Even if it’s a Game…

There’s a recentish trend in education around trying to “gamify” certain lessons to make them more engaging to students.

Personally, I’m a fan of this concept, I even use the tool myself when teaching gymnastics sometimes by making conditioning into competitions or basics on beam into a repeat after me game as I did today. I think it can definitely be a useful tool for any teacher’s toolbag.

However, I also learned today that doing a poor job at gamify-ing actually makes things worse from a user end.

As part of my psych class requirements, I participated today in a research study. If it wasn’t giving me class credit I would say that it was the biggest waste of an hour and a half I’ve ever had; it still quite possibly could be. Some part of me hopes that the researchers can benefit from my involvement in the study, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be an outlier in their study.

The study description was:

The purpose of this study is to assess how information is valued when it comes at a cost and how time pressure influences information foraging. In this experiment, you will play a medical diagnosis game where you will select information to aid in your diagnostic decision-making. 

So I come in, sign my release form, and then I was put at a desk with a computer in a small room that had a divider between me and the other participant. When I read that this study was being conducted in the form of a game I got excited thinking it was going to be a fun mental challenge with interesting rewards system; you know- game like.

Turns out this was not a fun game. The game worked by a patient “coming in” and telling you their symptoms. Then you could see the results of different tests like an MRI or Cat scan, etc. There were four symptoms, four tests each with three possible outcomes, and four potential diagnoses. Upon correctly diagnosing a patient you’d get $1000/points. Then there were different rounds that added different factors like time and hidden information which were meant to help get at what the study was trying to test.

In theory, you would have to guess at the beginning of the game and then would slowly recognize patterns to help you make informed decisions on how to diagnose each patient. The problem for me was that I never learned anything. To be honest, I got really annoyed with myself because I could not figure out the correct connections. It didn’t help that half of the test results looked the same and I didn’t realize during the instructions would be the only time they tell you the difference between the “positive, neutral, and negative” test results looked like.

What I do know though is that my feeling of “failure” to learn what I was supposed to be learning lead to exactly what you’d expect: I stopped caring to try. I just continued to guess and honestly, it made things faster and I was still having decent success in my opinion, though I have nothing to compare my game score against. At that point, I really just wanted to get out of there but knew I had to finish the study for my credit (and for feeling like a decent person purposes and helping with their study despite being bored out of my mind).

I couldn’t even tell you how many times I almost fell asleep out of boredom. This “game” turned into my clicking a mouse twice in two spots then clicking the space bar. Repeat. Over and over again. I then got to that point where I felt jumpy from sitting in one place for so long and trying not to think about going to the bathroom because I was just wondering how long I would have to keep playing the stupid game.

I’m pretty confident that there are a lot of other students out there like me in this story and even more that may have not even tried as long as I did to figure out the learning lesson. Students where if they were in the situation of feeling like they were never going to learn something, they stop trying to learn it if no one gives them a new way to approach the topic. I think people intrinsically know when a certain style of teaching is not going to work for them, so why keep trying to put the square into the circular hole when you know it will never fit?

And this goes even for exercises that seem “fun” and “game like”; they still may not work for everyone, no matter how excited you are about a new activity for teaching a topic. There always needs to be options and adjustments if we want everyone to succeed; we talk about that all the time in gymnastics. When we teach a new drill, we say it, show it, have the kids try it, and still sometimes need to give a few kids a spot through it for a little; it doesn’t matter how they get the information, but they need to be able to all safely try on their own.

It was honestly a big MoVe moment (moment of visible empathy) for me walking out of that room realizing how some students may feel fairly often at school when they just aren’t getting it and don’t know what to do about it.

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Not All About Winning

I don’t understand why high school sports are taken so seriously sometimes. Realistically most high school athletes won’t continue much further with whatever sport they’re playing. I understand and appreciate wanting to be good and wanting to win, but sometimes you just want to play to have fun and it seems like there isn’t room for that in high school.

I was at my sister’s volleyball team meeting today and it was flat out said, “At this level in high school, it’s all about winning.” My sister is JV and honestly not amazing nor does she care to be, but she wanted to play because she thinks the sport is fun, her friends are doing it, and she wants a consistent way to work out. However, every year she comes so close to quitting because she feels like it’s taken way too seriously and all of her time becomes dedicated to the sport in an overwhelming way.

My sister quit competing gymnastics going into her freshman year. She used to train 12+ hours a week so when she quit she knew she was going to need to find some other sport to keep her active. Yet it seems it’s kind of hard to start a new sport once you get to high school.

I’m sure my sister isn’t the only person who discovered that they’re ready to try something new in high school. Shouldn’t high school be all about trying new things while you still can? It kind of stinks that everything is so serious and competitive and “top level” that it becomes hard to just try out new sports and stay active for fun.

