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Video games more than any other media have brought technology into children's homes and hearts. Educators, psychologists, and parents are struck by the quality of engagement that stands in stark contrast to children's usual interest in school homework and other activities. Whereas most research efforts have concentrated on discussing the effects of game playing, this book takes a different stance. It takes a close look at games as a context for learning by placing children in the roles of producers rather than consumers of games.
Kafai presents a constructionist vision of computer-based learning activities in schools. She follows a class of sixteen fourth-grade students from an inner-city public elementary school as they were programming games in Logo to teach fractions to third graders. The children transformed their classroom into a game design studio for six months, learning programming, writing stories and dialogues, constructing representations of fractions, creating package designs and advertisements, considering interface design issues, and devising teaching strategies. In this context, programming became a medium for children's personal and creative expression; in the design of their games children engaged their fantasies and built relationships with other pockets of reality that went beyond traditional school approaches.
The ideas and discussions presented in this book address educators, researchers, and software and curriculum designers interested in children's learning and thinking with educational technologies.
Contents: S. Papert, Preface. Introduction. Learning Through Design: Review of Theory and Research Issues. Creating and Researching the Learning Environment. Project Evolution. Case Studies of Game Designers. Learning Through Design: A Comparative Evaluation. Discussion of Conclusions.
Posted November 22, 2000
In this book, the author describes and analyzes a learning experiment, Game Design Project (GDP), which took place in an inner-city public elementary school. The study approached games as a context for learning by putting students in the role of producers rather than consumers of the games. Hence, computer programming was the medium for the children's creative expression, and knowledge reformulation. The project involved 16 fourth-grade students programming computer-games in the Logo language to teach fractions to third-grades. In the design and creation of their games, students engaged their fantasies and established relationships with other realms of reality. During the six-month duration of the study, the classroom was transformed into a game design laboratory. In this context, the main idea of the project was to see what students could do and how they could learn with computer games and simulations within constructivism theory. The author used the constructivism approach in the three distinct, but mutually supportive. inquiries of her study. The first is pedagogical inquiry; GDP was described as a constructivist learning environment. The second inquiry looks at the nature of computer games and their impact on education. The third inquiry explores children's learning and thinking processes where long-term memory is in focus. Kafai concludes that learning through design is a unique way to construct meaning and knowledge. Design activities permit students to express their personal interests, ideas, and motivations. In this context, choice of games, themes, and features were implemented and expressed differently between boys and girls. The author writes that boys adopted adventure and exploration themes and violent feedback features that could be found in commercially available games such as Nintendo or Sega. The girls' games centered more around activities (teaching, skiing, collecting pieces of a map, moving around a spider web, or landing on an airport) as the main attraction. Kafai suggests involving females in the design of commercial games so that their themes interaction features can be used by all players and not just a subset of them. In the GDP, the different roles taken by students and the interactions in the creation of the computer games was the backbone for the project's learning culture. The nature of this learning culture represented the complexities of the everyday world in which children learn. Kafai suggests the following for future computational learning environments for young designers: (a) the integration of current programming languages; (b) the integration of design support structure; (c) providing children with tool kits for personal game design; and (d) building advanced LEGO game worlds. These suggestions are meant to empower and enable children to construct their own knowledge and become efficient problem-solvers.
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