge is for adults who don’t have it. Even when parents push you to do well in school, it isn’t the same. They also push you to feed the dog, be nice to your sister, and clean your room. For most kids, myself included, the rationale to do these tasks all seem about the same.

To my knowledge, these farmers were the first people I had ever met who were illiterate. I remember being surprised as a teen when I realized there were adults who could not read. To help adult men learn to read was an eye opening, heart-rending, and rewarding experience, unlike anything I have done in my life thus far. It became a mission for all of us involved in the project to succeed. It was obvious these men wanted to learn more than we wanted to teach. I still remember the wonder I felt by how much they cared about learning. To this day, I have never met another group of people who wanted to learn anything as badly as these individuals wanted to learn to read.

We were just a group of high school kids volunteering. We didn’t know anything about teaching pedagogy. We didn’t realize there were standard ways to teach. Most of us, including me, did not have plans to go into teaching. We were just a group of kids who wanted to help another group of people. We would discuss with each other what was working and what wasn’t. We would talk about strategies that had or had not worked in our own learning. Being teens, we tried to think of new and inventive ways to approach the material.

We realized there was a problem right away. Most of the men did not speak English well, and we didn’t speak Spanish above a high school level. When we got together to discuss what to do about the language barrier, we decided to separate the skills of reading and learning English. We felt it would be easier to teach them as separate skills. We translated simple books from English to Spanish. You can imagine the discussions about whether to use the tilde or not 😉 We finally left it up to the individual “teacher,” although it seemed like such a stretch to call us that. Since each of us was making our own books, and each of us had to teach the material, it was important to us that each of us found the method that worked best for us.

I decided to write the words both with and without the tilde, spelled out right next to each other. It didn’t take long before I realized this made it more confusing. There I was with my very basic Spanish trying to explain that the two words were the same words, except one had the n without the tilde (ñ) which in Spanish was a different letter… but in English really wasn’t because we don’t use the tilde, and…, and… Oh, it was a mess! Funny now, but I was too young to see the humor then.

n

It also turned out that the men were not happy at all with our decision. They did not want to learn to read in Spanish. They wanted to learn to read and speak English. They began to very politely refuse the Spanish language books. It caused us to pause and rethink what we were doing. These men were wonderful and appreciative to their young cadre of tutors, who were so obviously muddling through it. This was the one and only time they let us know that the method we were using to teach them was not how they wanted to learn. Once we switched back to the English language books the men’s reading skills began to improve rapidly. They were right too; their English language skills improved along with their reading skills because they were learning the English word for dog, for example, in both written and spoken form. Instead of learning to read in Spanish and then speak in English.

The basic problem stemmed from the fact that when we decided on a course of action for how we were going to teach the material, we put the main focus on the task at hand and how best to accomplish it from our perspective, that of the teacher not the student. It was at this time that I came to understand one of the most important lessons for someone who is educating others. “The easiest way to teach something is often not the best way to learn it.” This experience caused me to realize that the best method to use in education is the one that works, and that the focus of that education needs to be on the learner not the teacher.

Are you wondering how this relates to homeschooling? Quite a lot actually. I learned as much from these men as they learned from me. It was through this experience that I came to better understand that the focus in an academic setting needs to be on learning and not teaching. This experience was the first step to my understanding that the focus of my child’s education needed to be on his learning, not on my schedule or on the method that would work best for me. It was during this time that I came to understand that the best method to use when facilitating someone’s learning is the one that works, which has resulted in me being a cherry-picker of parts of teaching methodologies, only using those that work well for my son.

It was while tutoring these men that I came to understand there is no timeline for learning. If the desire to learn something is there, you are never too old to learn it. This helps when I feel nervous when my son doesn’t meet the strictures or the official timeline set up by someone who has never met him. This experience was the first step on my path to learning that the most effective teachers focus on their students learning and use what works to make that happen.

 

More Articles by Blair Lee, M.S. and Secular Homeschooling

A Handcrafted Education, the High School Years
Learning Science
Keep Calm and Homeschool On


1406266378Blair Lee M.S. is the the founder of Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers. When she’s not busy doing these things, she’s busy writing or working on service projects. She is the author of the critically acclaimed Real Science Odyssey Biology 2 and Chemistry 1, http://www.pandiapress.com/publications/real-science-odyssey/. She is currently working on Astronomy and Earth Science 2 for the series.





The Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, CA

The Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, CANorton Simon Museum

The kids and I spent the some time recently at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. This is a wonderful, smaller museum that has many great works of art to see. It is also incredibly affordable for families as all children under 18 get in free every day. Adults pay $12.00 each, seniors are $9.00 each, and parking is free.

Norton Simon Museum

The permanent collection at the museum includes an impressive collection of Impressionist pieces by such artists as Degas, Monet, and Renoir – works of art that younger children will most likely recognize and enjoy seeing. There is also art work by Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, Picasso, and many others.

Norton Simon Museum

Norton Simon Museum

Norton Simon Museum

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The other temporary exhibit was Fragonard’s Enterprise: The Artist and the Literature of Travel. Jean-Honoré Fragonard toured through Italy with his first patron and was tasked with making copies of the art work they visited. Fragonard did this through sketching, and these impressive sketches were on display. The twins were most interested in this exhibit and spent a good deal of time studying them all.

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At the end of this exhibit the museum had a place where visitors could sit and sketch pieces of art. This was a great idea that my kids loved. The museum provided paper, pencils, and clipboards to work on. The kids spent a very long time working on their art. How nice it is to just sit, study a piece of work, and draw what you see. It was very calming and reminded me that we need to do this more often.

Norton Simon Museum

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When you finish sketching you can keep your work or hang it up for others to see. Autry decided to hang her’s up while the boys both wanted to keep theirs.

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After exploring inside the museum we went to the sculpture garden outside. Due to the heat we did not stay long. Hopefully we will get back soon to explore it some more as it was very beautiful. We also need to come back to view all the other art we missed including a very impressive asian art collection.

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So if you are in the Los Angeles area and you want to visit an affordable museum then I highly recommend the Norton Simon. It surpassed our expectations and was a nice way to spend an afternoon.

Norton Simon Museum

Check out our post on visiting Yellowstone here.


Jill HarperJill Harper is a homeschool consultant aiding families on their homeschool journey. She has a bachelors in film studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara and completed the multi-subject credentialing program from National University. Jill has been homeschooling her three children for over 12 years and has been blogging about creative homeschooling and her own journey at TAD Town. You can follow Jill on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.