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December 19, 2012
Marianne Malmstrom is a technology teacher at The Elisabeth Morrow School, where she has worked with colleagues to develop a school-wide multimedia program that has received international recognition.
When discussing youth and social media, we tend to focus on teens, texting and platforms like Facebook and Twitter. However, there are a growing number of grade school children connecting online.
Multiplayer Online Games (MOGs), like Minecraft or Wizard 101, generally get far less attention. In fact, most adults don’t give much thought to young children’s online activities – something we as parents and teachers need to rethink if we are going to support the types of learning our children are actually doing.
There's an array of MOGs where young children are learning today, offering a range of play styles. Popular games like Club Penguin and Pixie Hollow allow children to play mini-games, care for virtual creatures, hold various jobs, collect artifacts and make friends. While these games are engaging and quite safe, they also provide for limited creativity.
“Sandbox” MOGs such as Minecraft, on the other hand, offer children much more freedom to imagine, role-play and create their own content. Minecraft players can even connect with friends via nearby computers or join Minecraft servers others have set up. Given the connectability of these games, it is in our children’s best interest for us to become informed about where and how they play (and learn) online.
At The Elisabeth Morrow School where I teach, we turned to MOGs, such as Minecraft, because they allow for the development of an array of skills essential for success in the 21st Century. These platforms inspire creativity, collaboration, community building and much more! Beyond the game, children are also using mobile phones, IM, Skype and Twitter to communicate during play and manage their community beyond the game! As a long-time teacher, I have never seen students so excited to learn. That's why I'm writing these stories – I want parents and teachers everywhere to see the amazing things I see when kids are given the space to play.
Our experiences in Minecraft are showing me that students learn a lot more when they are given responsibility both for their own learning and for co-management of their learning environments. This ongoing collaborative learning experience is also teaching me a lot of things about how we adults can support young children working and playing in virtual spaces.
I’m thrilled by the competency and resourcefulness of my young students. But I also feel an urgency to inform parents and teachers that our children need us to be present and involved online.
Just as in “real world" spaces, they require supervision and guidance in virtual spaces. They don’t know to ask for permission to make accounts, connect with friends, create content and join servers – they just do it (to get where they want to go – and because they can).
As adults, we need to come to grips with the fact that, in many cases, kids are living in these spaces without us. It’s unrealistic to think we can lock them out of the digital world until they turn 13. We need to find constructive ways to connect with them, online as well as offline, because they still need our wisdom.
At home, take the time to play (or watch) games with your children. It’s the most natural as well as effective way to learn how and where they play online. Ask questions. Invite your child to teach you to play the game. Young children are usually very open and happy to share what they know – they've proven this to us at The Elisabeth Morrow School over and over again.
Make rules and set limits that are appropriate for your child. Be involved in creating accounts. Do your homework and learn about the policies of the games your child plays. Read game chat to ensure that activities and language are conducive to your family values. If you don't know how, ask your child to show you.
At school, we can develop programs using platforms similar to the ones children use at home. We cannot teach good citizenship online without places to practice it. Creating these virtual communities allows students the opportunity to practice real skills with teachers present to model and mentor healthy norms!
Over the next few months, I will share, in more depth and with lots of examples, some of the lessons I’ve learned from my students – and my personal perspective of how we, as parents and teachers, can support this new generation of connected learners.
Looking for more information about gaming and virtual worlds? The full, three-part version of this blog can be found on Net Family News. It includes examples of the types of skills children are learning through gaming and some insights Marianne has gained as a teacher working with kids online.
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