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There are plenty of serious conversations taking place this week at SXSWedu in Austin — student data, social learning, digital citizenship, online degrees.
But there is also a lot of serious talk about games, and how they can be used to help engage kids and improve learning. In 2013, the market for educational games was about $1.5 billion and growing rapidly.
Rule No. 1: No chocolate-covered broccoli. That’s according to Phaedra Boinodiris, global lead for serious games and gamification at IBM.
“You enter into the realm of what I call ‘chocolate-covered broccoli’ if you do it wrong,” she says.
To Boinodiris, chocolate-covered broccoli is the thinly disguised, anti-fun. In other words, educational games still need to feel likes games. And that means something at stake, something to win.
"Brain Chase" is an online educational treasure hunt for kids to complete over the summer, using geography and math skills to find a real “buried treasure”: a $10,000 scholarship.
Founder Allan Staker says violence isn’t an option in educational games, so developers have to rely on something else to keep kids interested.
“You have to start with a quest, get them in the shoes of a protagonist,” he says.
During the Brain Chase game, participants had to use a compass, map and clues from video prompts to help their fellow adventurers escape a cryptic hedge maze.Kelsey Fowler/Marketplace Without having “Grand Theft Middle School,” Staker says, the answer is unsurprisingly, treasure.
Paul Darvasi, a high school English teacher in Toronto, says during the last month of the year, he turns his class into the psych ward from Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
“My students are put into the role of mental patients, and I take on multiple roles either through videos, or live performances as the faculty that’s running the mental ward,” he says.
Darvasi uses Twitter and Facebook to post challenges, questions and quests for his students.
“A really interesting thing about Keasy’s novel is his critique of the industrial elements of the mental institution coincide well with the critiques of the education system,” he says.
Shawn Young shows off his creation Classcraft, a role-playing game designed to increase collaboration and engagement in the classroom.Courtesy of Classcraft
Brothers Shawn and Devin Young of the role-playing game "Classcraft" say introducing games into the classroom faces the same challenges introducing new technology in schools has always faced: finding the money in the budget.
“There are a lot of great, empowering things about video games and using them to motivate and learn,” Shawn Young says.
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Before the techies and music lovers descend on Austin for South by Southwest, or SXSW, there’s SXSWedu.
Senior reporter Adriene Hill, and the LearningCurve edtech team have been at the education conference all week. Adriene spoke with Marketplace host, Kai Ryssdal, about which new technologies were grabbing the attention of educators.
Tom Leonard, superintendent of Eanes Independent School District in Austin, says introducing laptops and tablets into classrooms has been hard at times, and teachers took some time to get on board, but there's no going back.
“Technology in schools right now is like the infancy of the automobile,” he says. “For a while when the automobile was just starting, the horse was more effective, it really was. But we knew we were going in the direction of the car, so we had to get there. And right now I think that’s what’s happening in classrooms. You are seeing teachers struggle with that, but good school districts know we need to get there.”
And tech entrepreneurs want to get there right along with them. Billions of dollars are pouring into edtech as software makers, among others, vie for a place in the classroom.
One area that's getting a lot of attention is "making." The “Playground” area of SXSWedu was full of products focused on kids building things, using 3D doodlers and Lego robots.
There’s also a big focus on coding. “Coding is now pushing down into the lower grades, we’re talking kindergarten level,” says Claire Novy, a teacher from Miami. Get ready for second-graders to be showcasing their work in the app store.
Along with all the tech talk, there has been a growing discussion about what's called social and emotional learning, or SEL. It focuses on kids' views of themselves as learners, and how their perceptions can help — or hinder — their ability to learn. Expect to hear more in the future about student emotional health.
Superintendent Leonard says he expects to see more entrepreneurial programs in schools, aimed at teaching kids how to create their own jobs in the future.
Dallas Dance, superintendent of Baltimore County public schools, is looking forward to new organizational tools that will bring much of a school's data together.
"Usually school systems have about five different systems they operate from,” he says. “Your learning management system can be one, your grade book’s another, your student information system’s one, you may have a data dashboard or a warehouse somewhere else. We are creating [a database] which will be a one stop shop for everyone.”
That includes parents, who may have an easier time in the future keeping up with their childrens' educational lives.
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