“Teaching Without Teaching” Even When It’s Math

12 02 2009

New Puzzle Challenges Math Skills:

Mr. Miyamoto said he believes in “the art of teaching without teaching.”

It’s also described as his “philosophy of not instructing” so that students can puzzle through problems by trial-and-error, itself a crucial thinking skill and not just in math.

He provides the tools for students to learn at their own pace using their own trial-and-error methods. If these tools are engaging enough, he said, students are more motivated and learn better than they would through formal instruction.

Engaging, playing at their own pace, reinforcing rather than killing motivation to persist, cool.

And isn’t this what video games are designed to do, too often accomplishing that goal so well that traditional parents and teachers tend to fear their power? I learned something new myself this week, that Spunky and some commenters ban video games in their Christian homeschooling as eroding virtue and work ethic, therefore scripturally sinful.

But I see a new comment this morning, describing a mom’s trial-and-error video game epiphany and repentance:

“. . . to be honest a major component was we couldn’t afford it. (We should all be honest about our reasoning.)

I am now in the camp of thinking I was too extreme in my former banning of all video games. No regrets, no guilt, but to be honest I didn’t know a lot about the games to have formerly hated them so much.”

I’ve been happily puzzling through a series of brilliantly designed video chess mini-games on the computer, having a WONDERFUL time! Judging by several real games I then played with Young Son and his dad, I must’ve been learning from it — at least I can now make a higher caliber of fatal mistake and understand better why I’m still losing. 🙂

Game type aside (video, board, card, dice, paper-and-pencil puzzle) math seems the school subject most likely to tempt unschooling parents to stop playing games, for traditional drill and kill.

Yet here we have a rigorous, high-stakes math prep teacher succeeding with a philosophy that sure sounds like math unschooling, very Pam Sorooshian (she even has math unschooling pages in Japanese!) and Rolfe Schmidt — well, it could be unschooling, assuming students actually want to spend their weekends playing games and solving math puzzles, and aren’t simply scared to death not to. . .

See Sandra Dodd on video games and unschooled learning.

More snooking around on video games and technology use:
Violent Video Games of God Get Kids to Church on Time
Video Aliens Teach University Economics:

“This is a game in which the students are literally immersed in a story. And they take on the role of a character,” he explains. “So all of the reading material, all of the content, all of the examinations and homework, if you will, are built inside the engine of the game” . . .

[Professor] Sarbaum says his 8-year-old son convinced him that video games were a solid approach to education. His son sometimes hates to do math problems on paper, but give him a math video game, says Sarbaum, and “he will play for hours on end. And the kinds of math problems that are being required to solve are the same.”

Sarbaum isn’t the only one to have noticed the compelling nature of computer games. This week, the Federation of American Scientists released a new report saying that sophisticated games could transform education.

More Kid Stuff: Homeschool of Rock or Video Gaming for Real
So Young and So Gadgeted — What’s the Right Approach?
Is Your Love for Your Kids Controlling?
Boot Camp’s Bad Name Doesn’t Extend to Computer Cure:

. . . participants live at the camp, where they are denied computer use . . . the campers are under constant surveillance, including while asleep, and are kept busy with chores, like washing their clothes and cleaning their rooms.
. . .As a drill instructor barked orders, Chang-hoon and 17 other boys marched through a cold autumn rain to the obstacle course. Wet and shivering, Chang-hoon began climbing the first obstacle, a telephone pole with small metal rungs. At the top, he slowly stood up, legs quaking, arms outstretched for balance. Below, the other boys held a safety rope attached to a harness on his chest.

“Do you have anything to tell your mother?” the drill instructor shouted from below.

“No!” he yelled back.

“Tell your mother you love her!” ordered the instructor. . .

Video Games Bonanza Site:

Is PBS a credible enough source for whoever in your child’s life clucks disapprovingly at screen time? Click here now — don’t wait, your child’s education and entire future could be at stake! 🙂

My favorite moment in the article is when the author is showing his seven-year-old nephew the SimCity neighborhood that he built. When the author notes that he’s having problem getting a certain area with factories to come back to life, the boy turns to him and says, “I think you need to lower your industrial tax rates.”

Video Games New Way of Being in the World: Columbia U. Teachers College Record, paper on “cognition, learning and literacy”



31 responses

12 02 2009
Daryl Cobranchi

Wax on. Wax off.

