Individualization, Failure, and Fun: Changing the Way We Educate Students (by Cordell Steiner, October 15, 2014)

Third grader Cordell Steiner took the TED stage last month to talk about his experience with video games as a learning tool. His teacher, Mr. Pie, has adopted video games and other technology in his classroom. Cordell points out several areas in which games in the classroom differ from traditional methods: individualization, the emphasis on failure, and last but not least, fun.

For kids who need more of a challenge—like Cordell—this classroom model might be especially useful. He describes being bored in school, hating tests, and feeling unmotivated. The individualization that games afforded him and his classmates offered a way for him to move forward at his own pace, something as important for the kids who “get it” first as for those who need a bit more time or help. Moreover, he was able to do this without having either his failures or his accomplishments paraded in front of his peers. When he did fail, he simply tackled the problem again until he figured it out.

While tests do serve a purpose in our education system (we do need some way of keeping track of kids’ progress, after all), they can have some negative side effects on students. Stress and shame are a factor. And tests—particularly multiple choice or single-answer tests—don’t always indicate how much students really know or what areas they may still be lacking in. Finally, doing poorly on a test doesn’t necessarily open any doors for students to learn the material better. I think most of us can remember what it’s like: being certain we knew the material, studying for hours, and still getting a bad grade on the final. If only we’d had another chance, or had studied a little harder, maybe we might’ve gotten it, but usually that chance isn’t offered. It simply goes into the final grade, and students begin to feel like they might not be smart enough to figure it out.

Although Cordell doesn’t go into quite so much detail on his feelings on test-taking, it’s clear that games, at least for him, offered a better solution. When he wasn’t able to get something right on the first round, he simply went back and tried it again. Would this work as well for students who struggle more than Cordell, who admits he’s a gifted child? It’s hard to say. I think it’s worth a shot, though, and this third grader would certainly agree. It’s clear that Cordell’s experiences in Mr. Pie’s classroom will stick with him for years to come, and in the good way.

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Keezy is a gamer, illustrator, and designer. Her background is in teaching and tutoring kids from ages 9 to 19, and she's led workshops for young women in STEM. She is also holds a certificate in teaching English. Her first memory of gaming is when her dad taught her to play the first Warcraft when she was five. You can find her at Key of Zee and on Twitter @KeezyBees.