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Using Video Games to Teach Children to Fail

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
– Thomas A. Edison

We’ve all probably made the connection on how important it is to fail. I recently read the book, Creativity Inc, written by Ed Catmull, and Amy Wallace. The book charts the rise of Pixar, specifically detailing their process of Creativity and success. One of the things that Ed Catmull, highlights throughout the book, is the importance in learning to ‘Fail Early, and Fail Fast’.

My boys increased interest in the iPad, has come about thanks to his discovery of Minecraft (going beyond YouTube Kids). Minecraft is a great game for Creativity, as it's sole goal is to create and make.
My boys increased interest in the iPad, has come about thanks to his discovery of Minecraft (going beyond YouTube Kids). Minecraft is a great game for Creativity, as it’s sole goal is to create and make.

As adults, I’m sure we all recognize that when we start something new, it’s probably going to take a few attempts before we get it right, particularly if the activity requires a set of skills that must be developed or learnt along the way. However, teaching this concept to a child can be difficult, particularly to the ones that are impatient and want to succeed on their first attempt. How do you explain to a five year old that they’re going to fail at first, and however upset they might become, they should keep trying (and keep failing) so that they can get better – they want to win, and WIN NOW!

See Also: Creativity Chit-Chat: A Parents Quick Guide to Creativity at Home

I’m not going to take a really deep dive into my feelings toward failure, and how students in our current system of schooling are not always given adequate opportunities to fail – neither am I going to talk too much about how we as parents, in our desire to ‘help’ our little ones along the way, often remove the opportunities for them to fail, because we want to see them constantly succeed. Instead, I’m going to talk about a mobile game called Mr. Jump.

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I think this is probably the first time that I’ve actually written about a mobile game, and that’s because I don’t find the time to play them often. However, my eldest has finally begun showing a greater interest in the iPad, and recently requested that I download Mr. Jump, after spending a day with his cousins.

Given his enthusiasm, I immediately made the purchase from the App Store, and we began playing. Oh my days – it was hard, and of course it immediately provoked annoying temper tantrums that made me want to delete the game immediately. But, then I realized that we can use video games to teach children to fail. One of the things that I noticed immediately about Mr. Jump, was that instead of losing a life after dying (failing), the screen displays the percentage of the level that the player has completed. This was fantastic, because it allowed me to show Lucas that he was making progress. As opposed to focusing on getting to the end of the level without dying, we were able to set goals, and the game assisted us with our goal setting by providing a line to indicate our best attempt. At first we just tried to get into the teens, then the twenties, and finally thirties. Each time we reached a new high I took the time to celebrate the success, and slowly the goal of our game shifted to beating our previous number, as opposed to getting to the end of the level (which is really hard!).

Mr. Jump, displays the percentage of the level completed. Allowing players to see their progress, and thus improvement.
Mr. Jump, displays the percentage of the level completed. Allowing players to see their progress, and thus improvement. It’s a minor detail that for me, has made all the difference.

In-between our attempts, we discussed the concept of failure, and I used our progress as an example to how we get better, and learn after each attempt. We even began to singing one of the verses from Zootopia after obtaining a new high number

‘Birds don’t just fly, they fall down and get up’ 

Slowly, but surely, Lucas was discovering that it’s ok to fail, so long as he picks himself back up, and tries again.

On writing this article, I find myself thinking this is an obvious thing to discover. After all, digital games are designed to give their players the opportunity to fail. It’s how players learn, and develop the necessary skills to overcome future challenges. I think this is referred to as ‘Game Flow’ within game theory classes.

Anyway, I’m going to take this experience into teaching Lucas, how to ride his bike – wish me luck on that one! If you haven’t see it, here’s the Zootopia song.

PS. The game’s great. I’ve been sneaking off to play it myself. Just got to level two yesterday!


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Establish a Culture of Excitement at the Start of School

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This year, establish a culture of excitement about the start of school.

So much of our culture is focused around lamenting school. Television advertisements celebrate the liberation of parents based on the start of the school year. Children are taught to dread Mondays and love Fridays. I agree that back-to-school is the most wonderful time of the year, but not because I finally get rid of my kids:

See Also: 7 Ways to Cultivate Creativity at Home

School is an opportunity for our children to work collaboratively to solve problems, engage with challenging ideas and information and question all the things they believe they (and their teachers) know.

Anna's kidsKids sometimes have a natural aversion to challenges, especially if they are not taught a skill set of how to approach a difficult, new situation. They like to feel comfortable and feel in charge. Newness can be disconcerting for all of us. Before school starts this year, try asking your child about what he is anticipating at the start of school. If you sense some anxiety, ask your child what she is worried about and then turn that concern in to an opportunity. Children are yearning to be taught and open to new ideas and new approaches.