I constantly wonder why high school’s don’t have intramural teams (or at least mine didn’t). Colleges have intramural teams and, while I’ve never played on one, I love the concept: form a small team that maybe practices once a week and then compete against other teams in a recreational way for a few weeks, then find a new sport to try out. I think it’s great that colleges have this option, though I find with everything else going on in college, it still can be hard to actually find time to play on a team. In high school though, it seems like it could be a perfect medium for those people who just want to have fun being active.

Imagine if every six weeks or so there was a new intramural sport offered, maybe even during the offseason of the varsity sport so people could use it as a time to have fun before getting super competitive. Maybe there could even be odd sports offered like Galic football or ultimate frisbee. The games could even just be in-house scrimmage style, or maybe small teams form at the school so each small team finds one day to practice that works for those x number of kids, and then there is one day set aside for matches between the small teams. Like soccer games are normally 11v11 in high school, but you could also just play mini-games of 5v5 or 7v7 or whatever really, the point is to have fun being active not to try and get college scholarships or win big tournaments.

It would also be a great way for kids involved in the arts to also be able to play sports. That was a big problem for me because I played soccer since I was 3 and enjoy the sport a lot, but I also loved theater and there was really no good way for me to do both for school. I’m sure if there was just a once a week commitment it would be much easier to work around with my theater commitment.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I feel like a lot of students could benefit from a more recreational, short-term, low commitment sports team at school.

I’ve been having this same thought for years now actually. After finishing writing this post I just found a post from February 2016 essentially about the same topic. Maybe one these days the idea will stick with someone because at this point I’ve excepted it isn’t my challenge to take on, but it’s still one I find coming up as I continue to have friends and family in similar situations to me with the high school sports debacle.

Foggy Window

Why is it that so often the thing you’re looking for most is the one thing you can’t seem to find?

It happens with books, within games, even just searching through a fridge- not to mention the more meta and emotional stuff like passion and purpose etc, etc. Sometimes even, the harder you look, the less likely you are to find whatever it is you are seeking. You have to step away and step back to see the full picture and with that the details you may have missed upon the zoomed in view.

I find today was a day of getting close, but not quite seeing clearly, like looking through a foggy window.

Going for the Goal

I decided this year to play in the annual adult shuffleboard tournament with one of my friends, and we lost horribly… We didn’t even make it into the bracket technically because we had a play in the game and we were expected to win too.

It was one of those moments where you’re reminded that practice helps, but so much of playing in tournaments is about the mental game. My partner and I hadn’t played at all the first few days at Capon and then we ended up playing a bunch the morning before our official game. I don’t know where our heads were the time we played the real game because we were far too defensive and then just couldn’t make things stick.
At Capon we have a saying, “Don’t try to win, just don’t lose,” meaning that sometimes your goal just needs to be to play it safe and let the other side slip up while trying to do something fancy. However, I guess to counter that point, you have to actually take a shot in order to score. (A little more of a soccer reference than shuffleboard, but I’ve been watching the World Cup semi-finals this week too so the analogy is working in my mind.)
We can’t always just play defensively and worry about the other people around us and how to keep things “safe,” sometimes you just need to go for it and trust your training. We have to be willing to go for our goals if we ever can hope of achieving them.

Bringing Back the Old

Once upon a time, back when I was 7ish at Capon there use to be a Kemp’s tournament amongst the teens. That’s how I originally learned to play all those years ago.
But somehow over the years the tournament stopped happening as more and more of that generation stopped coming to Capon consistently.
Slowly though I’ve been trying to bring back Kemp’s. Today was a successful day in making that happen when we had a group of 8 playing at the lake in pre Capon mode and I was mentioning how there use to be a tournament. Some of the parents saw us playing and they made reference to the old days too.
It’s kind of fun to bring back the old times every now and then.

Unplugged

I’m back from Capon and the land without internet or wifi, and therefore, will continue to post some of the blog posts that I wrote during the interim later today. However, I did not successfully write a post for every day, but I’m kind of okay with that. Rather than spending that time off on my own with my computer, it was time I spent taking advantage of all the great moments Capon has to offer without technology.

I feel like every year I blog about how much I appreciate having a week tech-free, but it’s just so true! I love how at Capon we’re forced to unplug and just get to be in the moment chilling with our family and friends.

Living in all of the moments is such a refreshing feeling; from the fast-paced ultimate frisbee games or rowdy badminton matches to the quiet times reading on the porch or taking a nap on a hammock. When you have time to kill between meals you find all sorts of adventures and games to play like “Super Pong” where we play a game of ping-pong meets foursquare across three ping-pong tables.

