Do most educational games suck?

Since my preview of Conspiracy Code: U.S. History at NECC, I’ve been thinking again about educational games…

Here are a bunch of screen shots of different online games for learning. I found them by typing into Google variations of learning games, educational games, learning games high school, educational games middle school, and so on. Most of these appear to be aimed at kids of middle or high school age.

FunBrain Math Baseball

FunBrainMathBaseball

PBS Kids You’re in Charge

PBSKidsItsMyLife

Quiz Hub U.S. History Timeline Quiz

QuizHubUSHistory

Math Playground Math TV

MathPlayground

UPDATE: The creator of this would like me to note that Math TV is a 'learning activity' rather than an educational 'game.' See the comments below for more on this.

eSchoolOnline eMath Pretest

ESchoolOnline

Asian Countries – Level Seven

SheppardAsianCountries

Hotmath Number Cop

HotMathNumberCop

Teach-nology Diner Dash

Teach-NologyDinerDash

CoolMath Pool Geometry 2

PoolGeometry2

Eat or Be Eaten

EatOrBeEaten

Just from a graphics standpoint, I have to wonder how interesting these games are to preteens and teens when the games below are more along the lines of what they see at home.

Grand Theft Auto IV

GrandTheftAutoIV

Madden NFL ‘09

MaddenNFL09

Elder Scrolls: Oblivion

ElderScrolls

Super Mario Galaxy

SuperMarioGalaxy

Nancy Drew: Ransom of the Seven Ships

NancyDrewRansomOfSevenShips

BioShock

BioShock

Plants vs. Zombies

PlantsVsZombies

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

PrinceOfPersiaSandsOfTime

So I’ve got some questions…

  1. Does the quality of the graphics matter when it comes to educational games? Or is the quality of the learning experience enough?
  2. Speaking of the learning experience, just how bad are most of these so-called ‘educational games?’ I wasn’t too impressed with the games shown above. In terms of gaming complexity, many of them are using pretty simplistic techniques to try and reach what I’m guessing are fairly-savvy students. Also, many of them seemed to be games from many years ago that still are being pitched to educators and adolescents. I found two of the learning games as links from a high school web site (Asian Countries – Level Seven and Eat or Be Eaten), which made me feel really sad for the students who were in that school.
  3. Maybe it’s completely unfair to compare online learning games with commercial games that are downloadable or on CD-ROM/DVD. So what is out there that’s comparable in the commercial downloadable/DVD educational games sector? Anything good? Vendors, if you think you’ve got educational games that are worth looking at, feel free to comment!

Your thoughts?

94 Responses to “Do most educational games suck?”

  1. Besides several excellent points raised already, I think a big problem many “serious games” end up having is they take the serious part too far and end up losing the game experience (which is about play, etc.) It’s not so much the graphic quality or money/team production though those definitely can factor into things. Once you lose the options of play and make the game more a “tool” to practice skills it isn’t really a game in my opinion. Just dressed up skill and drill, which may still be better than traditional means but doesn’t compare to a game that makes playing the goal and learning comes naturally.

    This isn’t to take away from those who have made these skill games who have put lots of personal time and passion into the work, only to point out some design challenges/limitations.

  2. I would like to see Scott’s response to colleenk’s comments. These are real people whose work you are implying “sucks.” She has legitimate objections to your presumptions, reasoning and conclusions. She describes tangible learning outcomes. What do you have to say?

  3. Scott, I have to echo what a number of people have said. Many of the games are ridiculously low-quality when it comes to graphics and gameplay experience. However, in my experience, there are a couple out there that really do seem to get kids hooked despite their simplicity. Our students loved these this year:

    http://www.3rdworldfarmer.com

    http://www.electrocity.co.nz

    There were also a couple of flash based games that they enjoyed.

    I introduced my students to Phun (http://www.phunland.com ) and while they were taken with the idea, the learning curve is rather steep. Quest Atlantis has been mentioned and you can see my thoughts on that game here: http://bit.ly/3TrPr1

    Another heavy hitter is Global Conflicts: Palestine. This one has the graphics and story of more modern games, but is still limited by the “Choose Your Own Adventure” style. Compared to the ones you linked, this looks amazing however. Here’s my post on GC:P : http://bit.ly/14bvOJ

  4. One comment about the graphics is that even though you don’t need the greatest graphics to have a great game, everyone who is involved in the conversation needs to understand that visual literacy is a major factor in today’s media saturated world.

    I’m also a big advocate of the idea that all games can be used to teach, given the proper scaffolding.

  5. I agree with Will’s idea – I would suggest that many of the classic games like Civ, Pirates, Sim[something] have been “gateways” to get people interested in something. I know that I gained my interest of history from Civ and Pirates and I certainly increased my interest in politics playing flight sims and other war games when I was younger.

  6. Thank you, everyone, for the thoughtful comments and helpful resources. Here are a few thoughts that are rattling around in my head…

    1. Undoubtedly, the creators of many of the educational games I highlighted above are good people who worked hard to make something that was intended to be of value to students. As another edublogger tweeted me, however, that does not give them immunity from criticism. As a professor, I may be a nice person who tries hard to provide an excellent learning experience for my own students, but that doesn’t mean that I’m always successful. Whenever we open up our work – whether to a small class or the world at large – we must expect others to have opinions and maybe voice them.

    2. ‘Suckiness’ is in the eye of the beholder. Some commenters still find value in the type of educational games I showed above. Others do not. It’s an open question whether most preteens and teens find value in these types of games. Personally, I’d much rather hone my math skills playing something like Lure of the Labyrinth than Math Playground Math TV or Hotmath Number Cop because it has more sophisticated graphics and cognitively complex play.

    3. If the point of educational games is to enhance student learning and/or interest (as opposed to the technical challenge of making them, trying to make a buck, or whatever), then it doesn’t matter what the game creators or others think. All that matters is whether the intended audience – students – finds them helpful, engaging, etc. Students don’t care that your purpose and/or technical ability and/or budget and/or resources and/or training and/or whatever aren’t equal to that of commercial game designers. They just know that your work pales in comparison. Given the other computer– or console-based gaming experiences that students have these days, I still think it’s more likely than not that these more-simplistic games will fail to capture most middle or high school students’ attention. For every student that finds some value in these types of educational games, how many don’t? So while I have empathy with the statements of both colleenk and Katherine Nowak, I’m not yet persuaded.

    4. Whether you call it a ‘game’ or an ‘instructional tool,’ is there much difference between Math Playground Math TV and a paper worksheet? The immediate feedback, I suppose, which also could be obtained fairly easily in a paper-based format. Anything else?

    5. There is widespread concurrence so far that graphics quality is not as important as engaging game play. This is where most drill-type educational games fall short, no?