12 02 2009

LOL – talk about drill and kill!

12 02 2009
Crimson Wife

My biggest concern about computer/videogame use is its possible negative effects on the wiring of developing brains. Dr. Jane Healy wrote a very interesting book on the subject called Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children’s Minds and What We Can Do About It where she discussed some disturbing research findings.

Many electronic games are highly scripted and their use may hurt the development of creativity. In general, I try to encourage my kids to use playthings that promote creativity rather than dampen it. I don’t outright ban computer & video games, but I do limit their use.

Your chess game might be fine in moderation, but unlike human opponents, the computer never makes a mistake in its play. The unpredictability of two human players is part of what makes the game of chess enjoyable.

BTW, KenKen looks interesting. I wonder if there’s a junior version of it out there that would be appropriate for an early elementary student? My 6 yr old loves junior Sudoku puzzles & I bet she’d like KenKen if there are ones that only use addition & subtraction.

12 02 2009

Yep, read it way back in the last century when it first came out, still have an old first edition hardback around here somewhere, with at least ten years’ worth of neuroscience and education research on top of it.

CW, you sound like almost as much of a little old lady as she is (and was already, then) — what’s the only proper way to rear children? Why, the way God intended! Make them finish all their chores and homework, and then maybe a taffy-pull if they mind their manners with a jolly game of jacks or chinese checkers, then warm milk before bed at 7:30! 😉

This is a creaky old hobby horse to still be trying to ride, and even when it was new, it’s more dark suspicion than the illumination of science. Seems like there’s no one BUT Jane Healy ever cited on this position any more, and even she wasn’t as alarmist about it as people sometimes claim she was. Right before that book first came out, she was quoted saying:

Look What They’ve Done to My Brain, Ma:

“I am still extremely excited about what computers will be able to do for us, but you must have an adult structuring and interpreting the results. We mustn’t throw the baby out with the bath water – it would be tragic if people became disillusioned because computers don’t immediately live up to their first promise, because we’re just now beginning to see some applications that can really do things better, and in different ways.”

Haven’t you read Mark Pesce for example (The Playful World: How Technology is Transforming Our Imagination) which came out not too long after Failure to Connect, or at least the Federation of American Scientists?

The major findings are:

Many video games require players to master skills in demand by today’s employers. Video game developers have instinctively implemented many of the common axioms of learning scientists. They have used these approaches to help game players exercise a skill set closely matching the thinking, planning, learning, and technical skills increasingly demanded by employers in a wide range of industries.

Unfortunately, today’s testing programs fail to assess these types of skills despite widespread agreement that these are skills employers look for in employees. In addition to developing higher order skills, educational games and simulations hold promise for:

practical skills training, training individuals for high performance situations that require complex decision-making, reinforcing skills seldom used, teaching how experts approach problems, and team-building. . .

* contextual bridging (i.e., closing the gap between what is learned in theory and its use);
* high time-on-task;
* motivation and goal orientation, even after failure;
* providing learners with cues, hints, and partial solutions to keep them progressing;
* personalization of learning; and
* infinite patience.

And here’s the kicker — video games may even be healthy for little old ladies!

Calling video games “beneficial for the brain,” Karle suggested they could be used to help reduce cognitive decline in the elderly.
“Individuals who play action video games on a regular basis – more then four hours a week -appear to be very good at an astonishing variety of skills,” said Karle.

“Just as an elderly adult may do 15 minutes of weight training to fight osteoporosis,” he said, “so could he or she play video games to keep the mind sharp.”

12 02 2009

We just started a Wii program at my facility for our elderly. At first they are quite unsure of how to play, need a bit of coaching, but several are really getting into it. I love video games. I just never take the time to play them, not since our first computers..when with the boys, I spent hours playing and solving The Black Cauldron game! It was so much fun!

12 02 2009

So I guess your brain (and your boys’) got permanetly messed up then, Betty? 😉

12 02 2009

Just read Spunky’s post and the followup. Odd, her response..I’m not for sure I can understand her reasoning on this..and I sure know I don’t agree with it, as I posted at her blog. Wow, my guys would have lots to say on this subject. 🙂 being the video game geniuses they are and have been for the past 20 years!

