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Big Thinkers: James Paul Gee on Grading with Games


While watching James Gee speak towards a paradigm shift in education in the video above, I am left thinking about my own personal classes and feelings. Lately, I have been really focused on this idea that our education system reward the development of the “Copy and Paste” personality that I see dominating my eighth grade students. They seem to move along as drones in droves as they complete task after task in a monotonous fashion from class to class. They avoid thinking as it often causes their ridicule for failure, and they find it much safer to mimic a desired outcome through the regurgitation of standardized procedures and language.

Parents struggle to understand what an “A” means when grades are inflated and fail to point to a students strengths and weaknesses. Teachers flock to a formula that is deemed to produce statistical results in a standardized test that measures the growth of these “Cut and Paste” skills.

In it all, I am left with the feeling that I just want my students to “think.” I want to encourage collaboration and failure in my classroom. I want my resources to be used proactively by students to solve the problems and challenges they face in completing the production of products that are meaningful to them.

From working with 3D GameLabs in our WoWinSchool class, I have come to hunger for a system that measures student progress based upon the completion of tasks and ability to apply instruction in the creation of products that are “quest” related. I am invigorated to see that students wish to work on quests at home, and they show a healthy competition of gaining ranks within the class. My students don’t say that they are “A” students, for that holds no value or concrete meaning to them; however, they are enthusiastically passionate about becoming a “Sergeant” in the class.

I am also really encouraged by the importance of choice. In WoWinSchool, we have students that break up into these unique groups that seem interested in accomplishing the same tasks in-game. As a gamer myself, I realize how people play the same games so differently. From exploring to achieving, gamers are as unique in their motivations and interests as are students are in the topics and products that they wish to pursue for their own personal education and career growth. The providing of different paths that students can take through the exploration of the same curriculum knowledge is the true differentiation that the education system has been seeking. Ironically, Orson Scott Card talked about this very type of system in this book Ender’s Game were he describes an adaptive video game program that is used to instruct students based upon their individual needs.

It is this type of student- centered and directed approach to curriculum discovery through a path of choices and self-direction of material and products that promote the need for the jargon and skills required of the language arts standards that I seek to desperately provide to my students through the use of online tools. My students should be engaged and devoted to the development of their ideas and passions, not mine. Through it all, I want my students to think and not merely copy and paste a compartmentalized skill set that allows them to “beat” a standardized multiple-choice test. I want them to “beat” their competition in a growing global- and technology- rich economy.