Friday, October 30, 2015

Maximize Classroom Learning with Games

Maximize Classroom Learning with Games
Latism '15

  • José Villeta, Senior Director, Disney Interactive
  • Gabriel Adauto, Technical Co-Founder, Motion Math

  • Melanie Mendez-Gonzalez, blogger & founder of ¿Qué Means What?
Games, when used purposefully and thoughtfully can be a powerful tool. It has the potential to spark student engagement and enhance learning. Join this interactive session on maximizing students’ learning with top Latino Education Gamers and learn how to measure results, and realize that teaching should be at the heart of this innovation.

José Villeta started working for NASA after graduating from MIT. He quit to make his own video games for 12 years, then was hired by Disney, where he has worked for the last six years.

Villeta has worked on the Infinity game from the beginning. Putting it together was not an easy task as he had to get permission from companies such as Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars, for using all the different characters as toys. Their goal is to create interactive moments as Disney memories. Infinity is played by millions of users worldwide. It's a family game that parents can play too. The appeal is that kids use their own imagination to play.

Gabriel Adauto is the CTO and co-cofounder at Motion Math. The games are designed for kids in K - 6th and target math's most difficult concepts at those levels. Adauto has a Masters degree in Computer Science from Stanford. He started with an app studio which has expanded into 9 games and is now growing into a learning company. Their games have special appeal for their teacher dashboard to help educators understand what their students are learning. The team has also been thoughtful with the design; the math is the challenge of the game, it's not hidden. They are now focused on researching the efficacy of the games, measuring the learning.

Mendez-Gonzalez asked both of them how they determine if a game is successful?

Villeta said that they measure the success of a game by play time. They want users to play a game for a long time, not play and finish it after a few hours. And, of course, sales and engagement determine if the games are successful.

Adauto said that sales measure success. But they want to go deeper. Learning game developers are interested in the learning what happens in games, so they are working to get an academic to do an efficacy study. Adauto said, "We know we help the kids with fraction learning by 15%, but more importantly, kids' attitudes about math improve by 10%. Attitudes are a better indicator of a kids' performance. We're looking to improve their attitudes toward math." He says that video games have the power to engage, empower, and excite kids. Adauto also said that micro-assessments are inserted into the games.

Villeta also talked about how they have to train the educators on how to use their games in their classrooms. He's helped write curricula for schools to integrate these tools.

Adauto said that they go into classrooms to test learning and get ideas from teachers for difficult concepts, and they develop activities to complement the games. Understanding the application and explaining the equations are important.

Villeta also mentioned how we have to think of education with higher education, too, not just K-12.

Adauto said that Motion Math is a small company and competition with bigger companies is fierce. So it is important to work with college students to think about all the different aspects that are involved.

Mendez-Gonzalez asked them what kind of feedback do they get from their consumers and how they use that information.

Villeta shared how he took his 8 year old into the office every Friday when he was developing Infinity so he could get his son's feedback while he was playing the game. "We're creating storytellers," Villeta said. "We give them the tools - characters, settings, etc. - then leave the direction and content up to them."

Adauto said that the kid is the most important person in the equation; they drive their own learning. "We want them to take control of their own paths. We want the kids to choose the path they are on and decide if they are on the right path for themselves."

Mendez-Gonzalez asked Adauto why he chose math as the subject for his games, and Adauto said that math is the language of the video games. "I use math every single day to make the games. In our STEAM economy it is the basis of computer science."

Mendez-Gonzalez asked how they chose what area of learning to explore. Villeta said that lots of variables impacted their development; new releases (movies) influence our subjects, and recently they've discovered that close to 50% of their players are female, so they developed strong female characters. He also mentioned that their gamers are growing older. So they've created 130 characters on Infinity for all of their players to choose from and then the player can create their own story or use one of the ones provided.

Adauto said they are keeping Spanish-speaking families in mind and that their top four games are in Spanish and English, plus other languages. He said that they kept this in mind when they hired their Chilean developor.

Villeta said that Infinity is available in 12 languages, including both Castilian and Latin American Spanish. The challenge is making sure they have the correct voice over actors for their Castilian Spanish because Spain assigns one person to do all of the voice overs for any given actor.

Probably the best moment in this panel is when a young boy around 11 years old in the audience shared his coding skills with us. He stood up and showed us how he had created a moving pikachu (animal) on Scratch, a free project of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab. It helps young people learn to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively — essential skills for life in the 21st century.


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