  7. Incidentally Scott, Lure of the Labyrinth was one of the games in my playtest. It went … badly. I had one student making an honest attempt to play for nearly a half hour and wandered aimlessly; he couldn’t get anything to happen. None of the other students even lasted five minutes before they gave up.

  8. Your post title, “Do most educational games suck?” is offensive. I personally know the creator of Mathplayground activities and strongly believe your word choice is unfair. Please remove the screenshot to any Mathplayground activities immediately.
    I truly never thought I would read these rude words here. Your post title is shows that you really don’t care for the people that surround you. I am appalled.

  9. It’s not that “educational games suck,” it’s that we’re pigeonholing what can be considered an educational game. Worksheets suck, so it’s a logical conclusion that a “game” that recreates a worksheet is going to suck.

    Here are two games I consider educational.

    LittleBigPlanet. This is an award-winning game for the PS3. It’s a “side scroller” (think Mario before he went 3D), but the “educational” aspect is that the game allows players to completely create expansive levels, from scratch, using all the tools available to the developers of the game. Those levels can then be shared with others throughout the world, to be played, get feedback, then modified based on the audience’s response. Here’s a link to the “create” trailer for LBP: http://tr.im/tJZh

    The second game is a downloadable game on the PS3, which runs $10. It’s called PixelJunk Monsters. Monsters is a “tower defense” game which has players experimenting and strategizing which towers to build and where to build them to protect their tribe. (Obviously it sounds weird, it’s a video game.) PixelJunk Monsters: http://tr.im/tK0y

    Which reminds me: it’s summer “vacation.” I should be playing some video games!

  10. “Whether you call it a ‘game’ or an ‘instructional tool,’ is there much difference between Math Playground Math TV and a paper worksheet? The immediate feedback, I suppose, which also could be obtained fairly easily in a paper-based format. Anything else?”

    Scott, it’s HUGELY important to distinguish games from, well, other entities. “Play” is a very distinctive cognitive or social activity, with such characteristics as free exploration in rule-defined worlds (“everything not prohibited is allowed”), strategies that can grow organically from feedback, presence of game mechanics and so on.

    We do have hybrid entities that have some game mechanics in them, for example, “serious games” or “cognitive games” and lines may blur. Also, many educators try to trick kids or parents (or other money-giving people) by calling their apps “games” when they aren’t. So yeah, it may be hard to tell things apart, but we should make an effort, because kids won’t forgive us otherwise.

    For example, there are no game mechanics or other game elements whatsoever in MathTV. It is a multimedia direct teaching tool, and a useful one for its purpose. EschoolOnline’s pretest is a multiple choice quiz, with an animation pacing mechanism that does not resemble any game mechanics, either. I assume it is used for its proclaimed purpose (pretesting kids).

    HotMath Number Cop and Funbrain.com (also Timez Attack – probably the best-known example of that kind) do have game mechanics and can be considered simple games. I can’t consider them “math games” because their game mechanics have no connection to math content of the exercises. I also can’t consider them “learning games” because people can’t develop new conceptual knowledge from within such games. These are memory games, or maybe computational fluency games.

    For an example of a math learning game try “Logical Journey of Zoombinis”:
    - it is a game because it has multiple game mechanics and game features
    - it is mathematical, because game mechanics are intrinsically connected with math content
    - it is a learning game, because people can develop new conceptual understanding as a result of playing

  11. The question about the quality of graphics is tough. Many kids and teens I know actually spend a lot of time playing little browser games with graphics somewhere at the “Tetris” level (the original one from the 80s). For example, here is a little browser game that I’d use to communicate the idea of Greedy Algorithms (and why they are problematic in many situations) for a beginner Computer Science course, shared by @jcaristi on Twitter: http://www.members.shaw.ca/gf3/circle-the-cat.html It is strangely addictive and fun, and most people who play it probably do it for fun, not because it’s a CS homework. Another toy (NOT a game) that is super-popular among kids and has very minimal graphics is Falling Sand. Literally ALL kids I know have spent some time with it http://chir.ag/stuff/sand/

    We should start exploring what graphic literacy means for games, though. There are some graphic principles you probably should follow at any level of complexity.

  12. Hi Scott
    Lots to read in the comments — so I shall only add a few thoughts here.

    1) How much time did you spend at the online “gaming” sites that you so quickly labeled as “s…..”?? If you spent less than 10 minutes per site — enough to just grab a screen shot, and did not go deeper….heck, even less than 1 hour….I feel you owe each and every page an apology for not spending more time.

    2) Please tell me which of those games you mentioned (either online or video) has a human being qualified math teacher who will respond to their questions/comments/and math problems?
    True, the graphics might not be “eye-catching” and “state of the art” but the help available is qualified, personable help.

    3) The “games” which you mentioned — the HIGH GRAPHICS games are more than just 1 person building them. There is money behind them, talented graphic designers, etc.
    So I ask which of those games you mentioned is provided free of charge by an individual who has a heart for learning, creative learning and strives for improvement 100% of the time and who is giving up personal time to provide a possible tool that might (and has) helped students with math.

    I usually agree with your content…….and in some ways, I do agree with some thoughts that you did share. But until I hear differently, I cannot see proof that you truly spent time truly analyzing and looking beyond the surface at every “online” gaming site you mentioned.

    Jen

  13. Hey Scott –
    One more thing

    IN response to your #2:
    “Personally, I’d much rather hone my math skills playing something like Lure of the Labyrinth than Math Playground Math TV or Hotmath Number Cop because it has more sophisticated graphics and cognitively complex play.”

    Many of the online sites — IE: Math Playground for one — was not created for an adult male who has a doctoral degree.
    They have been built for students — often time, students who are NOT understanding the concepts in the classroom and additional reinforcement is necessary. As we know, teachers (good teachers) will use every available tool that will assist a student to succeed.

    To equate what YOU would like to do versus thinking as a struggling 8 year old student…..could that be a bit unfair??

    Jen

  14. It seems like you’re conflating two issues, good graphics and game quality. I like what I’ve read in the comments about that. Also, I think what qualifies as a good game depends on the player. (I’ve gotta talk board games, because I don’t really do electronic games.) I hate Trivial Pursuits, but it’s made millions because so many other people love it. Blink, Set, Quarto, and Blokus are more my speed. I like games that get me thinking.

    Some of the ‘games’ you showed above probably do suck. The ones that have multiple choice questions with one right answer. The ones drilling multiplication facts.

    But you list two sites that I’ve enjoyed. Cool-Math has Bloxorz, which is the only electronic game I play. (I don’t know who runs cool-math, so I don’t know if they made this game themselves or not.) It also has a game my son (then 6) liked, in which kids are pairing up numbers that add to 9 or 10, a great skill to develop at that age.

    I also have loved many of the games and learning activities on Math Playground. They’re about thinking.

    I’m glad to have read this. The comments give me lots to think about. But your post would have been more helpful if it either just showed things that really do ‘suck’, or else explored the complexity of this issue more carefully.

