Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Digital Curriculum Engages Students

Quest to Learn, a public middle school in New York City, has received recent media attention for its innovative ideas to fully implement technology in the education of young students. Based on the idea that young people are digitally-minded, Quest to Learn’s founder Katie Salen, professor at Parsons the New School for Design, and Robert Torres, researcher and former school principal, say they believe school should be “more participatory, more immersive, and also more fun.” Students learn math, science, and English “in a game-like way”—through digital activities like video games and video game design. They also learn skills like team work, project management, and critical thinking.

Sara Corbett, contributing writer for the New York Times, wrote about the theories related to the development of Quest to Learn. She spoke with Michael H. Levine, director of Joan Ganz Cooney Center, who cited a 2006 study conducted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Researchers surveyed high school dropouts to learn the reasons they left high school, and one reason they heard again and again was that school was “boring.” In their final report, researchers made a recommendation that educators try to make school “more relevant and engaging.”

According to Levine, educators need to be less critical of children’s use of media and explore ways to “harness” their interest in technology to keep them academically engaged. He said, “My view of it is that we will never get to the holy land in terms of educational performance unless we do something about the engagement factor.”

Administrators at Quest to Learn feel that education can be more relevant to young students by structuring their schoolwork around an activity they already enjoy spending time on—video games.

The design of LabSim courses supports a similar idea: students excel when they can practice concepts and skills in a medium that engages their attention.

For example, did you know that TestOut offers a LabSim Crime Scene Investigation course? While LabSim is best known for its IT certification training courses with hands-on labs, the same benefit of hands-on training is needed in other disciplines as well, including criminal justice. Used by many high schools and colleges, LabSim CSI involves students in realistic, simulated crime scenes to give them experience and develop the skills needed in criminal justice careers.


In the LabSim CSI course, students practice real tasks in a simulated environment—investigating a death, tracing evidence, handling biological evidence, fingerprinting, and other crucial criminal justice responsibilities. Teena Calkin, Public Safety & Security teacher at King Career Center in Anchorage, Alaska, said that her students work through the LabSim crime scene scenarios “as if they were playing a virtual game. It makes learning fun.”

What successes have you experienced as you have integrated technology into your students’ learning?

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