Here is a professional rule that’s served me well:
Whenever you find yourself learning and enjoying learning, ask yourself, “What can schooling borrow here?” How can we sneak in here, stuff all these really good ideas about learning in a duffel bag, and bring them back to our schools and classrooms and edtech startups?
Lately, my kids and I are playing Toad Treasure Tracker on Nintendo Switch. It’s a joy. I have convinced myself it basically doesn’t count towards any screen time tally because my kids are obviously learning collaboration, fine motor skills, problem solving, etc. When we’re stuck, my youngest kid will murmur, “Something I’m wondering is ….” reflecting my own problem solving mannerisms back to me in a kind of funhouse mirror.
I’m increasingly jealous of one aspect of Toad Treasure Tracker that simultaneously accounts for tons of its appeal but also seems really challenging to import into school learning.
In Toad Treasure Tracker, the main goal is the same in every level. Capture the star.
It feels awesome. We love to capture the star, don’t we, kids?
We do. I think it’s worth noting that this moment itself is sometimes rare in school learning, a moment where you can sit back and say, “No matter what I haven’t yet done, one thing is certain, and that is that I just did a thing.”
And what seems really rare in school learning is our eagerness to replay the same level again. We’re eager because each level contains four goals of which capturing the star is only one, and also the easiest to accomplish.
Capture the star.
Find all three gems hidden somewhere in the level.
Accomplish the challenge goal, which varies.
Find a tiny pixelated toad character hiding somewhere in the level.
All four of those goals deepen our understanding of the levels in some pretty key ways—the level map, how to move efficiently and precisely through it, how to avoid hazards, etc. If your learning objective was, “Deeply understand every square inch of this particular level,” then you couldn’t do much better than Toad Treasure Tracker has in setting up those four goals.
From the perspective of school learning, how weird is this?
Thanks for reading Mathworlds! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Yes, I realize the pacing calendar of schooling feels like it only speeds up, that it only subtracts room for discretionary experiences of any kind. But let’s pretend for a second that a student had an extra 30 minutes at the end of your week. Something I’m wondering is:
What incentives exist for that student to return to a unit, a lesson, a book, a project after it’s completed, to understand it more deeply?
What secondary goals could we establish for each lesson that would encourage replay and deeper, more flexible learning? (While capturing the star occasionally requires speed, interestingly, none of the side goals in Toad Treasure Tracker relate to time or speed.)
Is there something about school learning that makes this idea of replayability a poor fit? Game theorists will cite “alternate endings” and “unlockable characters” as contributing factors to replayability, neither of which seem like they have an obvious home in school learning. But other researchers have found that collaboration increases a desire to replay, which obviously does have a home in school education.
All hypotheses welcome in the comments.
Yes, unfortunately, learning and schooling are too often cleaved. If we reflected upon how we ourselves learn anything, we would teach far differently. I appreciate your professional rule here, Dr. Meyer.
When I taught 6 grade i assigned a challenging problem to solve every two weeks. As the students worked the problem they had several tasks to complete. 1. solve the problem 2. explain in detail how you solved the problem. 3. Write all the connections you can think of to previous work that aided in the solution. This way the students had to keep revisiting the problem and expanding their understanding of what it entailed and how it fit into their learning. #3 was especially helpful to broaden their understanding of how everything we studied fit together and how what we knew could help in future solutions.