Of iPhone Apps for Kids and Learning Through Gaming – I
If you are a proud (smart?) owner of a smartphone, or an iPhone to be more specific, chances are that you aren’t the only user of the device in the family. Your kids probably use it just as much as you do – and for good reason! Whether it’s to silence the rear row passengers of the minivan, or prevent that late morning meltdown in the shopping mall, that clever iPhone app can be a savior.. And boy, are we spoiled for choice these days! Just to get a sense for just how big the apps market is – “educational games” alone number over 2000 now in the App Store and “educational apps” run into many thousands, and there is a newly launched “Apps for Kids” section in the App Store that is dedicated to the booming new audience of toddlers and preschoolers. We list some of the most popular apps for kids from 3 to 13 years in the second part of this article. Clearly, the potential of this device – and medium – that kids have access to anytime and anywhere, is HUGE – not just for entertainment and engagement, but for learning as well.
Games as Goal-Directed Learning Spaces
The educational research community is grappling with what this means for the future of education, or rather learning – and not just formal learning in the classroom, but informal and even “casual” learning 24X7. The Stanford Graduate School of Education recently partnered with Apple to offer a course this past winter on “casual learning apps” for kids and adults. Proponents for learning through gaming such as James Paul Gee have been researching this space for the better part of the last decade, but it’s taken a popular device such as the iPhone and a booming App Store to get the education community to sit up and pay attention. Recent articles such as this one on improved algebra learning with smartphones and Mobile Learning Makes Its Mark on K-12 provide a glimpse of what may well become everyday school practice before long.
In this August 2009 article, Leah Hoffman contends that fun is at the heart of why kids play games—and is one of the main things that keeps them engaged and willing to persist in ways that many teachers and parents only dream of. Unfortunately, too many titles that are currently marketed as ‘educational games’, experts say, are little more than digital flashcards, presenting students with straightforward drills in subjects like math and grammar rather than giving them an interactive platform through which to explore new ideas and concepts. So what characteristics of apps or games foster good learning? According to Gee, it’s a handful of simple principles. Good games–
- Provide information on demand and just in time
- Are pleasantly frustrating (“doable”, but challenging)
- Customizable to level of ability and style of learning
- Allow players to be producers not just consumers (players’ actions co-create the game world)
- Create a “cycle of expertise” (initial levels of game are like tutorials)
- Motivate the player – big driving factor in engagement and learning
- Get people to invest in new identities or roles
- Are interactive and provide feedback in many ways
- Allow players to take risks (failure is not a bad thing if you can revert to an earlier game level)
- Encourage “system thinking” and “lateral thinking“
- Promote agency and control (players have a real sense of ownership over what they are doing)
Here’s a snippet in Gee’s own words –
This may be getting all too academic and heavy, so on to Part II where we share a list of the most popular iPhone apps for kids, most of which foster some kind of learning, creative thinking, or early childhood development in addition to entertainment. There are some though that are just.plain.fun!