Friday, March 22, 2013

A pep talk that will make you want to move back in with your mom and dad.

This is it. I just have a few more things to say about Reading, Writing, and Video Games, and then I'm moving on to a fight scene between a high school kid and an ancient, snarling beast. No, kids. It's not about your English teacher on exam day. Sorry.

Point Nine:

“Imagine if kids poured their time and passion into a video game that taught them math concepts while they barely noticed, because it was so enjoyable,” Bill Gates said last year. Do we want children to “barely notice” when they develop valuable skills? Not to learn that hard work plays a role in that acquisition? It’s important to realize early on that mastery often requires persevering through tedious, repetitive tasks and hard-to-grasp subject matter. 

You're a man after my own heart, Bill Gates.

Due to the plasticity of the brain during infancy, babies are able to learn and develop more in their first two years than they'll ever be capable of again. And they have no clue they're learning. It just happens. Evidently, you can learn even when you have no idea what you're doing. Oh, wait. Isn't that the whole idea of learning? By the way, there's also evidence to suggest that playing some video games improves the brain's plasticity. 

As to persevering through tedious, repetitive tasks and hard-to-grasp subject matter, spend an hour playing World of Warcraft. Nothing could be more tedious, and yet kids stick with it. Why? Why are kids willing to endure hour after hour of game play that gets progressively harder and harder when they can't stay awake for a forty-five minute class?

Obviously boobs and blood are huge motivators in certain sets, but there's more to it than that. Video game creators - creators of virtually all entertainment media - want kids to want to play their game and be happy with it. They make the games interactive, colorful, exciting, and fun. They give kids independence, autonomy, choices, and rewards. And boobs and blood. (I'm not suggesting teachers should come attired in fake blood and ripped blouses, huge breasts heaving, just to be clear.) 

Gryphon Flying Mount by salimfadhley

Do the purveyors of education take the same interest in kids' motivations and desires? Are kids empowered in classrooms the way that they are in video games? Are they challenged? Are they given the opportunity to fail and figure out why they failed on their own without someone else pointing it out to them?  

I'm not suggesting that technology is the only way that kids can be engaged in classrooms. I've had kids thoroughly engaged with notebook paper and sidewalk chalk. Of course, we were making paper airplanes with the notebook paper and defacing property with the sidewalk chalk, but it was all in the name of learning...and fun. Because there's a false dichotomy in the notion that learning cannot or should not be fun. One does not, nor should it, exclude the other. They enhance one another and mutually sustain one another.

I swear, I'm nearly done. Point Ten:

How’s this for a radical alternative? Let children play games that are not educational in their free time. Personally, I’d rather my children played Cookie Doodle or Cut the Rope on my iPhone while waiting for the subway to school than do multiplication tables to a beep-driven soundtrack. Then, once they’re in the classroom, they can challenge themselves. 

That is a terrible radical alternative. In fact, it's not an alternative at all. In most cases, it's the current reality. Happy at home; miserable at school.  

Kids should be learning at home and at school. And they should be enjoying it at home and at school. They should be challenged by their parents, and they should be challenged by their teachers.  

And finally. Point Eleven:

Deliberate practice of less-than-exhilarating rote work isn’t necessarily fun but they need to get used to it — and learn to derive from it meaningful reward, a pleasure far greater than the record high score.

I'm imagining a teacher giving this inspiring lecture: "Hey, kid. You hate school? Bored? Well, you're really going to hate the rest of your life then. Rote drudgery and tedious boredom all the way, pumpkin. But never fear, I'm here to show you how to gain a sense of satisfaction from surviving yet another day of bleak existential crisis. So let's get ready to plod away on those worksheets. Trust me, mountains of paperwork that mean absolutely nothing to you are on your horizon."

Fortunately, we humans aren't in the habit of getting used to things that are less-than-exhilarating. Hence all the progress. The majority of Americans no longer work from dusk until dawn at back-breaking jobs that were foisted on them, like it or not. Compared to those kids for whom the traditional school calendar was tailored, the ones for whom summer vacation meant topping tobacco in the boiling sun, I'd say we're living proof that we don't have to get used to work that doesn't thrill us. 

Despite a terrible economy, the Kauffman Foundation's 2012 report on entrepreneurial activity noted that more than 6.5 million new businesses were started in the United States in 2011. Over half of those businesses, by the way, were technology-driven, with internet publishing and broadcasting representing over 25% of the total and video games and e-commerce over 18%. (FYI, 2012 is the year of exhiliration with hot sauce being in the top 10 growing businesses on this year's report.) My point here is that today, people who have ingenuity and imagination can create their own jobs, jobs that they'll love.

Let's not tell our kids that they need to get used to unsatisfying work. Let's make school a place where they can learn to collaborate and innovate, to think critically and to raise questions that we have never considered ourselves. Let's show them that there are alternatives for people who enjoy learning, who aren't afraid of change. Let's show them how far we've come and push them to go much farther, to refuse the limits that even we set for them.

Because this poor old teacher from ye olde days:

Poor old Erma

is a far cry from this twenty-first century teacher. And that's because learning is fun to me, and I want it to be fun for my kids. I like to come to school every day, and I want my kids to like it too. Making it fun, even when it's hard, is what makes it exhilarating, and I want my kids to know that.

Yours truly

Tomorrow, on an entirely different note: Soundtrack Saturday! My vote for best song to listen to while  penning an epic battle scene and the battle scene it made my son cry with fear, which sort of rocked my world.

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