Focusing on an hourlong lecture about American history or algebra can seem daunting to high school students, who are used to splitting their attention between texting, Tweeting, and playing video games.
"They're born multitaskers," says Sara Hall, director of the Center for Secondary School Digital Learning and Policy at the Alliance for Excellent Education, an advocacy organization.
Many educators are trying to mirror that multidimensional aspect of students’ tech lives in their teaching styles by making the learning process more interactive. Many are trying digital textbooks; others are assigning webcast lectures as homework in flipped classrooms; and some are teaching via electronic gaming.
"If we change the classroom conversation from a one-way exercise to an engaging process that is constantly being renewed and refined, what would happen? Can gaming and education be combined in effective ways?" asked Harriet Sanford, president of the NEA Foundation, a nonprofit charity organization, in a press release last Monday.
In an effort to circulate innovative ideas about integrating electronic gaming in the classroom, the NEA Foundation, in a partnership with Microsoft U.S. Partners in Learning, is hosting a competition for the best ideas on "how interactive technology and game-based learning can improve teaching and learning," according to the Foundation's website. Game-based learning can mean anything from understanding physics through the popular Angry Birds app to delving into the structure of society in the computer game Minecraft.
The Challenge to Innovate (C2i) competition is open to educators, students, parents, or anyone who has an idea and has registered for free as a member of the U.S. Department of Education's Open Innovation Portal, which acts as a public forum for improving education. Participants post their gaming idea to the portal, and other registered members—most of whom are educators and parents—award points to the ideas they think are most innovative and helpful.
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Those with gaming suggestions have until March 5 to post their thoughts on the Open Innovation Portal, and anyone who is registered on the portal can vote, review, and comment on posted ideas. Sanford's NEA Foundation team and other experts will evaluate the ideas with the highest points and award $1,000 cash to what they judge as the 10 best ideas. But it's the sharing of ideas that's the main focus of the C2i project, says Sanford—more so than the prizes.
"What we've seen is incredibly thoughtful educators scouring the Web and other sites to try and apply new ideas in their classroom," she says.
Many of the educators who have been posting and reviewing gaming ideas have been doing so in an attempt to better engage their students, and Sanford says that's what it's all about.
"The teachers who are on [the portal] have one goal in mind—they want to be better teachers."