Electronic Arts recently announced that it is developing SIMSCityEDU, an online educational game to be marketed to schools in support of both STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) and Common Core curriculum. The goal is to help students address (and perhaps solve) real-world problems (such as urban planning, socioeconomic development, and even environmental management) through game play because the focus of 21st century learning opportunities is all about the tech.
This 21st century focus on tech becomes more interesting when you consider the widespread lack of technology in many of our classrooms today. Certainly that is, in part, due to budget cuts or constraints. For instance, many rural districts don’t have even the broadband necessary to support technology, thus rendering this type of opportunity a missed opportunity. In addition, even those districts that do have access to technology aren’t comfortable with utilizing it and don’t permit in the classrooms, or they don’t have an effective way of training current staff to support these types of initiatives.
Furthermore, families struggle with creating a healthy balance for their children when it comes to online gaming, especially role-playing games, which tend to be time consuming and quite addictive. Many groups continually tell parents to limit screen time (whether television or other media), and families are often relieved that for at least a limited amount of time during the day their children’s tech access is, well, limited.
And in fact, while the technology would connect students from one school community with another, social and global solution-based learning opportunities take place within classrooms without online game support. More and more schools and teachers are incorporating project- and problem-based learning curriculum into the structure of the classroom, encouraging students to connect with local (and perhaps global) issues and engage in addressing how those real-time, real-community issues can best be solved, if not eliminated.
Just take a look at the World Peace Game game, a decidedly no-tech approach to community problem solving. And if we are interested in creating strategic thinkers, chess or Go are a great way to start. Finally, if we really want to connect our students with real world situations, we need to encourage our local businesses to provide mentoring opportunities and internships to students. Another option is to seek out local government leaders who might be working on a zoning plan or park refurbishment, and encourage them to connect with students who live in their communities to address their needs and concerns.
There is always going to be an “app” for that. Whether it is about learning how to read or solve math problems, someone, somewhere is developing it. As that continues to happen and as we continue to push for more technology in our classrooms and homes, we should also take time to step back and remember that in order to create 21st century learners we should always start with the basics.
We cannot build strong online community collaborations without supporting and building real-time and place relationships. We cannot become so reliant on technology that we don’t foster critical thinking skills. There needs to be a balance.
Before we step into the future, let’s create an understanding of the past and present.
White goes first. Pawn to E4. What’s your move?