Then into the late night when you think all of the moments are over for the day, still we might have a serious chat about family drama or a fake talent show that will make you laugh your socks off when friends re-perform acts from their childhood.

Capon is like the camp you never grow too old to attend, every year I can’t wait for another week of amazing food, great company, and intense tournaments of the weirdest kind.

Till next year Capon; can’t wait until another week un-unplugged from technology and plugged into the real moments.

Play to Learn

I feel like one of the most untapped pieces of potential for great learning is playing games.

Today I spent just about all day in a game store where they have bookshelves full of IMG_0965.JPGrandom games you can play. As a student, it’s $5 for me to sit at a big game table in the store and be able to play as many games as I want from 8am to 11pm and can even leave and come back for no extra charge. We played from 1:30-11 only taking a little more than an hour break to eat dinner at a nearby restaurant and it really was a fantastic day.

We challenged ourselves to learn new games so we played two rounds of two new games and then ended the night with 15 minutes of one of our favorite “classics” for our family to play.

I had forgotten how hard it can be to learn a new game. So often when playing games, at least one person already knows how to play and they can help explain as you go. When no one has ever played the game, you can easily spend 20-30 minutes just doing reading comprehension to try and understand setup and how things work in this particular game world.

We found also that after learning our first new game, learning a second new game became easier because we had more confidence at being able to piece together and remember odd assortments of rules; games push your creative muscles.

Games are so great for all sorts of brain activity. On top of the reading comprehension needed to understand instructions and the communication skills to explain the instructions to the rest of the players and the questioning skills to truly know the instructions, we had all sorts of learning moments: We had to challenge our memory, quickly develop strategy, be able to plan for 3 steps ahead, prioritize, consider risk management, communicate our ridiculous sounding ideas, and in one game we even had to work on our geography knowledge.

Honestly, I may have only played games all day, but my brain “hurts” so to say, and I feel physically tired from all the processing I did. Mind challenges are some of the best ways to grow our brain capacity and therefore expand our learning toolbox.

I wish there were shelves of games at schools. I wonder what it would be like to be able to just get a group together and pick out a new board game to try learning over lunch time. Games are such a great way to build community and brain muscle it just seems like a naturally benefiting idea for schools to incorporate more game time into school.

That was part of the reasoning why I created the Kemps Khoas club way back when which was a club devoted to a card game tournament building community between faculty and students. One of my wishes that I never got around to in high school would’ve been to really develop the club to go beyond just the one card game.

Playing is such an essential part of learning. I wish I saw more games at schools.

Improv and Show Tunes

I love theater people. Doesn’t matter the age, everyone kind of has the same dramatic vibe.

Today the dance troupe kids put on a performance between the junior troupe and senior troupe while the parents (and me) all watched. It was hilarious and impressive, yet not fully put together all at the same time. There was singing and dancing and lots of improv. Then we played charades Broadway-style which was fabulous even if some of the younger kids didn’t really get how to play… And to finish off the night we played “Heads Up” and “Name that Tune” with TV shows and 70s/80s/90s songs.

Life is always better with a little bit of improv and show tunes.

An Off Game

Because my grandma is in town this weekend, we decided to go out and do something fun this morning in order to all spend time together. We ended up going bowling, which seems to often be what we decide to do whenever anyone is in town.

I had my worse game ever of bowling today. I scored a 45. It was bad. I kept hitting one stupid corner, or worse I would just flat out get a gutter ball.

We ended up playing three rounds of bowling and by the last round, I won with 116 points which is up there with some of my best games of bowling. It was really funny to see the improvement over time happening right before my eyes.

Every now and then you need an off game to remind you to always push yourself to work a little harder; perfect is really a myth so always aim further.

This also reflected how I was thinking while watching my siblings’ dance performance this weekend.

Sometimes things come really naturally to certain people, but at some point, the people who work hard will surpass those who have natural talent. So if you are naturally talented at something, work even harder so you can try to top yourself which each performance/game/test/etc.

 

Learning the Game

Sometimes you can forget about generation gaps in knowledge. Things that are normal for you to experience growing up are just completely foreign concepts to others.

That’s essentially what it was like playing Mario Kart with my grandma earlier tonight. She has never played a video game before and playing with her and my siblings was pretty amusing, to say the least. There was a lot of supportive coaching while simultaneously trash talking and getting mad at the computer players.

My grandma may have never come in higher than 12th place (which if you know Mario Kart, you know that is last…), but she said it was a fun game and she personally improved her speed a little each time.

It’s not always about winning. Sometimes it’s just about learning the game and getting a little better each time.