  15. Scott,
    Interesting blog. Very controversial naming games as sucky. But let’s really see what is happening. My students had an opportunity this year to blog about online tools they would recommend to teachers. Many students named Math Playground as a great site for practicing math skills and completing brain teasers. This from students familiar with podcasting tools, video tools, collaborative tools, avatar makers, etc. The kids didn’t care about the video quality. They just knew they had fun and were challenged on the site. They also named other games such as Oregon Trail and some PS3 games, so they did want gaming in the classroom. Some high quality graphic games, some not. Just so long as they were having fun while learning.

    Labeling games as sucky simply because they are not graphically pleasing is not right. And assuming that games that help students – young students – practice nothing more than basic skills is a sucky game is also unfair. Many times, that is exactly what is needed. And why shouldn’t the child have fun practicing basic skills?

  16. Lots more good comments. More thoughts from me…

    6. Some of you have had a fairly visceral reaction to the word ‘sucks.’ Others have not. I tend to fall in the latter camp, I confess. Could I have used the word ‘stinks’ or ‘terrible?’ Sure, but I also could have used worse. The word doesn’t offend me enough to remove it (which is why I used it in the first place). I am sorry if that particular term is offensive to some. On occasion I say things on my blog in a way that others (including my wife!) wish I hadn’t.

    7. Jason Dyer, thanks for the feedback on Lure of the Labyrinth. Interesting feedback to consider…

    8. Both of Maria Droujkova’s comments above are worth reading again. Good stuff (and I’m really glad that I can now put a face with the name after NECC!).

    9. I believe that there’s a difference between saying flat-out that educational games suck and asking if most education games suck. The one is an affirmative statement, the other is a question, intended in this case to spark some thinking and some dialogue. I don’t believe that all educational games suck. Neither do I believe that the educational games I highlighted above are not useful/helpful in their own way. I’m just trying to publicly ask some questions that I think are worth discussing regarding 1) graphical quality of educational games vs. commercial games and the possible impact on student interest; 2) to a lesser extent, the quality of the learning experience of many of these educational games; and 3) the quality of off-the-shelf educational games versus those that are online. Sue VanHattum thought that I should have explored the complexity of this issue more carefully. Sometimes I do more of that myself in my posts and sometimes I like to put issues on the table and let the complexity emerge from the dialogue. I chose the latter for this post and confess that I am pleased with the results. The conversation has been very strong, I believe, full of thoughtful replies and helpful resources to extend our thinking further.

    10. Please do not generalize my screenshots above to the entire web site from which they were taken. All web sites, including this one, will have both strong and weak content. Just because I find a particular game or portion of the site to be less than thrilling does not mean that the entire site is worthless. I never said that the Math Playground or Cool-Math sites suck, just that I have questions and/or concerns about some of their content. I’m glad that others – both students and adults – have found much of their content useful.

    11. JenW, you actually reinforce my point #2 in my comment above, which is that suckiness is in the eye of the beholder. Although I shared my opinion regarding the games above, the real question is what their intended audience thinks. And that is an open question, I believe. Also, I don’t think I owe anyone an apology for expressing my opinion, regardless of how short or long the time I spent on the site (which was more than a minute and less than an hour).

    12. Although they have their uses at times, I’m not a huge fan of worksheets, whether they be paper or electronic. And although I understand the place of establishing foundational knowledge, I’d also like to see more games that are focusing on 21st century skills and/or the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy to complement the nearly endless supply of ‘basic facts’ computer games that exist in K-12 education.

    13. Finally, I have received both a public and a private request to remove the Math Playground screenshot and link from my post above. Despite the respect that I have for the people asking, I’m not going to do that for at least two reasons. The first is my point #10 above. The second is that I’m a believer in the marketplace of ideas and thus am a very strong advocate for transparency and free speech. I do not believe in censorship (at least for adults). If you don’t agree with what I said (or maybe implied), you are welcome to post on your own blog or in the comments below. I open up my site to all commentary, both positive and negative. If I make a mistake, I’ll own that. However, there’s a difference between a mistake and an opinion. I do hold opinions and beliefs, as do you, and we all are entitled to them. One of my beliefs is that the answer to speech you don’t like is more speech, not less. I appreciate your sentiments but I’m not a fan of the particular Math Playground game that I highlighted and that’s okay. If you like it, by all means play it and/or share it with others.

    Thanks, everyone, for the excellent dialogue.

  17. Scott,

    Why do you continue to classify the Math TV activity as a game when it has been shown to be a tutorial? As the author of the activity, I have clearly stated that it is not a game. Maria Droujkova makes the point that there are no game elements in the activity at all. Using an activity that has no game elements as an example of poor game design seems incongruous to me.

    I think proper classification is important. How can we have a meaningful conversation about educational gaming if we accept the idea that educational tutorials are learning games?

  18. Wow, a lot of comments on this one!

    I teach 6th grade (moving to 5th next year) and have 9 and 11 year-old boys at home.

    For that age group I can honestly say that the graphics are not an issue. From the student standpoint, they realize that the purpose of any games that we are playing in the classroom is to reinforce skills. The game create a more interesting context than a worksheet.

    At home, some of my boys’ favorite games are online games with “cheesy” graphics like the ones at addictinggames.com or onemorelevel.com. And they have a wii and a gamecube and several commercial games. It’s just a matter of what they are in the mood for.

  19. A friend of mine is in the gaming industry. He has more than a million words to his name in old-school pen-and-paper games like Dungeons and Dragons, and has been a major contributor to six or seven modern MMORPGs. He put it quite succinctly.

    “Andrew, if my customers say, ‘this game is too easy,’ then I’ve failed. People come to games looking to win, but they also come for a challenge. If your customers (and here he meant my students) say, ‘this is too hard,’ then you’ve failed. People don’t go to school because they want to be challenged; they go because they have to, and they want to be done with it as fast as possible, with as little effort as they can put out.”

    “So they can go back to your games,” I said accusingly.

    He smiled smugly. “Exactly.”

    So yes. Bad graphics translates to bad gameplay, translates to bad user experience.

    I’d also like you to think about the economic and social talent that goes into creating a game, though.

    My friend earns high five figures, enough so that bonuses have sometimes carried him into the six figure range in a given year. He earns royalties from his earlier writing efforts, and he is part of a highly-paid creative team. His workplace is international, and he regularly travels to Hong Kong, Singapore, Montreal and elsewhere to communicate with colleagues.

    The average teacher earns mid-five-figures even late in their career. Few get royalty payments for their lesson plans or other intellectual property; most of their intellectual property isn’t even worth very much. Many of them work alone or with a similarly hindered team, with administrations that begrudge them quality books, materials, and tools. Many are not regular travelers.

    I don’t wish to be seen as bashing teachers. But increasingly we are competing against a vast, networked, global effort intent on taking our students’ attention, focus, and dedication for themselves. There’s nothing evil intended by it, but they get paid much better for taking it than we do.

