Minds in Play: Computer Game Design as a Context for Children's Learning

Minds in Play: Computer Game Design as a Context for Children's Learning

Minds in Play: Computer Game Design as a Context for Children's Learning

Minds in Play: Computer Game Design as a Context for Children's Learning


Video games more than any other media have brought technology into children's homes and hearts. Educators, psychologists, and parents are struck by the quality of engagement that stands in stark contrast to children's usual interest in school homework and other activities. Whereas most research efforts have concentrated on discussing the effects of game playing, this book takes a different stance. It takes a close look at games as a context for learning by placing children in the roles of producers rather than consumers of games.

Kafai presents a constructionist vision of computer-based learning activities in schools. She follows a class of sixteen fourth-grade students from an inner-city public elementary school as they were programming games in Logo to teach fractions to third graders. The children transformed their classroom into a game design studio for six months, learning programming, writing stories and dialogues, constructing representations of fractions, creating package designs and advertisements, considering interface design issues, and devising teaching strategies. In this context, programming became a medium for children's personal and creative expression; in the design of their games children engaged their fantasies and built relationships with other pockets of reality that went beyond traditional school approaches.

The ideas and discussions presented in this book address educators, researchers, and software and curriculum designers interested in children's learning and thinking with educational technologies.


In the wake of the advent of inexpensive microcomputers in the late 1970s came the first wave of nonprofessional programmers. Children, older students, teachers, and computer hobbyists took to the keyboard to find an experience that nobody had been able to have in previous generations. And in the wake of the interest in programming came a search for programmable project areas--you can't program without programming something. By the early 1980s, habits had set in. In the schools, the presence of the Logo turtle favored projects involving graphics. Teachers learning to program often looked for topics that would have an instructional function. Adult hobbyists implemented on their little computers simple forms of "system programs" that existed on the big machines but had not yet permeated down as they have today. Across the board a scattering of these new programmers embarked on projects to create another kind of entity that had come into being with the microchip. In popular parlance the video game was almost becoming synonymous with the idea of a home computer and the challenge of making one's own had an obvious appeal.

It is interesting to reflect on why making video games did not become a more important part of the school computer culture. The superficial answer is technical. Think back 10 years to the situation in a typical school computer lab. The machines are Apple II computers. The programming language is Apple Logo. With this combination it is possible to make a playable game, but the threshold of skill and effort needed is very high and the final result needs a stretch of imagination to be classed as a "real game." No wonder making a game was something that would be undertaken mostly by the exceptionally bold students and was seldom promoted by teachers as the thing to do.

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