Mom was wrong: Study shows gaming is good for school

[The research continues to grow on the positive impact of games on learning. Here’s a CNET article that focuses on an Australian research project. The research does  not pinpoint which type of games improve skills, but it does indicate that games are preferable to social media, like Facebook. For those folks who can make this year’s Three Rivers Educational Technology Conference on November 7 and 8, there will be sessions that share some success stories from the Pittsburgh region.]

August 8, 2016 by


Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0


Could playing Minecraft and other online games lead to better grades in school? Maybe, as long as you don’t spend time sharing details of your digital exploits on Snapchat or Facebook. That seems to be the message of a new study that finds online video games improve students’ scores, while social media has the opposite effect.

Researchers at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) in Australia looked at standard test scores for 12,000 Australian 15-year-olds and also asked them about their online habits.

The results are that I finally won a long-standing argument with my mother from 1994: Turns out I probably was better off spending my hours playing long-since-forgotten TurboGrafx 16 games than posting on America Online or the local BBS all day (I guess the simple, text-based forums looked more “educational” to her at the time).

The research, published in the most recent issue of the International Journal of Communication, finds that students who play online games nearly every day scored 15 points above average in math and 17 points above average in science.

“When you play online games you’re solving puzzles to move to the next level and that involves using some of the general knowledge and skills in maths, reading and science that you’ve been taught during the day,” RMIT Associate Professor Alberto Posso, who conducted the research, said in a release.

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Making School New

[I’ve been part of the Remake Learning Network in Pittsburgh for over seven years. It’s amazing to see how this ecosystem has grown and become a rich resource for educators of all sorts. At school districts like Avonworth, Elizabeth Forward, and South Fayette, it’s a collaboration that brings together the arts, with design thinking, and project-based learning. Suzie Boss in this article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review does an excellent job chronicling the growth of the network and the impact on learners.]

Suzie Boss, Summer 2016

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

On a typical school day in the Elizabeth Forward School District, which covers parts of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, students engage in learning activities that are anything but typical for public education. Elementary students visit a mobile fabrication lab, where they use laser cutters and other tools to turn raw ideas into prototype objects. Middle school students learn math and language arts by using motion-capture technology and whole-body movement to control a giant computer screen that is projected onto their classroom floor. High school students create 3D animations and tackle college-level programming challenges in a special classroom that they have dubbed the Gaming Academy.

That these futuristic educational experiences are taking place in a small district that borders Pittsburgh—a city known for its “steel town” past—is especially surprising. But those experiences are “symbolic of how Pittsburgh has transformed as a region,” says Bart Rocco, superintendent of the district. “This is a Rust Belt community that needed to change or die.” Since 2008, his district has gone through a reinvention. Back then, it was losing enrollment to charter schools and online academies, and it had a high dropout rate. Today teachers and students at Elizabeth Forward schools regularly partner with cognitive scientists, game designers, and tech entrepreneurs to design state-of-the-art projects. Partly as a result, enrollment in the district has stabilized, and the dropout rate has plummeted.

Similar stories are unfolding across the greater Pittsburgh region as Remake Learning—a loosely organized innovation network—brings together disparate groups to reinvent education. By pursuing a new model for how, where, and when learning happens, participants in the network give formerly disengaged young people compelling reasons to connect with schools, museums, libraries, and other institutions. The network traces its origins to 2006, and today its membership includes more than 250 organizations and about 2,000 individuals.

Remake Learning efforts have helped bring national support and recognition to the Pittsburgh region and its schools. In 2013, the MacArthur Foundation awarded the city $500,000 to join Chicago and New York City in creating a “hive learning network” to support nontraditional youth programming. In 2014, Pittsburgh became the first US city to win the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Award. The same year, the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools honored three districts in the region. (Elizabeth Forward was one of the three.)

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The nation’s largest school districts are rushing to fill the coding gap

[Across the country schools are looking for ways to integrate computational thinking into their academic programs. In this PBS article there are some great examples. In Western Pennsylvania the South Fayette School District has developed a K-12 articulated curriculum. This year South Fayette is offering a STEAM Innovation Summer Institute that includes workshops on Scratch, Python, and AppInventor, all tools used in the district. What’s so different is that the AppInventor and Python courses have been developed by students. ]

BY MICHAEL D. REGAN  May 21, 2016

Sabrina Knight’s second-grade students at a Brooklyn public school receive lessons in coding. Some school districts in the United States are attempting to expand computer science education while the Obama administration is pushing to bring the subject to every public school in the nation. Michael D. Regan/PBS NewsHour

Sabrina Knight’s second-grade students at a Brooklyn public school receive lessons in coding. Some school districts in the United States are attempting to expand computer science education while the Obama administration is pushing to bring the subject to every public school in the nation. Michael D. Regan/PBS NewsHour

On a recent Friday afternoon at a Brooklyn public school, the children of Sabrina Knight’s second-grade class listened intently as she used a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to talk about algorithms.

Moments later, a student volunteer walked back and forth across the room to demonstrate looping, a technical term used in the field of computer programming.

“Thumbs up if you got it,” Knight said, as a flurry of 7- and 8-year-old hands and thumbs shot up in the air. “Open up your computers and thumbs up when you see the blue screen.”

Students grabbed their headphones and flipped open yellow laptops issued to Park Slope’s PS 282. The rest of the lesson would be devoted to coding, as the class of 15 used simple equations to command cartoon characters to move across their monitors.

Knight’s young class is one in a growing number of public schools across the United States that are introducing computer science education into their curricula, in part to make up for the educational disparities among female and minority students that contribute to a professional void in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Such gaps have been recognized at the federal level. In January, President Barack Obama announced he would push to introduce a $4 billion initiative called Computer Science For All, which seeks to bring computer science education to many of the nation’s public schools over the next decade. Negotiations for the program’s budget are ongoing on Capitol Hill.

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