Thursday, May 19, 2016

How Kids Learn Valuable Skills through Gaming.

Most parents wrestle with the concern of how much is too much with gaming and screen time for  their children.  I know I have.  In our modern live's screen time is a given.  I think it is important as my son's parent and educator to monitor or be aware of my son's time spent in gaming. I also realize that my son models me and learns as he sees me using my screen time.  I am an example to him in self directed regulation of my own screen time.  With a child who is sensitive and differently abled, time on social media, and the social communication skills that is need to be safe and self regulated is something that is a huge concern and needs to be looked at.   It isn't so much of a lesson taught and learning unfolding with the learner as it happens.  This takes involvement on my end and sometimes shadowing my child in order to help but knowing when to step back and allow him to developing these skills on his own.  This is the art of parenting.  When to guide and when to pull back and how to know?
One of the things I struggled with in school was, my mind was not wired to learn in a non hands on style. Auditory processing during lectures where I have to sit passively listening and taking notes was/is NOT my optimal learning style. It is still almost impossible for me to stay focused on a teacher just talking if the subject matter is of no interest.  We have all been learners who's minds wander during a teacher's lecture. Many times in this learning environment if you miss a bit of information given, when you mind wanders, you are lost and unable to catch up. Algebra comes to mine here for me, where the learner must stay engaged or they will miss steps. Progressive learning in steps where you need to stay plug in to the speaker is hard for me to do in a 45 minute chunk of alotted time.  Not every learner can do this, sit passively and absorb information. We get caught up in this model for "what is" learning or education. Teacher talks, students listen, repeating it back to educator who then puts it all on a test whereby student proves that he has mastered the lesson by passing.

I was not a student who leaned well that way.  I think a lot of us were not students who learned well that way. There are so many different kinds of intelligence and learning styles. I needed to move and problem solve in a visual and preferably sensorial friendly way.   I like manipulatives in education where I can see and use my hands to know.  Let me do and I learn.  This is why I love and am drawn to the work of Maria Montessori and the materials she developed.

Gaming suited me, it felt good and my mind seemed wired to learn in this fast moving multimedia formula.  Crafting games and some other gaming themes, if done right seem to me to lead learners through portals into all kinds of organic learning.  I like getting to move, create, design, problem solve and control my learning environment.  Control of the learner is what and where we have come from.  Where I want to go in education is:  A learner controlled environment, where the learner leads and is in control.  Talk about taking ownership of learning.  Why are we not using gaming as a tool in our educational tool chest more? Some educators are of course.  Minecraft has all kinds of curriculum and learning communities that have sprung up.  You can learn programming mod, to chemistry lessons with Minecraft curriculum vendors.  What I really love about Minecraft is my son gets to play with others. Social communication peer interactions in communities on line.
One of my son's mentors helped me to see the many things my son is learning when he plays Minecraft.  

This educator Michael B., whom I found through a school-community called SelfDesign Global calls this authentic learning.  Learning that happens naturally when we do stuff. My son like thousands of other children loves Minecraft.  Minecraft is a crafting game where digital worlds of biomes are generated by the streamed game.  There are many versions  of this game.  He is playing a Personal Computer versions here on a private school server.
This is a tree house at night

Using only blocks users build/craft shelters or anything that can be imagined with the blocks available.  The users can make tools and use the natural resources available to them in the biomes. Quickly and what seemed liked to me intuitively, the gamer learned how to make tools, mine for ores, cut down trees, start fires, build communities and survive the nights. There are two main levels of difficulty in the game. survival mode is more difficult and things come after the gamers during the night in this mode which can upset younger children.  In the creative mode all resources and tools are available to the user. The gamers will not have to make tools or find resources and there are no monsters, so the user simply gets to create. Besides the obvious learning that goes on in gaming, how to play, learning the rules, learning the physics of the game it's self, something fascinating happened when my son started to get more proficient on the game and wanted to learn more about how too do things he did not know how to.  My son who is very limited in his his reading and comprehension ability started researching how to play Minecraft on the computer.  He mastered Google.

He quickly found YouTube videos of tutorials of other Minecraft user's teaching him how to craft and create.  He all on his own found a community of education that he was interested in. He also found other sources on line to teach him, like Wiki-How and on line forums of users. He has self directed all of this learning and synthesized it into his own creations on Minecraft. He has created a lot of structures on the game, many rollercoasters and temples and entire communities. Sometimes he plays with other users on servers and the games has a chat feature built into it.  So now we have social communication in a realm that I can not create in a hothouse social skills me-made environment. He has a community to work it out with, fight with, make up with and learn from.  This is huge for a person on the spectrum. Gaming on this level lowers social, economical, racial and differently abled My words for disabled) awareness.  Gamers are equalized by avatars and anonymity.  If you build well and can play well you are in a place the levels the playing field. My son is more on equal footing with his peers here in this on line community than an other environment.  Playing with other children he has learned that he can take a second device such as a smart phone or tablet and Skype call kids as they play.  Granted this isn't something everyone can do but when it happened for him he was thrilled.  He did not have to figure out decoding language by typing in CHAT.
A pagoda temple inspired level of the massive treehouse.
Another game my son loves is his mobile device, this is a Sony PlayStation PS Vita hand held system.  This device also allows him to play another version of Minecraft on a hand held mobile device where he can join parties globally and actually communicate with other players as they play game together.  Now with a community comes conflict but with conflict comes problem solving and social interactions and emotional regulation skills and coping skills for my son that I can not teach him.  He must learn like we all did how to get along in the world with others by experiencing it.  Socialization in the 21 century looks like to him right now how to make friends, stand up for himself, how to handle bullies and all the while he is building and learning, and all in a sort of playground justice sandbox which is the gaming community.  My son loves Little Big Planet another non violent crafting game where gamers can create their own mazes and share them with the gaming community on Sony's PlayStation and LBP community hubs.

 It is their world this online web of community and consciousness and our children must all learn how to navigate it.  The really excellent part of this is it can be self directed learning at it's purest. I dont teach I allow him to teach himself.  Allowing a child to play in these groups will give them powerful skills in social communication, negotiations and coping skills with others. People skills needed in the 21 century.

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