Director's Cut: Learning, Teaching, and My Time Machine

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The holidays are over, but I’m still giddy about what I got from Santa. Was it a new book? Some tools? Oh no. Something way better. A time machine.

Okay, I didn’t get an actual time machine (though that would have been very cool). I was the recipient of an Atari Flashback 8. The system is loaded with over 75 games, and all of them transported me back to when I was eleven years old. And I was struck by what playing video games reminded me about learning and teaching. (Don’t judge—it was my break too.)

Failure absolutely is an option. Try as I might, Centipede confounded me. I would confidently move through the first three levels, only to be stymied by cascading bugs and pesky spiders. What the game allowed for, though, was the chance to fail, learn from my mistakes, and try again. And again. We know there is wisdom to be learned from failure. How might you structure a class session or an assignment so that students might “fail,” learn, and try again?

If it isn’t fun, why do it? Without question, the graphics on my Atari Flashback 8 were pedestrian. But without fail, every game was fun. Whether navigating the perplexity of Pong or steering Pitfall Harry past angry alligators, I couldn’t stop playing (much to the chagrin of my family). Learning is serious business. And we learn better, and retain more, when we’re having fun. I’m not pressing for the abdication of rigor. But consider: Are you and your students having fun?

We learn better together. It turns out there is an entire virtual universe devoted to tips, hacks, and hard-earned lessons for video-gamers. I thought I had to negotiate falling bugs and angry Space Invaders on my own, but sharing my questions opened me to learning from others. Seasoned veterans embraced my rookie-status, offered help, and soon I was crushing every game. We know collaboration promotes deeper learning. How might you structure opportunities for your students to learn from each other?

Suffice to say, few gifts beat a time machine. Here’s one: the work we do in our classrooms, labs, and studio spaces (and make no mistake, it’s work) provides us with the distinct privilege to collaborate with thoughtful students in the fun, rigorous exploration of ideas. Our teaching makes a difference. Best wishes as the spring semester begins. And I welcome all-comers in a Centipede challenge.

With gratitude,

Jeff Kurtz

Posted Date 
Friday, January 19, 2018

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