Wednesday February 20, 2013

As part of our Learning 2030 series, Wednesday's episode of The Agenda looks at gamification -- the use of games and game-like situations to encourage learning. TVO is no stranger to this, since TVOKids has been designing educational online games for years. Pat Ellingson, creative head of children's media at TVOKids, details the kind of games TVOKids produces, and how they help create a 21st century learner. 

At TVO, we are committed to building an Ontario where every child is ready to learn. We want to help Ontario's kids be successful in school. Today, that means using technology to help support their learning.

For decades TVO has been working in partnership with leading academics, researchers, teachers, and parents to inspire and support children's learning. Today, there are more ways than ever to engage a child's learning -- smartboards, computers, mobile smartphones and tablets, and game consoles. They may not be the tools that most of us had when we were in elementary school, but they've inspired new methods of teaching and learning. And we're just getting started. Combined with great pedagogy, and supportive parenting, our community of learners are off to a great start.

TVOKids is constantly looking for ways to help kids learn. All of our content, including games, is based on the Ontario curriculum and designed in partnership with some of Ontario's leaders in education. Our rigorous game development process and constant research sets us apart from other game creators and allows us to create resources that have a direct impact on a child’s learning outcomes. Our commitment to research is part of the reason TVOKids is considered the most trusted and most educational children's media brand in Canada.

A Vast Inventory of Games

We have a vast inventory of educational games that are designed to help kids learn, to better understand what they are already learning, and to introduce them to new concepts and ideas. Some of our most popular educational games include:

  • Cake Artist: Wrapped in an entertaining contest of cake decoration, and hosted by a princess. Play it and you'll quickly discover the value of this game. It is rich in math, literacy, and problem solving, and is designed to challenge the player.
  • The Big Escape: By far one of our most popular literacy games.
  • TumbleTown Mathletics: Exercise your brain with Mathletics! 
  • Alphabet Goop: A letter recognition game for the early learner.
  • Get Growing: Science for the early learners, developed with Wings of Discovery.

What the Research Shows

Research is proving again and again that well designed games have a positive impact on a child’s learning outcomes. The most recent TVOKids study, conducted in partnership with the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, looked at two games designed to improve a child’s working memory -- a brain function essential to learning across all subject areas, and math in particular -- and capacity to learn.

The six-week study, involving 66 Grade 1 students, found that the students who played Hop, Frog, Hop! and Ribbit, Frog, Ribbit! showed statistically significant improvements on two tasks that measured their working memory and self-regulation, in comparison to the control group of students who played only math games. The students who played the working memory games showed greater improvements across all seven tasks used in the study, including measures of math aptitude.

Helping Teachers

Today’s classrooms include a variety of technologies: interactive whiteboards, games, engaged students, and a teacher who is required to manage all of these resources and at the same time provide structure and guidance leading to a successful 21st century learner. Gaming is one tool that a teacher can use to ignite their classroom; to make it fun and up the engagement scale tenfold. Critical thinking and problem solving are critical to successful learning. Every time a child plays a well-designed game, they are using critical thinking and problem-solving skills. They are making decisions from the moment they start playing.

I have visited a number of classrooms these past few weeks and continue to be impressed with the commitment from teachers to provide the best learning experience possible for their students. And for the successful 21st century learner, this includes many forms of technology and content-teaching tools.

It's critical to engage the student but it's just as critical to engage the teacher. Teachers need reliable content that has been designed to help them achieve their curriculum goals so they can integrate it into their classroom. Sometimes finding sound, curriculum-linked content is a bit like a needle in a digital haystack. 

This year tvoparents launched Teacher Zone, with 10 tutorials and 10 lesson plans teachers can use in their interactive whiteboards. And the TVOKids site is categorized by educational strands so that the content is easy to find. We've also created a resource to be used in the home or in the classroom called Homework Zone.

These are just a few ways we are eliminating barriers to having our content accessible in the classroom.  

I don't think there's any question well designed content can be an effective learning tool for the home or the classroom. How that content is integrated into a child’s learning plan at home or at school is what makes it effective.

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