12 02 2009

And somehow all three of them managed to learn to play instruments, write music, hike mountain trails, get married, learn to be gourmet cooks, go to sea, edit books, work in valid real world paying jobs, etc. etc. and all, after playing probably thousands of hours of video games..:)

12 02 2009

It’s not reasoning, at least not any the Socratic method could unearth. 🙂
It sounds more like using the bible to justify something she already prefers or believes is right, which I suppose is an example of confirmation bias . . .

12 02 2009
Crimson Wife

Well, we do like jacks & Chinese checkers at my house 🙂 Never tried a taffy pull, but we did make sugarplums for the 4-H holiday potluck (and I *highly* recommend leaving those in the realm of Victorian-era poetry & ballet BTW because they are a *huge* pain-in-the-neck!)

OTOH, my DD did spend quite a bit of time yesterday playing around with a computer simulation of natural selection at the Exploratorium yesterday when we went to check out their Darwin celebration.

I haven’t read Mark Pesce’s book, but I have been reading a number of books and articles lately from both technology enthusiasts (Don Tapscott, John Palfrey & Urs Gasser, Clayton Christensen) and detractors (Maggie Jackson, Mark Bauerlein, Nicholas Carr). Both sides can find research to support their viewpoint, which suggests that technology has both positive AND negative effects.

12 02 2009

I predict that as your kids get older, you will find a thousand things like that, that you can be more in awe of than afraid of, and feel lucky they have available. 🙂

12 02 2009

Not watching TV or playing video games is mostly a status thing in Christian circles. It show you are more pious than the next guy. Technology is just a tool, and like all tools, they are agnostic. The pluses and minuses are up to the humans using them.

12 02 2009

Ah-h, didn’t know that, thanks. Like organic foods with the old hippie culture?

12 02 2009

Betty, I just now got a chance to read your comment. I especially liked this part:

I don’t think video games hurt their creative minds or skills at all, but…having a mother control their behavior at age 16 sure might have.

13 02 2009

Well…. I do allow my kids to play video games and watch t.v., but I strictly control how much time is allowed. And, I frequently take it away completely. My kids have what I like to call an addictive personality. If they could play video games or watch t.v. for hours and still have a good attitude, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. But, even 30 minutes is pushing it for my guys. They just can’t handle the stimulation. On the other hand, I don’t have a problem with other kids doing it.

Well, I take that back. I have one problem. There are no children on my street. I mean, there are, but we don’t know where they live because they’re NEVER outside. Ugh!

And, while I don’t think they hurt kids’ minds, I do think they cause children to think differently. This is not necessarily a bad thing. When an entire generation is ‘video gamed’ there is not a good way to measure whether the children are better/worse/or neutral because of it. I was part of the first generation to get the Nintendo. We spent hours playing that thing. And, quite frankly, my older brother was brilliant. My sister and I weren’t sloughs, either. And, good lord, if my kids had any more imagination, I would probably have them committed. I’m sure some of our neighbors already think they should be. I mean one of them has theme music all during his day. I live in a musical, one that has new music every day. There’s no lack of imagination or creativity going on here. The only thing loved more than the Wii, is a new box in the mail to cut up.

13 02 2009

JJ: “It sounds more like using the bible to justify something she already prefers or believes is right, which I suppose is an example of confirmation bias . . .”

I don’t usually follow Spunky, but I did read that post. I haven’t given the video games question much thought, but I was struck by the exchange she had with her son.

“Why are video games wrong, Mom?”
“They are. Go find it in the Bible.”

[flip, flip, flip] Genesis 1:1. In the Beginning… ?? I guess you just keep reading until you come across a verse that could apply to video games – and hope it’s the same one Mom found.

13 02 2009

I decided to follow her admonition to go find it in the Bible..being a Christian..I do know somethings about the Bible I read…and so I came up with my answer..I blogged about it this morning at writestuff444..(don’t know how to add a link in a comment or even if I can. 🙂 Not picking on Spunky on this subject, but it is one that interests me as I have stated before..and I tend to sense a bit of Holier than thou thinking coming from the blogger and a whole lot of control! which I do believe we need, but..in balance. Sometimes we just need to sit and play a mindless video game if that is our choice…as free thinking Christians who find joy in lots of things..that the Pharisees would have condemned as unclean and unworthy…What would Jesus Do..I like to think he would have loved a good video game played with friends! 🙂

13 02 2009

And JJ, I cannot help laughing at what my themcp would think about this subject. I may send it to him for comment. He’s busy “working” in the real world these days…doing useful, skilled things..with his creative brain and spirit!

