Wii’s in the Library and active learning with games

Some libraries in Cape Coral Florida are installing Wii’s to lure teens into the library:

Library Wii’s

These libraries are installing Nintendo Wii’s in an attempt to increase teen traffic at their facilities. The Wii’s will be used in organized weekend events aimed at teen patrons. The hope is that while they are waiting their turn to play, and after playing, the teens will pick up some books and read more. It’s a project with a low cost of investment and the potential for at least some payoff from its target audience.

Earlier this year stories started showing up on the Internet about Japanese students using Nintendo DS’s (handheld video game consoles) in the classroom.

Game consoles help keep students in the classroom

Learn Kanji with your Nintendo DS

New DS titles to help the Japanese kids learn English better

Japan Using Nintendo DS for Vocab Lessons

These are all examples of direct applications of gaming technology to engage students in learning using handhelds. Instead of luring kids into a library and hoping they wander over to pick up a book after playing a video game, these efforts in Japan try to engage students with daily lessons using handhelds aimed squarely at their target of engagement and learning.

On a personal note, I used Gameboy Color handhelds with my triplets (who are now 15 years old) back when they were learning how to read. They were all really interested in Pokemon (a Japanese cartoon). The Nintendo Pokemon games were somewhat light on graphics and heavy on text. You can’t play these games without reading (trust me, we’ve tried playing Japanese imports). At the time, their desire to master these games pushed them to learn how to read. There were lots of “Dad, what is this word”, but overall they played daily over a summer break between grades. Upon returning to school and taking assessment tests, the teachers asked us how we got our children’s reading skill up so quickly. They wanted to know if we had enrolled them in a summer school or hired tutors over the break. When we answered that they played Pokemon all summer, the teachers laughed it off thinking we were kidding. We did the same with our youngest (now 9 years old) when he was learning how to read with the same results (except he had three brothers to ask for help with words).

Now I am not advocating video games over traditional instruction in the classroom. These are methods that can be used in conjunction with traditional learning to reinforce what our kids are learning in the classroom. I encourage my kids to read as often as they can. To me, I would much rather have them reading a graphic novel, playing a video game heavy on reading, or doing anything that actively engages their brain than letting them sit in front of a TV watching mindless cartoons or slaughtering aliens for points in a violent video game.

The Nintendo DS Homebrew community has shown that this little handheld can be put to many tasks. One scenario I can envision is producing a cartridge for the DS that is a simple ebook reader. Libraries could have reading programs where students sign up to read books (like they do at most schools now, at least in California). Reading the books gets you points to apply towards getting your own Nintendo DS and/or games. The libraries may even loan out limited numbers of DS’s to peak interest in the devices and get kids to engage in the program. Remember, there are large numbers of students that already own DS’s. The ebooks can have mini games linked to them that are unlocked when reading the ebook. The game play is linked to sections of the book, and rewards the student for progressing through the book. Popular DS games could be used as rewards for hitting milestones in the reading program. The popular DS Download Station (found in most stores like Toys R Us, Best Buy and others) could be adapted to provide ebook downloads in the libraries with little impact on staffing levels. A few books could be featured every week. This single concept could be taken in several successful directions to increase both reading and patronage at our libraries by both teens and pre-teens.

Another scenario would involve newspapers. Students could sign up for junior reporter programs. Existing stories from the newspaper could be available for download on DS’s for students participating in the program. Download stations could be sprinkled around town at various businesses and organizations (fire stations, police stations, humane society, grocery stores and even the school library). The kids always have their DS’s with them, and collect stories and tokens from these download stations. It could all be constructed in a scavenger hunt investigation theme. The program would engage the students in getting out into their community, reading about local events, and most likely getting them involved in their community (not to mention getting them outside and away from their TV’s and computers) while increasing their reading and investigative skills.

Of course any of these scenarios would require corporations to participate in funding these programs, and supporting the hardware and software needs of the libraries (a DS Download Station is only an off the shelf DS that costs $129). With all the things we waste money on in our society, we need to focus some of these resources on engaging our students with devices that appeal to them, that are personal, and that are always available. And above all, it needs to be fun to engage our kids in learning. We could be doing so much more to raise the literacy of our youth in this country. It’s going to take some thinking outside the “box” (in this case the box is the classroom) to get to the next level.


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