A few weeks ago I completed a week-long summer school class for rising 8th and 9th graders in video game design. I hadn’t taught that age group for nearly ten years but it was an incredibly enjoyable experience. I love working with that age group, but the ability to teach a course like game design this summer re-affirms the fact that I wouldn’t want to be a classroom teacher right now. Overly-rigorous standards mean I’d never be able to teach a course like this as part of the regular school year, which is too bad. Talking about game design allowed the kids to really shine in ways that reflected true STEAM thinking. They conducted in-depth discussions with one and another about mechanics and genre. They provided insightful critique regarding the projects of their classmates. They de-bugged and trouble-shot problems for hours. They figured out how to innovate their ways around design problems. They also spent a lot of time playing games and having a blast while analyzing them. My teaching certification means that I’d be expected to make sure kids can correctly identify F=ma as Newton’s second law and getting into a conversation with parents every year regarding cosmology, the age of the Earth, and whether or not I’m telling their kids that they “came from monkeys”.
If we really wanted to provide developmentally appropriate content that engaged kids and allowed them to learn to be innovators and problem solvers, we’d open options like game design to all middle schoolers as full-year or semester-long courses. I’m not saying game design courses are a panacea, they aren’t. But they are pretty interesting and pretty relevant to a lot of kids and they provide the added bonus of providing opportunities to learn inter-disciplinary, real world skills. Isn’t that what everyone claims they want for kids?
But that isn’t what policy makers and business leaders actually want. It’s so much easier to pay for more tests and fire more teachers and call that “reform”. Happy back to school.