Monday, September 30, 2013

Hey, Computer Teachers, stop wasting students' time! (Part 1)

Despite increased globalization; despite the need to prepare students to access, evaluate, synthesize, and build upon information and media; and despite the drive to promote Creativity, Innovation, Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, Communication, and Collaboration, the curriculum of many schools' secondary Computer Information Technology programs tends to hinge on keyboarding and Microsoft Office. Let me explain, for those who are not already with me, why this is a waste of our students' time and our parents' taxpayer dollars. There are a growing number of voices clamoring to get rid of the "Computer Teacher", arguing that in today's atmosphere of integrated technology we are irrelevant and redundant. If we're teaching 7th to 12th graders Keyboarding and MS Office classes, that is 100% true. Don't get me wrong, a curriculum steeped in keyboarding and productivity applications is quite appropriate and often essential at the 2nd through 5th or even 6th grade levels. By grade 7, though, if we're not bumping up our game and addressing the actual standards for our grade level, rather than reiterating elementary school, we're doing our students a serious disservice.

Preparing kids for the future, not the past

In terms of keyboarding alone, a quick Google search will show you that everyone from the BBC to the Wall Street Journal has heralded the end of the Keyboard and Mouse. Leaving the whole dying skill issue aside, though, what about just prepping students for career survival in the 21st Century?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections' Occupational Outlook Handbook, careers in Office & Administrative support, you know, the people who need killer keyboarding clerical speed and accuracy and tons of experience with MS Office, tend to be some of the lowest paid careers with the poorest growth. The fastest growing career in this sector, at 24% (Faster than the 12% national average), receptionists make a whopping $25,240 per year or $12.14 per hour. The highest paid career in this sector, Postal work, which averages $53,090 per year or $25.52 per hour, is shrinking rapidly at 26% per year. This doesn't seem like a great way to spend our time in computer class.

On the other hand, careers in Computer and Information Technology are growing and are well compensated. Software developers, for example, make an average of $90,530 per year or $43.52 per hour, and that field, like most in CIT is growing at 30% (much faster than the national average, a measly 12%). This is why so many industry leaders, politicians, and celebrities have gotten behind projects like I've posted this video before, but it's worth a re-post.

Perhaps this overwhelming need for highly qualified people to fill these positions is the reason behind President Obama's multiple public statements that we need to spend more time teaching computer programming and game design.

Further, you'll be hard pressed to find many industry leaders or National Presidents bemoaning the lack of people who can type over 30 words per minute at 95% accuracy or have memorized how to set tabs in Word 2010. This is why there was a National STEM Video Game Challenge last year instead of a national STEM Clerical Challenge. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Why learn game design?

See also:
Designing Fun: There’s more to game design than programming - on The Gamestar Mechanic Teacher Blog.

The context

Why are we learning game design? I asked my seventh grade students this question last week. On page 61 of "The Framework for Teaching Evaluation Instrument", it is noted that in a classroom that reflects distinguished instruction, students should be able to identify what is going on and why. "If asked, students are able to explain what they are learning and where it fits into the larger curriculum context" (Danielson, 2013). I provide some context for this on a regular basis by reviewing objectives and broader essential questions and standards. focuses on
the game design process.

My students, though, are thinkers. I'm trying to foster that. They really want to know, "why are we learning game design". Many of them did exactly what I would want them to do when given a discussion question like this. They Googled it. The results of their search were less than stellar. They found very little and expressed their frustration. These are students who know how to use advanced search strategies and even change the reading level of their results.

It turns out that there's actually a lot of very solid information for teachers and even parents out there on this topic. The excellent video below, for example, from Gamestar Mechanic is great for getting teachers and parents on board. Now, what do we tell the kids? As teachers, we can sit around and talk about STE[A]M, "Systems-Thinking" and "User-Centered Design" until we're giddy with 21st century awesomeness, but students will just tune such phrases out. Below, I have tried to lay out the context for game design in a way that a twelve-year-old can read, understand, and explain to peers, parents, and teachers.

Why learn game design?

There are hundreds of great reasons to study game design. Here are three that aren't "becoming a better computer programmer".

Reason 1: Game Design makes you a more creative problem-solver.

Okay, so you've probably heard your teachers talk about 21st century skills. A big part of that is creativity and critical thinking (problem solving). The thing is, when someone points to creativity and critical thinking (problem solving) as modern survival skills, they're not talking about the ability to create beautiful watercolor paintings or solve the word problems on your state math exam. Those are cool skills to have, but when we're talking about the 21st century, we're talking about complicated stuff, often referred to as systems. We're surrounded by complex systems, from computers and the power grid to natural systems, such as ecosystems or your digestive tract. If you change one part of a system, everything else changes too, often in surprising ways.

Games are complex systems, that are made up of inter-working elements. Game Design helps you learn about how systems work and how they can be modified or changed. Often you have to come up with very creative solutions to solve problems within the design of a game so your end product works and is fun for the people playing it.