A Childhood Memory: Insights to What Makes Us Tick

“Tom, Tom, where are you?”, screamed my younger brother while he ran the narrow hallway at my house.  Laughing uncontrollably, I asked him to stop and to go back and repeat this scene.  My older brother had forgotten to press the recording button on our real-to-real tape recorder. 


Stella flickr photo by Ian Livesey shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

I was around 10-years old and my brothers and I were recording a radionovela. I remember this vividly as one of my most memorable experiences with my siblings.  I recalled this memory as Stuart Brown suggested during his TED Talk, Play is more than just fun.  He says that if we explore back, as far as we can remember, to a strong memory or moment of play, this can help us to pay attention to such moments in the future as a powerful self-guiding tool.  (His exact words when you click below.)

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Technics SL-1500 Turntable-6 flickr photo by Nathan Marciniak shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

By going through this exercise myself, I was transported back to the various times that my mother would save up to make a big purchase of the latest technological equipment (considering it was the late 70’s in Ecuador).  I never realized until now, that during my early years, I enjoyed figuring out how these electronics worked and how to use them.  This included, among others, a Technics sound system, an Atari video game console and an “instant camera”, the Polaroid.  These devices allowed my brothers and me to experience a few moments—before or after homework— to be together, play and be engaged in learning something without a tangible external reward.  And, now, after hearing Stuart Brown’s words, it makes so much more sense that during my entire adult life I have always gravitated towards a path that continually involves the use of technology as a tool of innovation.

Implications of games and play in education

Even though many of us incorrectly use these terms interchangeably, it is important to understand the difference between the terms Gamification and Game-Based Learning.  According to this blog, Gamification “is the application of game-like mechanics to non-game entities to encourage a specific behavior.”  In other words, the letter grading context within education is a didactical example of gamification.  There is no need for grades to measure learning, however, we have created an extrinsic system hoping to encourage students to learn.  Game-Based Learning, on the other hand, is acquiring academic objectives through games.  We have all experienced first hand or have seen others overtaken by excitement when playing digital games. The word “failing” does not have the same connotation as in other life situations; we can just click the replay button, and we will start again without overthinking it.  While we try again, and again, we learn problem-solving skills and look forward to new challenges.  Once we have mastered the game, there is no reason to go back to play again.


gbl im kindergarten flickr photo by shinnfean shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

A great example of game-based learning is how Glen Irvin (@irvspanish) uses Minecraft to teach Spanish.  Language learners need to be immersed in relevant experiences to improve their skills, so with Minecraft, students, in collaboration, create their new worlds where everything functions in the target language.  In the blog, Minecraft Can Transform Your World Language Classroom Irvin stated that at the end of the game-based unit, his students advanced much more than other classes in his school and that all his students completed the requirements of the game.

In the following video, Glen Irvin shows us how he introduced Minecraft to his students:

Final Thoughts

I am convinced that learning should be a joyful and playful experience and that many of us strive to design learning environments where our students are engaged deeply in their learning. However, I am also aware that we are stuck on the gamification of education, thinking that “teaching by mentioning” or “covering a topic” would be enough for students to be motivated to score high on common or standardized assessments.  I know too many students that see school as a place they have to “endure”, where they are bombarded with busy and irrelevant work.  The same as a doctor, an educator must “do no harm” because killing students’ innate love of learning is detrimental to his or her well-being.

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1 Response

  1. Hi Caroline,

    Great post and I agree with so much of what you are saying! I love your comments on your childhood memories, and how you remember learning through technology, just as I did as a child and how exciting that was. I was always so excited when dad would come home with some new gadget and he would let my brother and I work out how to use it and then teach him. He would only not do this if it was really expensive!
    In relation to gaming/games and technology in the classroom I really love your quote here “The word “failing” does not have the same connotation as in other life situations; we can just click the replay button, and we will start again without overthinking it. While we try again, and again, we learn problem-solving skills and look forward to new challenges. Once we have mastered the game, there is no reason to go back to play again.” It’s so true. This type of learning can have frustrations where you are not able to get past a certain level, but students don’t see it as a fail, but more as a challenge to push forward to learn, use their critical thinking and eventually come with their “aha” moment. At our school we use Dreambox in our school as an extra math source. It’s a digital “game” that the students use to complete different levels in their math. Often times they will get stuck on a specific game or “level”, but they don’t see it as a failure and are super stoked when they actually get to the next game/level! Unfortunately we do not do a lot of gaming or even coding at our school. I believe I am going to try and bring this into their experiences next year, as a part of my final COETAIL project. If you have any suggestions I would love to hear them!
    I agree with your final thoughts, “learning should be a joyful and playful experience at any age, it’s just that the type of play changes from grade to grade.” The curriculum should be designed to engage students and have them own their learning, besides teaching to a test or a standard. Your right in you comments “I know too many students that see school as a place they have to “endure”, where they are bombarded with busy and irrelevant work.” Students need to feel that their work has value, meaning and is being assessed not just by the teacher, but by peers, maybe even global peers. School work shouldn’t just be busy work but should challenge the student to become his/her best future self. That’s what our world is relying on – our future generation!
    Has it been easy for you to take the steps to initiate some of these thoughts into your classroom?

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