Grand Theft Calculus

I’m sitting in a session being taught by Scott Osterweil, inventor of Zoombinis and director of the Education Arcade at MIT.  The session is, of course, about games, and he just distinguished between the two far extremes of the game spectrum, from the gamer, who imply that we should just take kids out of classrooms, have them play games, and they learn what they need to know.  The other end is obvious.  The effect is too often, somthing that he calls  Content Stuffers.  You take a game concept, stuff content into it, and then expect players to learn.  He shows a picture of “Grand Theft Calculus.”

He has also described a study that demonstrated that kids, under many circumstances learn more by playing a information experience than when they are taught it.  This is not true for everything, but it illustrates the power of play — the freedom to play.

The four freedoms of Play

  1. Freedom to experiment
  2. Freedom to fail
  3. Freedom to try on identities
  4. Freedom of effort

4 freedoms of play = 4 freedoms of learning ≠ 4 freedoms of school

What about fiction?  It’s entertaining.  It was originally about entertainment.  Some is appropriate and some not.  But we teach it, and we teach with it.  An interesting idea.

Scott is not demonstrating a new game that is still under development at MIT.  It is called Labyrinth (working title) and it starts with no instructions.  This is one of the most interesting cocepts of many of these games, to me, is that you go into the game environment, figure out what the rules are, what the goal is, and how to use the rules to accomplish the goal.

I had to leave after that…  My only chance for a meal today.

Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.