A New Look at Education: Game-Based Learning
By Jessica Huddy
Last month, I had the privilege of attending AIGA’s Pivot Conference in Phoenix, AZ. It was three days worth of inspiring ideas, great speakers, and a kick in the pants to designers everywhere to start solving the larger problems of the world.
There were lots of “think big” moments to be had, but one of the most interesting presentations for me was on day one of the conference. Katie Salen, the executive director and one of the founders of the Institute of Play, offers a whole new way to look at education, and she and her colleagues are flipping the traditional idea of school on its head, in the best way possible.
Katie began her talk by comparing basketball moves to the mental exercises that designers and educators (and really, everyone) should be doing every day to solve problems, referencing the pivot and pick-and-roll as examples of extending your reach with a base in the familiar—getting a view of the court to examine how to proceed and working flexibly and collaboratively to achieve a goal. These same principles apply to Katie’s current focus at the Institute of Play, which is the Quest to Learn (Q2L) School in New York City (a second Q2L school opened in Chicago this past September). An NYC public school, Quest to Learn takes a new and innovative approach to education: the entire curriculum is based on games.
Quest to Learn has proven that play and games can be used as the basis for an excellent educational experience, one that allows students to play an active role in their own education and in that of their classmates. By learning through play, students are able to solve complex problems through creative, collaborative thinking. Game-based learning keeps students interested in and excited about school. Instead of viewing it as a place to sit quietly and listen to the adults in charge, Quest to Learn recreates school as a place for education to consist of fun, yet serious, play.
One example Katie used during her presentation was a game about genetics, inheritance and evolution across generations of organisms. At the start, students created their own organisms and then crossed them with others to create new generations. Along the way, environmental conditions changed and some organisms survived (or even thrived) while those not suitably adapted for those particular conditions died off. Students learned how heredity and evolution work, but in an extremely engaging way. They interacted with one another and discussed why some organisms survived, while others did not. The game itself was played through a touch-sensitive projection that extended across the floor of a classroom. This sounds way more engaging than the Punnett squares from my version of high school biology!
In the Q&A after her presentation, Katie spoke about the Institute of Play’s largest challenge: overturning the prevalent attitude that play is wasted time, that it’s not something useful or productive. Her response to this was that deep play is rigorous and structured, just like the best school curricula should be.
Many of the schools and colleges we work with strive to develop “21st-century skills” in their students—problem solving, creativity, collaboration and communication, among others. Quest to Learn seems to do just that, enabling persistence above all else, according to Katie. If people are engaged and interested, she said, they will try again and again to solve a problem, testing out new ideas, thinking creatively and looking at things from a different angle until they find the solution. Giving students interesting problems to solve allows them to tap into their own curiosity, to discover within themselves how to get to the finish line, and along the way, become agile thinkers ready to take on the world.
Learn more about the Institute of Play and the rationale behind it.
on 2011-11-17 14:58 by Studio-e
A video of Katie Salen's presentation at AIGA's Pivot conference is now available on the AIGA website.