  20. Scott –

    I walked away, ate some dinner, had some good conversation — non techie related — and smiles, after all that, I still felt the need to come back and add one more thought.

    I think why I suggested that you need to offer an apology is more on the fact that you have (whether you intended to or not) have in a way branded the sites you chose to highlight by using such a word as “sucks.”

    I am wondering if perhaps a better word choice could have been effective or educational or or or or — I just think that there were many more appropriate choices available.

    Because you see, now with your word choice, people who are skimmers (and we know that MOST blog readers are) you have placed a label or brand on certain sites and when someone does a google search, or skims your blog — without investigating on their own — you have inadvertently (or perhaps knowingly) put your stamp of approval or disapproval on each game.

    Now, are you responsible for the lack of people not taking the time to read thoroughly, or to investigate and draw a conclusion on their own criteria, or accepting your “stamp” as their mindset……I am not saying that at all.

    I just think that with the amount of word choices that could have been used, sucks is not the first word that would have come to mind.

  21. Since you mentioned Oregon Trail I thought I would add this link: http://www.virtualapple.org/oregontraildisk.html

  22. @ Andrew B. Watt: Your comments giving us your friend’s unique MMORPG perspective were really interesting and relevant to the discussion. However, you made a huge break in logic in saying because games must be the right amount of challenge, ergo graphic quality counts.

    For the record, there is considerable research on graphic’s quality and effectiveness of transferring knowledge. I started to pull in some cites, but gotta run to work so I’ll just suggest Ruth Clark & Chopeta Lyons’s “Graphics for Learning” book and other journal articles by Clark & Mayer which provide unique research results and also pull together other research on the subject.
    Clearly graphics quality counts, but not really in the way you seem to define “quality.” The life-likeness to real world has been found to be irrelevant. In many cases, one can learn a concept equally well with a well done black & white pencil drawing as with a photograph. In fact some research indicates that avatars that look too human creep people out and distract them from the message.

    Jason Dyer & Katherine Nowak above make this point well. The higher graphics don’t necessarily make a FUN activity which is the definition of game, after all, and fun is defined differently by different people.

  23. >I do not believe in censorship (at least for adults).

    I think of censorship as what is done by officials. I guess, if you really don’t see the criticisms as valid, then you’d be censoring yourself if you changed your post.

    But don’t fool yourself. Your title question is rhetorical, and no one is going to think of it as a question, really. You are saying that these ‘games’ suck, and you’ve thrown the good together with the bad unnecessarily.

    Bummer…

  24. What a great topic! Thank you everyone for sharing your thoughts and ideas.

    I am a sixth grade teacher and my students play these educational games on a regular basis in my classroom and at home. While the games are not perfect they are an excellent form of practice. I appreciated how these games track my students success and give them immediate feedback. My students love playing them because they take a dry task (math practice) and turn it into something enjoyable.

    My students beg to play these games and I am very grateful to the creators of these free online math games.

    Great conversation everyone. Thank you for letting me be a part of it all!

  25. I keep thinking about the interesting question of the relation of graphics to game quality. For me, it relates to the question of why we put games online.

    One reason is so they can be played by one person, instead of two (practicing chess just got much easier). Another reason is so the computer can let us adjust game play in lots of ways (if you want to re-play your last game from any particular point, you can).

    Neither of those purposes relates to graphics at all. Ancient games like chess and go become more accessible to people who don’t know other players. And new games can be invented that may have just as deep an appeal, but minimal graphics (like Bloxorz).

  26. I agree with a lot of what I have read. I do think it is a bit unfair to apply the “suck” label to some of these games – even if the content and format is less than compelling. Here are a few thoughts.

    Content is king … but graphics help. Kids will need a compelling activity / storyline / adventure in order to maintain their attention. Graphics may help but I remember countless hours spent playing some low-quality-graphics games (Tetris comes to mind) – but somehow found them additive despite their lack of graphic glitz. To be effective, the games need to make students what to play them. Whether that is through a puzzle that cannot be put down or an interactive adventure that challenges players to get to the next level, educational games need to hook the user. Sadly many on the market today do not.

    Comparing high-budget, commercial games to educational games is a bit unfair. Let’s be realistic. In the same way that a nature documentary will never match budget with a Hollywood blockbuster, educational technology games will have difficulty attracting the budgets and — therefore – the slick designs of these entertainment titles. But I don’t think it’s necessary to have a multi-million dollar budget to make great content.

    Progress tracking is highly important. One of the promises of technology is simple and easy: track the progress of the student and share it. Share it with the student, parents and teachers. We know that having students track their progress provides motivation and involves them in goal setting. Presumable this enhances their performance. Also parents and teachers alike should be able to easily monitor performance and see information like absolute progress and performance versus benchmarks such as state standards, classmates progress and national norms. When content combines these items, I think a basic level of graphics will be more than adequate.

  27. Scott,

    As an educational leader, school administrator, teacher, gamer and many other things, I’m going to have to disagree with you on a few things. Although I don’t necessarily disagree with your use of “Sucks” in the title, it does carry very specific connotations that, when applied to the games you then list, makes it appear that you think they do suck although you may not say it, it is implied. Coming from someone who has your background and your influence within the eduspehre, you’ve given them a label that they will now carry with them whether you meant it to be or not. Words carry weight and some people’s words have more than others.

    As an educational leader, school administrator and father of 8 children, it is very important that I listen to the many people around me before and after I say and do things. When I get enough feedback saying that something I did or said wasn’t appropriate/correct, I have no choice but to correct it just as I expect no less from my staff, students, children. You seem to have worked it that to change what your stance is censorship in some way which, from what I can see, it isn’t since you are allowed to state your opinions but, if that opinion does not jive with feedback you are getting, then maybe it needs to be change. Everyone is entitled to an opinion but not all opinions carry the same weight. If my Director tells me something in relation to what I am doing or not doing, it does carry more weight because of the position that that person has within my sphere of influence. To listen to what others are saying in the way of feedback isn’t censorship, it’s good leadership.

    I’ve worked with many people who would not do that and, when done enough times in the face of feedback, they lost credibility. Discussion is great, dialogue is important but if it doesn’t help us to grow and learn then what is the point? Now, there are times we can agree to disagree which may be what’s happening here although I don’t see that.

    You’ve branded Math Playground Math TV a game. It isn’t. It doesn’t have the components of gaming and isn’t in any way to be confused with gaming despite what it might have been tagged. Because it isn’t a game, to compare it to other games using whatever criteria doesn’t work. If you were looking at methods of teaching math or examples of tutorials and found it lacking, that would be fine.