13 02 2009

Here is the link to Betty’s blogpost:
I must be reading a different bible

Betty, you use the same little bit of code to put links in your comments as you do in your own post-writing. It’s called an anchor or link. If you don’t know it by heart yet, and lost what I emailed you, then you can just copy it from the HTML in one of your own blog’s post composition boxes, then change the URL and words to be hotlinked, to whatever you want. 🙂

13 02 2009

Hi Kristina – your comment made me think of automobiles, how they were feared as empowering and liberating, therefore corrupting and changing forever, earlier generations. And so they have done. But what’s the alternative, being a Luddite or moving into an Amish community? Or splitting the atom, even if kids don’t do it at home — it still changes the world and our lives, like it or not.

In biblical terms, I expect bible chapter and verse about counting every hair and every sparrow that falls, could be interpreted to teach this lesson. Everything large and small can change the world and while it all matters, it’s impossible to know much less control it all, so don’t try to live that way.

Conversely — ha, the word VERSE is literal in this reference to something contradictory, I never noticed that before! — I guess some could use the same verse to teach their teens that the correct bible standard given them to live up to, is OCD Rainman Beautiful Mind thinking? 😉

13 02 2009

Lynn said:
“I guess you just keep reading until you come across a verse that could apply to video games – and hope it’s the same one Mom found.”

And hope she reads it the same way!
Lynn probably has these bookmarked but for the rest of you, see Dale’s great five-part series of posts on confirmation bias —

Thinking by Druthers
Thinking by Druthers 2
Thinking by Druthers 3
Thinking by Druthers 4
Thinking by Druthers 5

17 02 2009

Those are excellent posts by Dale that I didn’t have bookmarked. So, thanks 🙂

Btw, have you ever seen http://www.god.tv? There is also SkyAngel and others. Some Christians haven’t abandoned technology necessarily, but rather they’ve adapted it for their own purposes. In fact, there were, at one time, many Christian homeschoolers that I knew who used Bob Jones Satellite for hs’ing classes (there’s a satellite you stick up on your roof which beams Christian-based teaching right into your home). Saddleback Church is also masterful in its use of technology (and popular culture, generally).


18 02 2009

Why would a deity NEED a satellite, though, to pierce your mind through the roof?

3 05 2009
“Hardest Lesson” Is Top Secret, Learned Best Out of School « Cocking A Snook!

[…] Teaching without Teaching Even When It’s Math […]

13 06 2009
Kate's Mom

JJ wrote:
“…today’s testing programs fail to assess these types of skills despite widespread agreement that these are skills employers look for in employees.”

The thing is, I’m not raising my child with the ultimate goal of being someone’s “employee”. I’m raising my child to be a healthy, happy, balanced, contributing and involved human being. I fail to see how spending hour after hour lost in computer games helps her build healthy relationships with our friends and neighbors, or how it makes her physically and mentally healthy.

I’ve never withheld computer games from my daughter, but in our own lives, she has seen ample evidence that gaming is not part of a healthy life. My husband is a computer gamer. We rarely see him, only for a few minutes per day between the time he walks in the door from work (as an “employee”) and heads down the hall to his computer, another few minutes while he retrieves food from the kitchen, and a kiss at bedtime. The rest of his time is spent glued to his computer games.

Oh yeah, that’s a really great example. (NOT!)

And no, I’m not Christian, nor am I a hippie/organics lover, I don’t think computers or TV’s (or lack there of) are status symbols of how pious I am. I just find it all an incredible waste of time that could be spent interacting with human beings for the betterment of the planet. We have a TV, along with a DVD/VCR player, which allows us to select interesting movies and TV shows we buy or borrow (free from the library), and watch as much as we like – when we have time in our busy lives, which is pretty rarely.

We live in the country, raise some chickens (yes, organically, but the eggs are delicious and my cholesterol is fine, thank you), grow some of our food, read a lot, watch the wildlife in our rural corner of the world, take walks, pull weeds, talk to each other a lot (my daughter and I – hubby’s busy with computer games), and generally have a lovely life that makes us very happy.

