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Are Electronic Games Bad for the Education of Children?
Electronic games are one of the favorite hobbies of people of all ages and social classes. Electronic games therefore deserve our consideration as an important cultural phenomenon. The question now for educational leaders and school administrators is how this technology could be inserted into the classroom.
Whenever we discuss electronic games, as with all new technologies, societal issues are raised. People wonder if it is beneficial or harmful for its users, in particular, parents and many educators discuss the harm that games can possibly bring to the social and cognitive development of children and young people. Therefore, it comes as a surprise when someone suggests that recreational electronic games could be introduced as part of the basic school curriculum. One of the reasons for this is that you will meet many teachers in schools who use serious games (or educational games) in their teaching practice, but are skeptical about the educational possibilities of recreational games.
The criticisms, which have been repeated since the emergence of video games in the 1950s, are summarized by Nicky Hayes in Psychology: “games are based on violent concepts; children spend a lot of time playing games, which can harm their physical health; and games are harmful to children’s future learning” (p.223). In other words, many people think that recreational electronic games promote violent behavior and isolation, and ultimately they have no educational value. We think these concerns are unwarranted, especially considering how games have evolved.
Electronic games are a new cultural form, if we compare them to television, pop music or movies – the other main manifestations of popular culture.
Nowadays, not only games have evolved as the right way to play has evolved. And this has been possible thanks to the interaction between new digital technologies and the Internet. For example, gamers can adopt games on their smartphones and tablets. Moreover, the new video game consoles PlayStation 4 and XboxOne, which will be launched towards the end of the current year, brings a new element: online multiplayer, which seems to be a new trend in the video game industry. This new element allows players to simultaneously play online in fictional worlds.
Remember that the game Space war!, a game released in 1961, was the first to allow multiple users to share the computer simultaneously. Today’s games embrace more modes of interactivity; this means players don’t need to only play offline alone or with friends: players can interact with other players online. Of course, the games themselves do not isolate individuals. Some individuals choose to isolate themselves, while for others the circumstances of life – the politics of recreation in the territory where they live and public safety concerns – exert a strong influence on their behavior.
Many people still believe that playing games is a habit that produces no significant long-term impact – other than becoming a more skilled player. But recent studies show that games can stimulate the learning of facts and skills. For example, the European report drawn up in 2008 on the protection of consumers, in particular minors, with regard to the use of video games highlights the following skills: strategic thinking, creativity, cooperation and innovative thinking. Consequently, electronic games are a positive contribution to learning. Thus, we see that the last two concerns listed by Hayes can also be considered outdated.
We cannot allow prejudices or concerns that are not based on facts to prevent the use of new technologies in schools. Games are certainly not the only answer to learning problems or other problems that we face nowadays in our schools. But games could help student success because games can motivate to learn content in a variety of ways, engaging students, for example, in complex tasks that require approaching content in unique ways. American researcher James Gee is a pioneer in focusing on learning principles in video games, or what he calls “good” video games. In fact, there is already extensive research on games and education that could be a great starting point for discussion.
James P. Gee. What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy (New York: Palgrave, 2003), 49.
Nicki Hayes. Psychology (London: Hodder Headline, 2003), 223.
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