A few months ago I was having lunch with Anne Collier, co-director of Connect Safely, and as she so often does, she mentioned something really interesting: she put “technology,” “Minecraft” and “education” in the same sentence. (You can read the detailed article by Anne here.)
Anne continued by telling me about educational gaming and Marianne Malmstrom, a teacher in the US who was making waves and receiving awards. (You can hear Marianne explain what she does as a technology teacher in this video.)
The conversation really sparked my interest and I started a bit of research on educational games. As my own children are under 8, I was a bit wary about online games and apps, after all, who wants to be responsible for starting a 5-year-old’s Angry Bird addiction? But I quickly realized that there are all types of educational games and apps for different age groups and that parents can educate and entertain their children at the same time – without feeling guilty.
If you have a preschooler, there are many apps and games out there that teach math, spelling, colors, alphabet, and more. I really like PBS Kids and Nick Jr. as they involve cartoon characters that my children already know. With the proper amount of mommy supervision and a 30-minute time limit, my kids are in online heaven.
For children, K-grade 5, of course there are even more choices and here I would caution the involved parent to look at the games and apps with your child so that you can best decide what game is appropriate. Does your child need a boost in math? History? Well, there’s a game for that.
Check out Kids.USA, where children can “learn stuff, play stuff, or watch videos” or National Geographic where children can play games under the well-known banner of the famous magazine. If you run out of ideas, the easiest way to find a game that interests your child is quite simple: go onto your favorite search engine and type, for example, ‘history educational games for children’ and voilà, you find results like History.org. If the websites looks like a bit dicey, you can always check out Common Sense Media for a rating on educational games.
And of course, let’s not forget Minecraft with a parent-friendly description and recommended minimum age of 6-years-old. As Minecraft is an open online community, parents need to read parent’s guides or surf Minecraft parent websites so that you set the proper security settings.
For grades 6-8, again, I like Kids.USA, Smithsonian, Scrabble and if I’m stuck on an idea, I would suggest going to reputable sources, like tech and trendy sites, (Mashable or Huffington Post) and review what they recommend, such as 8 educational and fun iOS games for teens or 25 educational games.
There have been several studies that have shown that educational media can produce “significant STEM (science technology engineering mathematics) learning among children.” Furthermore, watching educational television and playing interactive games can also produce significant STEM learning as well. Game-based benefits have been explored by researchers and are also documented.
FOSI experts have identified the pros of online educational video games and Marianne Malmstrom herself has explained the benefits of online games and learning for FOSI and for Net Family News (part 1: “Little gamers’ digital play through a teacher’s eyes”, part 2: “Brilliance when students drive the learning” and part 3: "Safety & citizenship in games (do try this at home)".
The bottom line is that even after the experts weigh-in, it is still necessary for you as a parent to help choose the games, to make sure that the appropriate security settings are in place and to set appropriate screen time limits. And we can confirm that Anne was right: education and technology and games can go together.
Cover image courtesy of Flickr.