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Science Learning: A Thrilling Detective Story

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This commentary on edweek.org starts with (for me at least) a counterintuitive sentence: "Kids love science." The author of the article, Ellen V. Futter, goes on to talk about how and why students turn away from science as they get to middle and high school. She presents suggestions for how educators can help fuel kids' enthusiasm for science and encourage them to continue studying science as they get older. One of the suggestions she made particularly hit home for me. She says:

K-12 teachers should be empowered to adopt hands-on, inquiry-based teaching methods that present science as a thrilling detective story, rather than a collection of facts and formulas.

At the risk of shameless self-promotion here, I'm going to point you now to a story I just finished for Digital Directions about using computer games to teach science. The point that Futter makes above is one that many of the educators I spoke with for this story agreed with. Science lends itself very easily to a storyline, especially a detective storyline, which in turn makes it a perfect match for computer and video games, which are often driven by those exact elements of mystery and discovery. Although there are kinks to be worked out as far as getting the games to work and lining the material up with curriculum, teachers who used computer games in the classroom did observe a noticeable increase in the level of engagement of their students, and research has verified those observations.

What do you think? Do you or other teachers in your school use computer games in class? Do you find them to be an effective way of teaching, or have you run into too many problems to make them worthwhile?

2 Comments

To be honest, I was never a fan of science or math in high school (or college), but the few teachers that did introduce certain topics to me using non-traditional (ie computer games, movies, etc) really helped me out, and I think it's a quite useful tool for the other folks like me who need a little different type of exposure to the topics. And speaking of science, have you guys heard of Intel's International Science and Engineering Fair 2008 (ISEF)? I'm super excited about having the chance to help set this up - it's next week, in Atlanta, and showcases some of the best and brightest from America and around the world.
These students have acquired skills in identifying and isolating important problems or questions; planning for the solution of problems or the answers to questions; using organized, logical thought and study to reach conclusions; and verbal and visual communication...it's mighty impressive! If you'd like any additional information, please feel free to let me know!

I've looked at the science computer games and will use them (I'm an ed student); however from what I"ve seen in the classroom, the teachers may not have time to create an entire curriculum that is different from what they've developed to use every year. To be real, they really aren't paid enough to work night and day, and with grading and meetings, they would need to if they were constantly creating new curricula. I have written lesson plans for use with the Dept of Env. Prot. in my state, and I made sure to list state standard benchmarks, and to provide a procedure and an assessment. In this way a teacher could integrate the lesson seamlessly without undue effort on his/her part. In this way when they take a break from teaching to the time-consuming, mundane NCLB testing requirements, they are more likely to use the lesson rather than just ignore it.

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