I just got done playing the game Geosense. It is addictive!
At least it was for me, and after spending twenty-five minutes of fun playing the game by myself and against some other players, I felt like I needed to validate the use of my time, that’s when it hit me! I learned where at least five countries were. For instance I had only a general idea where Georgia was, and apparently little idea where Malta was.
Each time you guess where you think the city is (the blue dot and circle), the game tells you where the city is (the gold dot and circle), lets you know how far off you were on your guess, and gives you a score if you want to play other people or keep track how you are doing over time.
I have a bachelor’s degree in history and I don’t really think that knowing the exact location of the cities is a critical issue to understanding history or social studies. OK, then why write this post? Because the real issue is that having a strong sense of where a country is can have an impact on understanding of culture, historical context, and reaction to current issues. For example, knowing that Barcelona was in Spain and where Spain is may be acceptable. However, knowing that Barcelona is in northern Spain does potentially shed more light about how Barcelonese stand on the Basque separatist issue.
OK, knowing the exact location is not all that important but it does enable other skills to be more accessible like inference, and analysis. It is very comparable to memorizing multiplication tables. Knowing the tables themselves doesn’t really mean anything other than being able to win some board races in elementary and middle school classes.
However being able to access those facts in the middle of an advanced algebra problem allows the student to focus on the issue at hand and not the basic background concept. Additionally, knowing the facts allows students opportunities to see connections with other numbers more quickly. For example knowing that 6 is a factor of 54 and 18, can enable someone to see a connection between the two numbers more quickly, and the real value of being comfortable with multiplication tables is knowing that 18 is a factor of 54.
How did twenty five minutes of a geography game get me to advocating memorizing multiplication tables? It didn’t! What it did, is allow me to learn and have some fun at the same time. I’m not proposing that we force all of our students to memorize the multiplication tables, have timed tests weekly to check their progress, punish them if they don’t reach a subjective standard, and turn them off to the really valuable patterns of mathematics that we are trying to open up to them by having them learn the tables to begin with. What I am advocating is allowing them to have some fun and learn at the same time. That game was as rigorous as I wanted to make it. It’s not that traditional content isn’t important and valuable, but what is important is the issue of instruction.
Not all students learn because we think it is important to learn this concept today. Presenting information in multiple formats and in multiple contexts allows teachers opportunities to reach more children at many and higher levels. This game may not teach everyone geography but there were at least one hundred people on the site playing, and I bet it was teaching them something!
Now, go out and find a game to play with your students that will teach them something while letting them have some fun!