    The rest of the discussion regarding the graphics and other components is very interesting. As education progresses we will see the realm of educational games change and morph as it becomes an industry where money can be made. The graphics will get better and there will be a clearer relationship develop between the learning and what is going on in games. However, we must always remember that, no matter how great the graphics become and how wonderful the online environments, they are still games which cannot be confused with RL. Although they may be able to simulate real life in some ways, they are not and the learning, although it may be useful, must be regarded with that in mind.

    I’m always amused when the discussion of gaming comes around. Games are just that, games just as movies, no matter how real they look, are just movies. The story lines may be great and the messages and learning that can be drawn from them can really enhance the educational environment of a classroom but so can almost any tool when it is in the hands of a gifted and talented teacher. We need to remember that Socrates had no such “tools” at his disposal and yet his method of teaching and his manner of teaching are still as relevant today as they were when he was doing them live, sans any gadget. People are changing but they are also staying the same which we sometimes seem to forget.

    There is much to discuss and think about when it comes to the use of games and how they can be used to help students construct learning. However, life is bigger than any game and learning is something that must continue outside of any game. Youth may want to just get through what they are doing in school so they can get back to their games but it is up to teachers and adults to help them build connections and bridge that chasm that now exists between the world of games and what is happening around them. Gifted and talented educators who are striving to do that need to be supported in their efforts. As an administrator, I’m always looking to support the teachers in the school as they put forth efforts to enhance the learning of the students. As a fairly insignificant persona in the edusphere, I’m always amazed at the great effort teachers put forth to use different tools to help their students. I applaud their efforts knowing how much extra effort it takes to do such a thing. We don’t need to blow sunshine but we do need to encourage and then, if it is within our capabilities, offer support and encouragement if we see there can be improvement.

    There are many things that I find really suck when it comes to education – the lack of good facilities, the lack of attention paid to the learning environment that many students and teachers are forced to endure, the seemingly endless complaints that teachers aren’t doing enough, the lack of foresight that has educational systems limping from one initiative to another and the ever-increasing demands being made to do more and more. In the classrooms, it isn’t easy and the demands to change, demonstrate improvement and be more and more accountable suck the love for learning right out unless there is a talented teacher rising above that to extend that love of life-long learning. So, yeah, the games may not be the best but we can’t know the human element and no matter how great the graphics of any game, that human element really makes or breaks things. As educational leaders, our role is to grow it; not break it.

  28. Dear Candace,

    You’re right that I made a leap in logic. It was late for me (I’m regularly up at 4am in summer), and I didn’t think things through.

    But the link is real … though as you say graphics quality only matters in certain ways — a human face that’s too real but not real enough is not as good as an idealized human figure; a pencil drawing may be as good or better than a photograph.

    Let me see if I can reconstruct my thinking for you. The average educational assignment only asks students to keep track of a few factors: “solve for x”, “What was the capital of the Persian empire?” “What did the Big Three powers decide at Yalta?” Educational games often hold to this same structure. (I’d say that Oregon Trail is an exception to this.)

    A commercial game, on the other hand, asks you to keep track of multiple factors. If I play Diablo solo, I have to track the health and mana of my character. I have to think about the skill tree I want my character to climb. I have to consider the health of my assistant character. I have to consider where I am in the story. I have a map I need to navigate. I have to avoid ‘waking up’ too many monsters at once. And I have to build my skill-sets high enough that I can take on the boss monsters at the end of levels.

    A vast amount of this data is conveyed graphically, rather than numerically. There’s a radar screen, with parts of the map blanked out; there’s a skill tree for me to look at. There’s spheres filled with liquid that tell me my health and my energy levels. It’s a visually rich and information-dense environment, and I as the player can never afford to ignore one element of the game for too long. Even in a game like Civilization, which is turn-based and moves at a more leisurely pace, there’s a web of information conveyed graphically, and that information is changing every few turns.

    Survival in these kind of digital realm depends on reading graphical interfaces and recognizing patterns, absorbing information on many levels, fast. Add in multi-player features, and there’s much more information that arrives much more rapidly than before. Even Tetris — which as games go did not require attention to very many details other than ‘where does this block go?’ and ‘where will I put the next three?” – played up their backgrounds with Russian folk music and scenes of important places in Russia.

    On the other hand, we have some sample educational games above. One shows a very stylized baseball stadium. Then we have a series of games that show backgrounds irrelevant to the ‘game’ played. US history means sitting around your living room being bored. Doing math means you’ll be stuck by a toilet, or waiting tables at a cruddy restaurant. “Do math problems so you can spend more time in a classroom!” And everybody knows that a cop doesn’t do math problems to drive a car; when he drives he has to pay attention to the scanner, the speedometer, the gas gauge, the RPMs and the law. You don’t get to go to Malaysia; you just have to identify it on a map. “Guess this word or we’ll hang you!”

    Please. Even the mouse is bored.

    Most of the screenshots above from the commercial games aren’t gameplay pictures, so it’s hard to compare user interfaces. But the Mario game is asking characters to track at least seven pieces of data — what’s right in front, what’s coming, current life level, stars, purple sparklies, and two others.

    A math game, or a US trivia game, though, only has one right answer. There’s no need to track a broad range of information, and the survival of your character doesn’t depend on tracking multiple pieces of data.

    A game that simply includes a couple of pictures as a concession to the computer era, that takes a worksheet and makes it a ‘computer worksheet’ isn’t living up to the potential of the digital age.

  29. Just another thought on how kids react to games, and educational games in particular. I used to work as an educational game developer for a major publisher. We did a TON of testing on our games and there were a lot of interesting facts that turned up very consistently in testing edu-tainment games with kids.

    Kids often would express a negative opinion of games that were “too fun” – and would tell us that if a game was too fun it must not be educational. It was also highly dependent on age. Under 10′s tend to simply play and accept whatever the game gives them. 10-12 is an age where they would have exceptionally rigid rules about what they thought games should do, and above 14 they seem to completely reverse themselves about everything and really appreciate games that break the mold.

    There were a thousand other interesting tidbits of information like this – but suffice it say for this conversation that it’s not that the kids are evaluating educational games as games, but also how correlated they are to their own educational experience. Their concept of “school” influences their experience of an educational game just as much as their concept of “game”.

    It’s too simplistic to ask whether graphics “matter”. There is a lot more going on in kid’s heads than we ever give them credit for (no surprise there.)

  30. There doesn’t seem to be any trackback between our blogs so I am posting a link to my response here. I hope you will consider my objections and honor my request for a retraction. Presenting an animated instructional video that a teacher created for her students many years ago as an example of bad game design is misleading and, based on many of the comments, has only served to draw attention away from the real issue.

    http://learninginmathland.blogspot.com/2009/07/dear-edublogger.html

  31. I wanted to let you know that I have also posted comments on my gaming blog in Library Journal, related to this post. This lengthy discussion (most of it very thoughtful) offers much welcomed insight into a non-trivial debate. Thank you.

    http://www.libraryjournal.com/blog/1130000713/post/970047097.html

  32. Wow what a great bunch of comments.

    As a teacher I didn’t use games to teach. I used games to explore and practice.

