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From ‘chalk ‘n’ talk’ to learning by doing

You know how middle and secondary school (probably in most countries) divide students’ days into subjects? Well, there’s a new public school in New York City that divides the schoolday into four 90-minute blocks devoted to the study of “domains,” The Economist reports. They’re called things like “Codeworlds (a combination of mathematics and English), Being, Space and Place (English and social studies), The Way Things Work (maths and science) and Sports for the Mind (game design and digital literacy).” The domains, which could be called “courses” and conclude “with a two-week examination called a ‘Boss Level’ – a common phrase in videogame parlance” – are also videogames. Like courses, they have units of “study,” which in this case is clearly a mashup of learning and play. “In one of the units of Being, Space and Place, for example, pupils take on the role of an ancient Spartan who has to assess Athenian strengths and recommend a course of action. In doing so, they learn bits of history, geography and public policy.”

The school is called Quest to Learn, and it draws its inspiration from three sources, New York’s Bank Street School for Children, the MacArthur Foundation-funded Digital Youth Project I’ve written a lot about (see particularly “*Serious* informal learning”), and the work of the University of Wisconsin’s James Gee, author of “What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy.”

The school might draw further inspiration from the new study from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, “Game Changer: Investing in Digital Play to Advance Children’s Learning and Health,” which shows how “increased national investment in research-based digital games might play a cost-effective and transformative role and provides comprehensive actions steps for media industry, government, philanthropy, and academia to harness the appeal of digital games to improve children’s health and learning.

Related links

  • Supreme Decision,” is the debut game of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s new site,, with games for teaching middle school students about the US Constitution and courts. The game site’s backed by the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University and Georgetown University, according to eSchoolNews. “Though she didn’t get a computer until she was in her 40s, and she doesn’t have a Facebook or Twitter account, O’Connor believes using technology is the way to teach students about the Constitution and inspire a renewed commitment to civics education in US schools.”
  • See also my summer posts, “The power of play” and “Play, Part 2.”
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