By the time I had reached middle school, I knew just as much about the Byzantine Empire, Cataphract warriors and trebuchets as I did about photosynthesis and what makes plants green. This was not due to some childhood interest in early empires of the Eurasian Steppe, but had everything to do with my enjoyment of a particular video game. John Markoff’s New York Times article In a Video Game, Tackling the Complexities of Protein Folding, researchers explored the use of video games as an aid to making biological discoveries. This had me thinking about how video games can be used to help children make every day educational discoveries as well.
The evidence for using video games as an educational tool is in no way questionable. One study done at Roanoke College found that using the video game ‘SPORE’ along with material from an evolutionary biology class got students to study an average of three hours more each week. These same students performed on average 5% better on examinations as well. A 2009 study published in Education and Training in Developmental Disabilities found that using video games helped children with autism learn 22 identified skills needed for independence. Another study done by Beth Israel Medical Center in New York helped surgeons become faster and better at their jobs. The surgeons in the study made 37% fewer errors and were 27% faster at their jobs versus surgeons in the study who did not play the video games.
Personally, I remember video games as being a great tool for learning. Sim City taught valuable lessons on how city government must find a balance between tax revenues, taking out loans and interest rates, and city planning. The Age of Empires taught the conquests of Mongol, Byzantine, and Persian Empires, as well as the types of weapons and technologies they used. I also remember a football game used to teach math in my elementary school. Each play would come with a math question, where I could choose a specific football formation and depending on how well I answered the questions, my quarterback would throw a pick-6 or touchdown.
However, that was the only memory I have of any video game use by formal educators in my childhood to teach curriculum. That is a shame. School districts should learn the value of education while having fun. Video games should be developed for the classroom to engage young students by also entertaining them, which logically would be much better than a boring chalk board. How are teachers supposed to keep up with the bombardment of iPod songs and games, text messaging, television shows, movies, and less educational video games that constantly compete for children’s already short attention spans?
Video games can be effective for teaching curriculum and advancing knowledge, yet it seems to me that school systems are not investing or using this resource anywhere near the potential. I am certain that by making education as fun as video games for our nation’s children, we will be better able to keep up with the rest of the world.