    I actually loved the Oregon Trail back in 1999 because it had a journal option. Each student was required to write in the journal and I would share with the class certain selections.

    I used funbrain.com and a few other sites as a reward for well behaved 4th graders during our free time.

    When I taught elementary school and middle school almost all of my lessons and units ended with time to summarize the learning. I prefer my educational games to be a precursor to discussion not an end all be all.

  33. I haven’t seen much for fun educational games, but I think that there are ways that we can use other games in school. For instance, Flight Simulator is great for physics classes.

    I think a great research project for someone would be to look at current, popular computer games and see if and how they can be used in school.

  34. The games that my high school science students like aren’t games at all, but are simulations or applications. I refuse to call them games because, while there is a clear “win”, there is no competition, unless you want to think that they are competing against themselves.

    Examples of this are sites such as a erupting volcano disaster simulation where students are given a limited budget and a variety of decisions to put into place. They can also chose when to put those decisions into place. Then they press a button and within a fifteen day window the volcano erupts. The end gives a report on how many people they were able to save and why some of their rescue measures didn’t work (a dire evacuation warning too early will cause the populace to ignore a later one which may actually be more correct).

    The real question to myself and other teachers would be how to put the element of competition back into these “games”. For me, I set a goal on the board (must save 80% of the populace, at least) and then prizes for the top three places.

    Now the students are engaging!

  35. The discussion continues. All of it good. Some more thoughts from me…

    14. If you’re interested in this conversation, be sure to follow the links above in Comments 47, 48, and 49.

    15. Sue VanHattum: I’m on vacation with my family. I’m not “feeling stuck with what I wrote.” Nor am I a man who “spouts off” and then feels “obligated to stick to [my] story.” I’m not sure where your female-vs-male statements are coming from in your comments on ColleenK’s post (follow the link from Comment 47 above) but they’re inapplicable to this particular situation and, if you knew me at all, also to myself personally. Additionally, censorship doesn’t just have to be from official entities. We have lots of examples of various interest groups and/or individuals who try to eliminate others’ content from view (e.g., book banning or burning; blog blocking; Internet filtering). If someone wants to remove others’ speech from public view, I’m not sure what else to call that other than ‘censorship.’

    16. ColleenK: My apologies for not yet replying to your e-mail. As noted, I’m on vacation and am way behind on my e-mail correspondence. I did try to briefly reference some of your concerns in my blog comments of July 23. I chose to do that publicly because that’s where the conversation is occurring and where others have an opportunity to see it and respond.

    Per your (and others’) request, I have clarified in my original post that Math TV is a ‘learning activity’ rather than a ‘game.’ I have not removed Math TV from my post, however, because I believe that it needs to stay in there for the conversation in the comments to make sense. I also will note, however, that some of your self-labeled ‘games’ on Math Playground are not very compelling examples of the genre. To me, many seem very similar to Math TV – electronic worksheets with little or no game-like characteristics. This may be fine with you (you said in an e-mail to me about Math TV: “it’s a worksheet; a worksheet that comes with instant feedback, a calculator, and a step by step animated tutorial. Is that a bad thing?”), but I’m not a fan of such (as noted earlier) and it’s okay for us to disagree on this.

    Again, I’ll note that it doesn’t matter what your graphic and/or game development skills are (and they greatly exceed my own). What matters is whether you can create compelling learning environments that can successfully compete for students’ attention and interest. Some think you are doing so; others, like myself, don’t agree. I empathize with your statement that my criticism of your work ‘stings.’ My own work is sometimes praised and often criticized, both publicly and privately, and it’s always tough to receive uncomplimentary feedback. If one chooses to put oneself out there, however, one must take the negative with the positive. We all have our opinions and we all can have a voice if we choose. The Internet can be a rough-and-tumble place, but I think that’s a good thing. I’m not singling you out in any way – you are one of MANY examples that I cited (or could have cited). I AM trying to label what I see as a potential problem, one worth inquiring about and discussing. I’m glad that you have a group of supporters, both online and off, that find value in your work.

    17. Scott Wallace: Whether it’s “less than compelling” or it “sucks,” it’s still not good. I see much of the conversation here as semantics: people are disagreeing with a particular word, “sucks,” which is simply a different place on an opinion-based continuum along with “terrible,” “less than compelling,” “good,” and “excellent.” What I may think “sucks” others may find “excellent” and vice versa.

    18: ColleenK & Scott Wallace: I think it’s completely fair to compare educational games and/or learning activities with commercial games when it comes to the fierce competition for students’ attention and interest. We live in an ‘attention economy’ – these educational games and activities are competing with other graphically-sophisticated, intellectually-complex environments. Children and adolescents are not going to choose educational games and activities simply because we want them to – we have to be effective participants in this space in order to earn and retain their attention. I’m not sure that these types of games and activities do that – that’s why I asked the question in the first place.

    19. Kelly Christopherson: As usual, your comments are thoughtful and helpful. Thank you. I AM listening to others, I have now clarified the Math TV labeling issue, and I’m not trying to ‘break’ anything. I AM trying to ask questions that I believe are worth asking.

    20. I’d like to note a couple of things about ColleenK’s concern that ‘casual visitors’ will think Math TV and the like are ‘games’ rather than ‘learning activities.’ The first is that I believe the bigger danger for Colleen is not that the casual visitor will find my post and form an incorrect opinion of what Math TV’s all about but that the casual visitor gets to Math TV so easily from Googling some of the terms I noted above in my post. Google has a much larger audience than I do. Since she’s worried about these distinctions, she may need to do more to help her visitors easily make them.

    The second thing I’ll note is that Colleen may not be marketing Math TV as a ‘game’ but other creators of similar activities sure are. In other words, there’s not much of a qualitative difference between what Colleen is calling a ‘learning activity’ and what many others market as ‘educational games.’ That’s part of the bigger problem, I believe, and one that has been hacked out some here in our conversation.

    21. Andrew Watt: “Even the mouse is bored.” Thanks for the laugh and the thoughtful commentary!

    Thanks, everyone, for being willing to share your thoughts here!

  36. Scott, thank you very much for acknowledging my concerns.

    I understand that you have taken the time to review other parts of my website and have concluded that none of my work is particularly inspiring. From a purely academic point of view, I would not argue this. I have played many types of games and have read volumes of game research and I have no doubt that my work falls short of the goals we have for educational gaming. When I created those games and activities, some 3 to 6 years ago, my programming skills were rudimentary. To be honest, it was a tremendous achievement to even write a bit of code that controlled an object in a game. I was at a very early stage of programming and game creation. My focus was on simply making it work. I was not yet ready to address the greater educational issues.

