I have to confess that, as an educator, it’s kind of hard for me to think outside the box when it comes to the “educational” benefits of some of the game apps that are available for kids today. So I decided to accept the suggestion of a colleague…my mission (and I chose to accept it): to examine the game Temple Run. Does it develop skills in kids…skills that they might actually need for, you know, LIFE?
Many of you are probably familiar with Temple Run. It’s available from the AppStore for download to the iPad and iPhone and from the Google App Store for Android devices. The premise is that the player is an explorer who, while running away from demon monkeys, must collect coins and other rewards. The coins earned in the game can be used in the onboard store to “buy” powerups, utilities, characters and wallpaper that allow the player to customize the game. Through a variety of swipes on the screen and tilts of the device, players run through a virtual obstacle course through a virtual jungle, avoiding virtual death and striving to achieve objectives based on things like how far they run, how many coins are collected in a single run and how far they run without tripping. And because the devices are networked, players can compete against themselves or against friends for high scores.
So that’s all well and good, but where’s the education, right? That’s what I asked. I mean, I didn’t see any obvious reading, math or science! But then I started thinking about it. Thinking about the kids I had worked with over the years. Then it hit me: I’d been thinking too narrowly about “skills.” Because I’d seen a ton of kids over the years who needed fine motor skill development, better hand-eye coordination and more accurate spatial skills. And guess what? ALL of those are in Temple Run. With a healthy dose of problem solving skills thrown in for good measure. And you know that if you have tried teaching motor skill development and hand-eye coordination directly, it can be dead boring, for the learner AND the teacher. And heck, this is actually fun!
Now, I can’t give you a set of pre-test/post-test data to prove that these skills are improved through using Temple Run. But what I can tell you is that because the game is mastery-based a player can’t progress in the game without improvement in motor skills, hand-eye coordination and spatial skills. (Sadly, I’ve learned this firsthand by the number of times my character has “died” on the rocks.)
But even though it’s hard to imagine anyone suggesting these kinds of skills are not real life skills, you might have some explaining to do if your Superintendent or Principal walks in and finds your kids playing Temple Run, right? So if that happens, remind them of this NCTM Geometry standard:
Students will use visualization, spatial reasoning, and geometric modeling to solve problems.
So I’m a few steps closer to thinking outside the box now. Are you with me?