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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Wii wants to teach

Two great items on the agenda today:

1) My Spreadshirt T-shirt store is having a Valentine's Day Sale, and you can save 14% on purchases from now until 2/11! Be sure to use code FEB19.

2) Mr. D from I Want to Teach Forever is our Guest Poster today! I really enjoyed reading his post, and I know you will too. The main thrust of his post is changing your teaching style, but I must admit that I waxed nostalgic when he mentioned Tetris (I was the MASTER!!), and I waxed current when he talked about the Wii. My girlfriend got a Wii for Christmas, and dang that thing is FUN!!

But anyway, on to Mr. D's post!

When I was growing up, the Nintendo Entertainment System was the pinnacle of video game entertainment. I played a lot of Tetris (an addiction I rediscovered recently) and many other fun, replayable games. Nintendo always went out of their way to come up with new ways to interact with the games—I reveled in playing Duck Hunt with my Light Gun, and friends who had the Power Glove and Power Pad allowed me to play in a much different way. They didn't all work as well as they should have in theory, but you couldn't fault them for trying.

As I got older, wars between Nintendo, Sega and other companies led to a never ending series of bigger, better, more expensive systems. I think it's fair to say that you could make a graph showing that as the number of buttons on each controller increased, my interest decreased exponentially. I also know I'm far from alone in that respect. Of course, that hasn't stopped the video game industry from growing exponentially in their own right--but until recent years, gamers were mostly male adults. Then something changed.

Enter the Nintendo Wii. The Wii does many of the things the company wanted their early NES peripherals to do, but it works. It has captured the imaginations of not just the hardcore gaming community, but everybody—it is outselling Sony's cutting edge PS3 system by leaps and bounds, and breaching demographics that the industry had been ignoring. But it's not processor speed, high-definition graphics, or a built in CD/DVD player that is attracting people to the Wii. It's a reinvention of what gameplay is.

When you play Wii games, you have to get up and move around, participating in a more direct and engaging way than even the most detailed virtual world could emulate. Nintendo focused on making things easy, fun and engaging. Similarly, you may have seen commercials where Apple demonstrates a game where you drive a motorcycle by turning your iPod Touch left and right. The software has also changed: games are focusing on learning in ways never before attempted. This is where the lesson for educators come in.

School districts and administrators are constantly foisting new technologies and methodologies on their teachers in the name of raising student test scores (and, ostensibly, improving their education). How many of these are just variations of the same thing—binders full of worksheets disguised as “hands-on activities”, classroom response systems (i.e. “clickers”), collections of PowerPoint presentations, or overly complicated (and expensive) computer software programs?

How many of them have really made your students' eyes light up, left them furiously excited in anticipation of your next class, or created the type of moment they'll never forget? How many of them have been as successful with your struggling readers as they have with your most advanced students, with boys and girls, or from one grade level/subject to another?
The most effective lessons I do always require the students to interact on a level that none of these solutions could do. It involves them getting out of their seats, out of their routines and expectations of what “learning” is supposed to look like. It requires them to think and respond quickly, but isn't so complicated as to prevent them from jumping in right away. Most of all, it has to be fun.
I'm not saying any of this is easy for a teacher to do. We already put on a performance every day, and put a ton of work into preparing for our classes. I'm not asking you to do more than you're already doing—instead, I'm asking you to do it in a different way. Your lessons don't need to be trashed, either. Sometimes you just have to look at what you've done previously and ask yourself the kind of questions that the Wii's designers did. “How can I make this lesson more interactive? More fun?” This is something I did after my first year of teaching, when I was barely keeping my head above water and following my mentor's lead of having my students copy pages of notes and take multiple-choice tests constantly. My second year was much better and my students were more successful.
Since then, I've seen a lot of supposed solutions to all of our problems come and go. What the success of these kinds of interactive technologies teaches us is not just what kinds of technology we need in schools, but principles we can apply to everything we're doing. It gives me hope that there are ways to engage every student, and it doesn't have to be complicated or expensive. It all starts by reflecting on how to make what you already do more simple, involving, and fun.

Be sure to check out Mr. D's blog -- I Want to Teach Forever -- for more stimulating posts!

* I sometimes wish I had a Nintendo Power Glove that would let me virtually smack someone upside the head when they acted up in class...


Anonymous said...

I think we have to get kids up and moving, if we want to engage them, and by using a mix of techniques, we are most effective. The reality is that not every kid can sit, listen, take notes and learn. Many need to do something in order to learn ... on the deeper level. I was wondering if he was going to suggest we outfit each classroom with a Wii ...

Tom DeRosa said...

Kevin, it might not be such a bad idea. It would certainly cost less than some of the other ineffective technology that's marketed to (and accepted by) schools. In any case, it's the idea behind it that needs to be replicated, whether you employ high tech or no tech.

Mr. Nauton said...

I'm all for the Wii, and the up and moving-- without it, it's not only a boring day for the students, but isn't it a boring day for the teacher?

Anonymous said...

My honey used to punch his little brother until he got off the couch so that I could sit down. "Really B, I like the floor!"