    The good news is that I am fast approaching the 10,000 hours of programming practice Malcolm Gladwell says is necessary to hone one’s skills. That means I can shift my focus away from properties and methods and concentrate on the design elements of game play. You and I are not at odds on the bigger issue; we both want to see the evolution of educational gaming.

    To that end, I invite any of your readers who may have artistic skills and those who have good ideas to collaborate with me on a math game that helps us move toward that goal. I am willing to volunteer my knowledge base, time, and programming skills. Let’s turn this experience into something that will benefit children everywhere.

  37. Russ nails it in #26. Find an educational experience within the game, not education on top, around, and about the game. The game itself should not be the education.

    In a similar vein that we shouldn’t teach tools for tools sake (do we teach “blogging” or writing/reading/communicating?)

  38. I’d just like to add a couple of games that I have used with students
    Discover Babylon – http://fas.org/babylon/
    Immune attck – http://fas.org/immuneattack/

    Both free, both with great graphics and engaging gameplay. These do seem to compete with commercial grade games.

    Caspian Learning used to have Thinkingworlds available for free but it seems to have been commercialised – I still have the original school based system. But if your readers like Colleen are looking at RAD of educational 3D games then this maybe the system some are looking for.

    For more sandbox gaming (“what if” rather than linear) Golems is quite good with a bit of effort.
    http://www.golemgame.com/

  39. Tabula Digita produces a gaming environment for Algebra that provides excellent graphics, challenges and requires real math knowledge and skills to advance its levels. It has off-line and on-line components.
    We use it as a review for our Algebra Part One students and some of the computer club kids just like to stop by after school and pick up the challenge of it even if they know the math they want to beat the program.

    So yes, this a successful example of a true educational game.

  40. Scott, I just have my own views (as a mother) here on this one as well as a few views as a teacher. First, nothing, I repeat nothing replaces a good teacher. Just my opinion.

    But in the hands of a good teacher, or well-rehearsed parent, games can help.

    My youngest son has an LD and learns better through visuals of all kinds – oral spelling practice is anathema to him. When I switched to spelling city (www.spellingcity.com) to provide review and practice for his spelling words, which were taking a good hour to 1 1/2 hours a night to learn 10 words by FRIDAY, he could practice 15 minutes – 5 minutes of review with me and by Friday it was aced — he went from a C in spelling to an A. Now, sure, that is anecdotal, but I have lots of friends with anecdotes like this one.

    2) Math Baseball was INSTRUMENTAL in my youngest son learning his math facts. He enjoyed it so much more than just flashcards with me. I now use an itouch app and my youngest son and I review at the beauty parlor – etc.

    3) Right now, my eight year old is playing MOnkey Island a very hold game that I had to make XP go backwards compatible for – the graphics are pitiful and it is totally text based. HE LOVES IT! I also swear he is reading better – just from the speed it takes to read a book.

    At NECC I saw Bernie Dodge and others talk about Game Design and education and truly, the quantification that it takes to show the learning power of specific games has a way to go. In fact, one of the best math online sites seems to be alexa (from the at least 10 tweets I’ve gotten over the summer from teachers who say their scores are going up) and it is very drill and practice.

    4) I’ve used classtools.net to let my students design their own review games to review the content for the tough computer science tests (when I actually have to give one.)

    5) My students love the review Jeopardy and other games in my DEC software. They are fun and give us a good forum for review (as well as laugh.)

    These are just some examples of games that have helped both my children and my students.

    Really, from looking at your examples, you’re talking about use of the computer, though, since it looks like some of the sites aren’t really games but videos

    It is all about what the technology DOES – does it improve student learning?

    For me, I see the games I’ve cited and others as a resource, a tool in my toolbelt – not used exclusively, but when complimenting a detailed curriculum and objectives, lots of project based learning, they add the variety that this generation craves and needs to make a rich, fulfilling learning environment.

    They can compliment the multisensory learning approach that kids need.

    Are they perfect? No. But some of these examples listed above are pretty old and the bottom line is that game designers go where the MONEY is. As shown in your blog post, many educators do not believe there is potential in educational gaming and don’t encourage the development.

    Personally, education is just waiting for a “killer game” not in the death threat sense, but in the sense of one that truly meets curricular objectives and teaches in a powerful way. Additionally, there is this whole concept of taking students into virtual worlds where they design learning environments.

    Nothing, even games, can mask the fact that sometimes learning is tough and not a lot of fun – it would be great to have compelling graphics and cool games, but we have to start somewhere.

    To me, your cricitism of some of the sites listed above isn’t truly fair. I’ve used many of them with my kids and I love them. It doesn’t take Halo-style graphics to get the job done — after all, we’re comparing the educational game to Mom with flashcards in my case — or in the case of many kids – you’re comparing educational games to NOTHING because parents don’t do this extra work.

    One of the coolest math events was a math olympics where kids played each other around the world – all my kids played that addictively b/c it was so cool to play with others around the world. The potential is there, just not realized and the games we have shouldn’t be gotten rid of or not used because they can be very useful to both kids, teachers, and parents.

    There is a great book by Karl Kapp called Gadgets, Gizmos, and Games for Learning about the types of knowledge and appropriate games for them — and most of what you’re looking at is rote, routine memorization which is a bit different from other types of concepts as done in environments like Chris DeDe’s RiverCity (a proven way to teach the scientific method BTW.)

    Don’t write off educational video games and personally, I want to thank the thankless job of programmers who have put together many of the games listed here. I am so thankful to have sites like math playground, classtools.net, and funbrain – they have helped my children’s grades and my job as Mama-homework supervisor!

  41. I like this post because it gives me a place to check out educational games. Personally, I think what might “suck” for one person might rock for another. I haven’t read your blog lately, but I plan to come back more often. It’s always informative.

  42. Maybe I was the only one who played it, but if you can find a copy of the game Mario’s Time Machine, and either a SNES system or an emulator, I highly recommend it. It taught me more about European history between 1400 and 1800 than probably anything else, and I had fun doing it. I could be wrong on this one, but I think Mario is Missing was similar.

    • I am currently writing my dissertation on educational gaming (I am studying animation at the moment) and I came across this article, its a shame that most of the games used for education really do suck, because most programmers with talent just move on to game companies that have no financial incetive of making something for education….

      well I lie there are a few, companies like Creative assembly and Paradox interactive have been making amazing historical games, while Valve’s portal 2 will clearly teach children a bit about momentum. the problem is that in most countries the educational system is too rigid, and some times teachers simply have no idea what games are out there, and while it might be hard to make maths fun , if for example you use it like in Europa Universalis III (empire building game) to keep the finances of your empire working people do learn very quickly what to do, now if you have ever played this game you know the maths is very basic and the gameplay very hard but I am sure this can be fixed in the future.

      P.S Because of that game I now know random regions and cities all over Europe and I learnt how inflation works and what centralisation and decentralisation do in a country.

