Sign Me Up!

May 25, 2014 — 5 Comments

So is technology bad for kids?  Are video games evil?  Do these things deter from kids’ abilities to learn?  No way!  According to Dr. John Gee, video games are just a set of problems you have to solve to move on.  Isn’t that the basis for learning in general?  We learn one thing, we build on it, and then we are able to move on to the next thing.  Gee thinks learning in the gaming environment is very complex.  He used his own gaming experiences as example.  I believe him.  I play video games with my kids.  Not overly complicated ones – I don’t have the patience to learn all the complexities involved with those.  (But give me a Lego video game and we are on!)

Just as in a video game, if you don’t learn/complete one section you don’t go on to the next level, learning systems are the same.  A well-designed, successful learning system cannot be completed without guaranteed learning.  You don’t move forward without learning.

So many parents get wound up about video games and the amount of time kids are playing them.  We hear concerns about kids being overly competitive.  We hear about fears of gaming addiction.  Dr. Henry Jenkins, Provost Professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication addresses the use of the term addiction in relation to gaming.  He considers it a cultural policing term and we need to be careful when we use it.   He offers the question, “Why is it when a kid stays up all night to finish a book he is driven, but the kid who stays up all night to beat a video game is an addict?”  It would seem that this term is sort of a double standard in that adults use it in reference to something they don’t like, or is not a priority to them, without taking into account what value kids place on gaming.

Competition is another parental hang up.  Sure there are parents out there that place too much emphasis on winning, being the best, that sort of thing.  But I think there is room for a little healthy competition in everyone’s life.  Competition can be a positive thing, driving kids to want to improve or excel at something.  And honestly, if we don’t have any competition, how in the world will our kids learn the life skill of winning and/or losing gracefully.  Because let’s face it, even as grown ups, we run into this every day.

So these ideas about gamin as learning take us to Quest to Learn, as highlighted in the PBS program Digital Media* New Learners of the 21st Century.  This is a public district choice school (shocking!) serving grades 6 through 12 in New York City.  The school was developed through a collaboration of the Department of Education, the Institute of Play, and New Visions for Public Schools (the latter two are pretty amazing organizations).

The Cool Factor

Quest to Learn has it – and on a large scale.  The kids featured in this vignette are so eloquent and self-aware that it blew my mind.  They get to learn in a whole new way, one that is growing and evolving with the technological times that they live in.  And, yes, they still have social studies, math, and all your standard stuff.  But they change the names to make them more relevant for the kids.  So with classes like Being, Space and Place, Codeworlds, The Way Things Work, and gaming design classes, who wouldn’t want to go there!  I am ready to pack a U-Haul and move so I can sign myself up – never-mind my kids!

The Curriculum

Most of these are statements are pulled word for word from the Quest to Learn Curriculum page.  I should probably put a more profound citation somewhere, but hopefully that one covers my rear – I just didn’t have the words to make it sound any more awesome than it already is.  So the three points I found, from a macro standpoint, to be the most important speak volumes about this amazing school.

Quest is designed to enable students to “take on” the identities and behaviors of explorers, mathematicians, historians, writers, and evolutionary biologists as they work through a dynamic, challenge-based curriculum with content-rich questing to learn at its core.

  • Quest is designed to enable students to “take on” the identities and behaviors of explorers, mathematicians, historians, writers, and evolutionary biologists as they work through a dynamic, challenge-based curriculum with content-rich questing to learn at its core.
  • Games and other forms of digital media serve another useful purpose at Quest: they serve to model the complexity and promise of “systems.” Understanding and accounting for this complexity is a fundamental literacy of the 21st century.
  • College and career opportunities are supported through an intern and apprenticeship model that allows students to engage in learning alongside experts starting in the 8th grade.

The Core Principles of the school are pretty fantastic too:

  • Learning for design and innovation
  • Learning for complexity (systemic reasoning)
  • Learning for critical thinking, judgment, and credibility
  • Learning using a design methodology
  • Learning with technology and smart tools
  • Prep for college and world of work

What I found most interesting about this was the order they were listed.  Doesn’t it stand to reason that success in the first five (all the Learning ones) sort of ensures the last?

I love the innovation being practiced at Quest to Learn.  It is clear that what they are doing at that school is working, and at a level beyond what traditional schools are achieving.  I wish I had schools like that when I was a kid.  I told my rising 8th grader about this school and now HE wants to move to New York (and he is a homebody) just to attend that school.  I am sure my rising 5th grader would too.  But beyond the student aspect, this place is so cool, I would love to teach there.

There is a quote from one of the students early in the vignette that sums it up nicely.  “We learn everything all the other schools learn.  We just learn it differently.”  And isn’t’ this what it’s all about?  Embracing those differences and making our kids ready to face the world in terms they can understand?


5 responses to Sign Me Up!


    Wonderful post. I love how you included a link to Dr. Jenkins’ site.
    It is important to question parents further when they use the word addiction when it comes to tech/gaming/Internet browsing/etc. As you mentioned, you can’t discount the value.
    Can some (if not all) of Quest to Learn’s principles fit into any public school?



      I think that if other public schools looks at the q2l model, and incorporated staff that had a not only a firm grasp on the concept, but also a belief and a passion in the concept, it might work. But q2l is still a relatively new concept – they’ve only been operating for four years. There are other questions that I thought of later, like how is the assimilation to the program from a traditional elementary school? I will be interesting to revisit q2l in about 10 years when they have a few graduating classes under their belt.



    May I tweet this awesome post?



    Sure! If you need it, I’m @ilorax.


Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. In Our Own Little Worlds (and that’s not bad) « alicialeonardblog - July 28, 2014

    […] of my earliest posts was about another PBS production, Digital Media* New Learners of the 21st Century.  I enjoyed this […]


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