My daughter goes to work with me most days (I work part time as office manager for a synagogue – and no, I’m not Jewish either). Some days she helps me out with busy work for my job (stuffing envelopes for mailings & such), other days she takes walks, visits the large library nearby, or just hangs out and knits (we’re major knit-aholics, something you can’t do on a computer), and has lunch with Mom, and talks with me, or anyone else who happens to drop by the office.

It’s what feels like a ‘real’ life to me. I don’t like plastics – not because they’re evil/bad/petroleum, but just because they don’t feel right. I prefer wicker, wood, cotton, wool, silk, bamboo, even yak (yak yarn is sublime).

So please don’t lump all non-gamers into the “ignorant Christian Fundamentalists and hippies” groups that seem to be popular here. Some of us simply prefer to live in non-virtual reality.

13 06 2009

Other than not wanting to be lumped — does that lump you in with all the people who dislike being lumped? 😉 — you sound as if you have no complaints for yourself or your daughter in your lovely, happy real life then?

Just speaking for myself, I know my kids and I would very much miss having Real Dad in our family life, instead of just the hologram of a husband and father you describe, to the point that I believe we’d follow him into his virtual world to be with him and “build healthy relationships” if it became a choice between that and not having him in our real lives. . .

13 06 2009
Kate's Mom

Well, gee, to me that sounds sort of like you’re suggesting we follow an alcoholic parent into a bar, and deciding that maybe living that sort of lifestyle might be a good way of building a family.

The games DH plays are not designed for multiple players. He’s busy creating his own universe, where the all the laws are of his own making, and everything conforms to his desires. A nice fantasy world, but then the real world always waits for you to come back, doesn’t it? He also plays chess, but with people on the ‘net in Russia, or where ever. He’s an almost genius type who’s mental abilities are so far above the rest of the family that trying to play games with us would be like me being perpetually stuck playing “go fish”, or “memory” card games. It’s ok for a game or two, but then you get overwhelmingly bored. My DH uses the games to cut the boredom, I guess. Unfortunately his choice of boredom relief excludes him from his family.

I guess for folks who are able to play computer games for an hour or two a couple of times a week, but for whom the majority of their lives was spent in “real time”, it would be ok, but I don’t see that happening in the world around me, even outside of our family.

I’ve attended to many “family style” functions (homeschool events, public school events, sports things..) where numerous children were in attendance, but not “present”. They were totally absorbed in their gaming, to the exclusion of all the live human beings in their space. Between that and the “average” number of hours these same kids spend in alpha-wave brain (in)activity in front of the TV’s, I think I’ll just take a pass, thank you.

And about the lumping… sigh. It turns out I don’t “lump” very well. I haven’t found a pigeon hole yet that really holds the whole of me. Some other pigeon always seems to kick me out! LOL While we don’t watch cable TV, we DO have a TV, and often watch movies the anti-TV people disapprove of. And we do have computers (one each per family member). We garden – mostly organically – but we do use Roundup to kill weeds and grass on occasion. We homeschool, but are not Christian. I believe in “going green”, yet still have a gas-guzzling ancient pickup truck I use for hauling mulch and manure for my gardens…. you can see why the purists in each pigeon hole kick me out? I’m just not “pure enough” for any of them.

Does that qualify me for the Lumpless Group?


13 06 2009
Kate's Mom

Oh, hey, what’s up with the sickly looking purple face icon? Did you stick that on me? Ick. Much as I adore purple, I generally only where it as a blouse, not as facial foundation makeup. (Oh, I also where no makeup, which gets me bumped out of the “makeup” pigeon hole…)

13 06 2009

Maybe the software can tell you disdain it? 😉

13 06 2009
Kate's Mom

I wrote: “(Oh, I also where no makeup, ”

SHEESH… make that, “I also WEAR no makeup.”

My mother (a former school teacher) must be spinning in her grave!


And tell your software I do not disdain it. I simply have no desire to worship it.


24 10 2011
“I Live in the Future” Where Video Gameplay Is Real-Life Learning Is « Cocking A Snook!

[…] Teaching Without Teaching Even When It’s Math: Engaging, playing at their own pace, reinforcing rather than killing motivation to persist, cool. […]

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