There have been some noticeable changes in my daughter’s behavior now that her third grade teachers are powering into the second half of the school year and preparing students for the state assessment exams. She’s stressed. My little person of independence asks to spend more time cuddling in the evenings before bed. She has the “my stomach hurts” and “my head hurts” excuses as to why she should be allowed to stay home from school. From time to time, she’s even complaining of headaches at the end of the day. She comes home frustrated because there are tests every single day, sometimes more than one a day.

The homework never ends. I’m not sure what it is about third grade and this make-them-or-break-them attitude at such a young age, but there has to be a better way. And with constant U.S. government reform of education standards, I’m guessing there isn’t a solution on the way anytime soon, because no one can agree on the most effective way to teach children.

By the time they figure it out, it’ll be too late for my daughter as she will have moved on from elementary school and her dislike of school will be cemented.

But there’s hope coming from other invested sources, even if we have to dig around to find them. Thankfully, an article from InformationWeek.com pointed me in the right direction.

Future of Education and Technology Logo 2016

Future of Education and Technology Logo 2016

January 12 through 15 was the 36th annual Future of Education and Technology Conference (FETC) held in Orlando, Florida. Practically next door, and I had no idea it existed. There’s a reason I wouldn’t know about it. It’s not for parents. This conference is for educators and technology experts where presentation topics range from Building Potential in Students Through Storytelling and Software Coding to Become Makers: Don’t Play Games – Make Them. With over 100 different topics to choose from, I’m a little jealous of the conference goers who were able to attend. Lucky for us lookey-loos with more than a casual interest in making a different in our kids learning process, the conference website offers a peek at the presentation materials. Be careful, you might spend hours combing through them.

So, why should I care about this conference?

I’m learning more and more terms in regards to education that didn’t apply when I attended so many years ago: terms like gamification and the maker movement. While I don’t completely agree with behavior modification technology in the class (as I have noted before), I do see how gamification and maker-oriented learning could help a child like mine grow her interest in math and science. Possibly reading and writing, too. Heck, we’ll add social studies to make it a well-rounded list of school subjects.

But first, let’s get some definitions:

Gamification is the use of game design in non-game contexts.*

The Maker Movement refers to the recent wave of tech-inspired, do-it-yourself (DIY) innovation sweeping the globe.**

I’m excited about the above terms. I believe these terms are going to show us teaching kids to be innovators is more important than teaching kids to take and pass exams. Maybe even make school fun.

My daughter is a serious gamer. I’m not sure how many hours per week the gaming industry requires for this to be a thing (somebody out there probably has an opinion), but I’d say she probably comes close with her gaming habits. She enjoys gaming, reading about gaming, reading fan-fiction about characters from popular games, watching videos of other gamers, and some day, she wants to work in animation to produce better games. Let’s just say this is all the qualification she needs in my book for the title “gamer.”

Gratuitous picture of my little gamer

Gratuitous picture of my little gamer

She’s also an honor roll student. This is a requirement for her game play. Even with all the stress, tests, and homework, she excels at school. For this reason I back off on restricting her gaming time. I’m a huge believer in every child is different and parents can’t be expected to parent all the different children of our ever-changing world the same. In my house, our system works. In yours, it may not. And that’s fine. I know parents who pay for grades. Money isn’t my child’s motivator. Right now games are my currency.

Gamification in the classroom might take her to a whole new level. Or what if, and call me crazy, the standardized testing revolved around gamification and maker oriented tasks? After all, standardized tests are only supposed to be a part of the much larger picture of measuring what our children are learning.

I know what you’re thinking: Don’t our kids already get too much screen time? From what I understand, gamification doesn’t have to be electronic. It just needs to use the following principals: points for tasks, badges and rewards, leaderboards, definitive levels, and unlocking higher levels. Motivation and excitement over completing tasks without strict, unbendable rules is an added bonus.

That’s where the maker movement can supplement and further push children’s innovation. Having children create and make educational games would put them in charge of their learning process and possibly take some of the pressure off of teachers.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying gamification and making aren’t already happening in my daughter’s classroom. It is. And she loves those days. But those days are rare, and test prep is the more common daily dose of learning.

I want to make it clear; I’m not an educator. I’m just a mom thinking out loud. But after seeing more and more teachers push back against parent involvement in education, I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t speak out about my observations. I want my child to get a great education and be happy. I want teachers to be happy too.

There is always a concern of easier said than done. Where do teachers get time to gamify their classrooms and teaching lessons? Where do they get money for materials and supplies for making? Great questions. When I fill out my parent survey for our school district this year, I’m going to ask.

Further Reading:

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