Children are always up for a good game. Well, who isn’t? Pretend that you are back in school. For the rest of the class period you have two choices as to how you can spend your time. Option 1 is to struggle through endless arithmetic and English worksheets without any feedback except for a stamp that says ‘Great Job!’ Option 2 is to work on the same arithmetic and English content, but on a computer. Yes, you can play a computer game to learn your numbers and verbs. Which option would you choose? Which option would children most likely choose? Option 2 of course!
Using computer software in education is not a new concept. Computer games have been used as a learning tool for the past two decades because they help students with basic skills, logic, problem solving, and various other academic skills. The Oregon Trail was a popular computer game in the 1980’s. This game helped students to work on their planning and problem solving skills. If you have ever played that game you might have realized that it was difficult to complete the trail. Everyone in my wagon always died of Cholera.
Parents and educators that are unfamiliar with computer game technology may automatically dismiss the use of computer games for learning. They view computer games as nothing but ‘shoot ’em up’ and mind numbing entertainment. As avid computer gamers we all know that they are way off base. Just think of all the problem solving, logic, and planning that goes into working on a team in a computer game, playing a puzzle, or figuring out a code.
There are computer games that are specifically based around educational learning standards. These games explicitly include counting, grammar, etc. They range from learning software that has a battery of tests to mimic standardized testing to fun, interactive learning games such as Caillou Magic Playhouse. This game allows a child to learn about numbers, patterns, spelling, phonics, and many other skills.
One advantage of using computer games in education is that the student is learning whether they realize it or not. Many children sigh when it is time to work on multiplication, but if you bring out a computer game – poof! They suddenly want to go through their multiplication tables. The computer game presents the same academic material, but makes it fun by integrating colorful animations and cool sounds. Plus, computer games allow for instant feedback and gratification. We have become a society that runs on instant gratification. A computer game can provide this feedback and it can also provide a means of competition. You will be stretched to find a student that wants to ‘beat’ their worksheet, but a child who wants to beat a computer game? You will find them everywhere you look.
Computer games are advertised as forms of entertainment, which they most certainly are, but they are learning avenues as well. Gamers of all ages are learning every time they play a game. For example, there are games that work on your business skills. Games like Lemonade Tycoon and Mall Tycoon are prime examples. You are learning the skills to succeed in a business through simulation. Simulation is how many professionals acquire the skills for their occupation. Even though you are in a computerized environment, you can still come across many different business situations.
Computer software is here to stay. Email will one day override handwritten communication and perhaps games will take over traditional education. Granted games most likely will not take over traditional education, but they should become part of the educational experience. A child is learning while playing a computer game. Their memory and reaction time increases. They are sharpening various parts of their brain. The key is to play a mixture of games that range from pure entertainment to ones that are specifically designed for educational skill sets.
If your child or student is having trouble with math, English or any academic subject, set them up with a computer game. Their interest in learning will soar. Computer games can bring any student that is hesitant about school to learning whether they realize it or not. Computer games make learning fun.