  43. I am thinking of handcuffs as I re-read comments. Which ones are better – metal or plastic, hinged or chained?

    This image-gestalt comes from the concepts of “restraint” and “confinement.” Do we, as educators, quietly assume INVOLUNTARY CLIENTS for education content?

    Should the title question be, “DO MOST CURRICULA SUCK?”

    Vicki Davis (comment 58) provides excellent examples:

    “When I switched to spelling city http://www.spellingcity.com) to provide review and practice for his spelling words, which were taking a good hour to 1 1/2 hours a night to learn 10 words by FRIDAY, he could practice 15 minutes – 5 minutes of review with me and by Friday it was aced — he went from a C in spelling to an A.”

    “Math Baseball was INSTRUMENTAL in my youngest son learning his math facts. He enjoyed it so much more than just flashcards with me.”

    In the sixty comments above, including mine, there is precious little discussion of the appropriateness of the academic CONTENT these games or learning activities are supporting. They may support the content well or poorly – but is the content itself good? I think memorization is a huge part of early childhood education – but WHAT should young kids memorize?

    I have my rules of thumb: 1 AND either 2 or 3, from below, are necessary conditions. 1 makes memorization cognitively appropriate for young kids, and 2 or 3 provide meaning and significance. The content to be memorized should be:

    1 – connected, highly contextual, rich (map directions, systems of family relationships)
    2 – personally meaningful (home address, favorite dish recipe)
    3 – culturally significant (quotes from holy books or “Star Wars”)

    I think spelling words or times tables are culturally significant. However, the way they are usually taught is neither contextual nor connected, and thus not cognitively appropriate for young kids (especially for LD kids). We have to make changes AT THE LEVEL OF CONTENT to make the tasks appropriate.

    For example, activities dealing with etymology, word history, and word construction put spelling into larger, more connected structures. Not only does this approach raise personal and cultural significance levels of activities, but it makes them cognitively more natural, thus more interesting and easier to memorize, for young kids. Kids can and do drill within such contexts, and drill becomes meaningful, AND the question of drill-based games becomes meaningful.

    I will talk about times tables in more detail, because I’ve been studying the topic and working with families around it for some fifteen years.


    When we address “the algebraic nature” (for the lack of a better term) of times tables, kids work with many patterns and symmetries within it, make conjectures, tie fact families together. For example, check out the off-diagonal pattern:
    5*5=25, 4*6=24
    6*6=36, 5*7=35
    7*7=49, 6*8=48
    and so on for (a-1)*(a+1)=a^2-1

    We can give kids the content goal of searching, discovering and describing such patterns and properties, starting with simple ones (e.g. 4*6=6*4). This way they see multiplication examples within a highly connected structure, appreciating WHY the tables are so culturally significant, and developing personal significance and ownership about their favorite patterns.

    Some patterns help fact retrieval from memory, for mathematically meaningful reasons: 10, 5 and 9 facts are easy to remember because we use base-10 system. Other facts aren’t covered by any easy patterns AND are beyond our subitizing range (e.g. 7*8), which makes them hard to remember. Kids love investigating which are which, and memory experiments become a natural part of this investigation.

    Finally, there are math problems that naturally call for fact fluency. Before kids are exposed to such problems, we can’t really tell them they NEED to memorize times tables. Promises kids will need them years later work about as well as lead balloons. One needs fact fluency for division tasks, for algebraic problem solving, for some geometry work and so on. These or equally fact-demanding problems should become a part of the daily life for kids to appreciate the true significance of remembering time tables.

    Let’s make content that does not suck, and build graphics and game play to support that content INTRINSICALLY. We don’t have to be accomplices in chaining kids to inappropriate curricula.

  44. There must be some wave of “if you can’t beat them, join them” on the way. If a goal of 21st Century Skill work is to develop creativity and problem solving, then don’t the commercial games offer opportunities for this? Is there room in the K-12 curriculum for 21st Century curriculum tracks that leverage high quality games to spur strategic thinking and creative problem solving?

  45. http://www.bigbrainz.com/indexd.php – is brilliant. Our primary (elementary) aged kids love it
    cheers
    Greg

  46. Scott,
    Wow, fall behind in your reader and miss a great deal.

    You are comparing apples to oranges. To address your third question – Of course it’s COMPLETELY unfair to compare online free learning activities with commercial products. The commercial games you reference have huge money behind them and one purpose, to sell. They are meant for entertainment, primarily. If any learning occurs, it is secondary to the intent of the publisher.

    The educational websites you reference are primarily to reinforce and supplement math teaching and learning. I clicked on a few of your links and every single one was FREE. How can you compare the two when one is driven by profit and the other is driven by a desire to support students as learners?

    I work with too many kids who are struggling learners who feel a sense of mastery when they are able to tackle the math concepts that are presented on a site like Math Playground. You may be uninspired but the site isn’t about you. It’s about helping kids.
    If you are uninspired by what’s out there, please use your significant credentials to influence the commercial publishers to create games that you believe more accurately meet the needs of all learners.

    In the meantime, these sites are all we’ve got. You may not like the multimedia tools, but they are benefiting many kids who need the help. The kids have control, they can get the repetition and review they need and they can feel successful. Without tools such as these, which you refer to with utter disdain, the kids believe THEY themselves suck (at math).

    Will you facilitate the change you want to see in the educational gaming world?

    (BTW, Math Playground clearly states on their site that they address K-7 math skills, but I sometimes recommend the site for high school students with intellectual disabilities).

  47. I can only comment on my own educational games and yes I believe the graphics in mine suck and I have always been the first to admit that I didn’t think my work was very good. However, since I began putting my games for download on the net back in ’96 I have had hundreds of unsolicited testimonials from parents, teachers and kids saying how much they like my programs. I continue to receive such emails and so I continue to make new games, often working with teachers to produce programs that they would like to use in the classroom. So maybe the graphics are not so important.

    In my opinion, whilst the general games production world is quite a cut-throat one, it is one that generates quite a bit of income and therefore allows companies to hire teams of good graphic designers. Educational games however, are not nearly so profitable and in consequence much of the work is done in house. In my company, I am the CEO, graphic designer and programmer all rolled into one.

  48. I believe most free educational games online are not that engaging. I have used some paid for educational games in my economic classes. Even though the game is cheesy, the students love the game (Gazilllionaire). I don’t know if that speaks to the fact that students really love playing games, or that the cheesiness of the game makes it appealing. It think that is the competition, and that they have to predict, analyze, and really think to stay ahead of the other teams. I wish that video game companies would look into this market (preteen – teen), because I have to believe the people at Leap Frog make a decent profit.

  49. I agree, what may suck for one student might be a meaningful ed opp for another students. Here is a RSS feed I maintain full of FREE ed games for all content areas in K12: http://www.educationreporting.com/Education_Games.xml

    … and I’m going to be adding your blog page here that has these game reviews in a day or two to my RSS feed. Thanks, Jack

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