The Connection Between Buffalo, Gaming, and Standardized Testing

When will someone recognize the importance of interactive gaming within our schools?  When will the “Paradigm Shift” come, as Sir Ken Robinson has been proclaiming? When will we move away from standardized tests and focus on divergent thinking, which can occur in games and simulations?This reminds me of a trip…..
In the summer of 2005 I took a trip to Canada and I was introduced to the term “buffalo jump.”  This is where the indigenous people of Alberta scared the buffalo off a cliff in order to get the resources the buffalo provided.  What fascinated me is how and why the buffalo went over the edge.  Any cliff will not do, it has to be a cliff that looks like it flows into the distant landscape like a mirage.  The Blackfoot hunters would gradually scare a heard of buffalo toward the cliff dressed as coyotes and wolves.  When hunters were in the correct position they would rush the buffalo. The buffalo would bunch together for protection, push forward, and drop off the cliff.  They try to stop, but it is too late and they follow each other to the bottom where the Blackfoot wait to finish the kill.What does this have to do with education and standardized testing?  Relying on standardized testing, as our only measurement of school progress, will lead us off the cliff.  Proponents are leading us to our demise and I feel like I am in a herd of buffalo blindly following.

I do think standards-based tests are important, but it should only be a small portion of the total assessment portfolio for each student.  We do not want to create machines, we want to create people with individual ideas.  How can we be divergent thinkers if we are all expected to know the same knowledge.  Will all great ideas be thought of at the same time by millions of people?  That will be exciting.

So what can be done?  As teachers, we need to develop lessons that not only cover the standards, but they also allow for thinking in multiple avenues.  Games allow assessment in many ways and not just memorized information.  Games show what you can do and they can be applied to all levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  Several notable intellectuals have gathered data on the subject.

How gaming can be a positive in education is the common theme with the above writers.  They are part of a movement that is gaining strength within the world of academia.  Educators need to realize that we are heading to the cliff (of standardized testing) and we are too blind by the constant push of those around us.  Games, when used effectively, make an impact on student learning.  In order to integrate effectively teachers will have to take the time to learn the games they will use in their classroom.  They will need to become EdGamers!

Understanding why gaming can be used is step one (this article and its resources) and how to integrate is step two.  My next article, in two weeks, will discuss how to choose an education game and connect it to your state standards.



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