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Stay positive and help your child to be positive through his mindset and approach to novel situations.

There is a lot of buzz around the concept of student engagement, but we—parents and teachers, alike—can’t simply require that our children be engaged. Like any other skill, our students have to be taught how to engage with the material and situations they are presented.

Celebrate the wonderful opportunities school brings with and for your children, and they are bound to be positive, engaged and excited about the 1st day of school, and all of the days thereafter.


Article By Ms. Anna Mahon

Anna Mahon is entering her 2nd year as Principal of Amity Regional High school. She has been a member of the ARHS since 2000 as English teacher, English Department Chair and Associate Principal.  She is a former elite-level athlete in Track and field and former national champion and 2004 Olympic Hammer Thrower. She is the mother of two elementary school children and comes from a family of educators, including her husband, mother and parent-in-law.


CE_FREEMOVIEV3FREE FILM on Creativity in Education

Creativity in Education: Exploring the Imbalance, is a documentary film that explores Creativity in education. The film is available on Amazon or can be access for free by simply commenting below or subscribing here.

 

 

 

7_Ways_to_Cultivate_Creativity_for_ParentsFREE BOOK on Cultivating Creativity

7 Ways to Cultivate Creativity is a FREE eBook for parents who want are looking for ideas on how to cultivate creative thinking skills at home. Subscribe here to download the book.

Read More

Imagination is more important than knowledge

Let your child Daydream: Imagination is more important than Knowledge

Imagination is more important than knowledge.” – Albert Einstein

My co-conspirator to DadsforCreativity.com, shared an absolutely awesome New York Times article last week. This October marked 100 years since Einstein came up with the General Theory of Relativity, which is something I barely understand and will not try and explain during this post. What I found most fascinating about the story is how Einstein utilized his imagination to generate his world changing theory about our universe (for those of you not familiar with the story, Einstein imagined he was riding a beam of light through space and this experience is what led him down the path to the General Theory of Relativity).

See Also: What if your child’s Imagination could Soar!

As pointed out in the NY Times article titled The Light-Beam Rider, Einstein ‘relished what he called the Gedankenexperimente’, this was his word for experiments and thoughts that he played out in his head. While none of us will likely claim to have the mind of arguably the greatest scientist of the Twentieth Century, we might still have some type of ‘crazy’ question or theory that we Gedankenexperimente with.

At the weekend my eldest found a rainbow in our house. I can only imagine what type of thoughts and questions were shooting through his mind as he wiggled his fingers in the different rays of color.
At the weekend my eldest found a rainbow in our house. I can only imagine what type of thoughts and questions were shooting through his mind as he wiggled his fingers in the different rays of color.

One of mine first began to manifest during my car journeys to Darbyshire to see my Mom’s family. As we sped up or down the M1 at around 70MPH, I would look out the window at all the objects that zoomed past our window. I used to try and make them go slower by fixing my gaze on an object in front, such as a road sign, and then following it as we passed by. I noticed that if I concentrated hard enough I could make the object almost stop in front of my window for a brief moment, before it disappeared behind me. As I played this game a question began to emerge – what would happen if a wasp entered the car and hovered in a stationary position just above my head? Would it zoom back at the same speed as the outside objects such as the road sign, and thus smash and splatter against our back window? Or would it occupy the same space as our car? While I suspected it was the latter, this only generated more questions – what exactly takes place between the wasp hovering 1mm outside my window and zooming by at 70mph, verses being 1mm inside my window and not?

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I reckon this question might easily be answered by a 12th grade physics teacher, and embarrassingly for me, perhaps it’s common knowledge to everyone, but this is the first time I’ve ever shared this question publicly and I still do not have a solution or more importantly WHY! (Hint Hint – comment below if you know the answer!).

As we think about cultivating creative thinking skills in our children there’s two things to make note of from my question about a wasp. For some reason I’ve kept this question locked up in my head for approximately 25 years. What’s stopped me asking this question? Why didn’t I bring it up during my hundreds of science lessons at school? Why didn’t I ever ask my parents or friends?

In fact, Einstein did more than just notice what the blind beetle couldn’t see. He was able to imagine it by conjuring up thought experiments. That ability to visualize the unseen has always been the key to creative genius. As Einstein later put it, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” – Walter Issacson (NY Times)

I wonder if this is a question that I must answer on my own? Am I forever destined to wrestle with this question until I begin to formulate a theory? Do we all have these types of experiences as a child – and if so perhaps there really is a scientist within everyone of us?

As these thought experiments remind us, creativity is based on imagination. If we hope to inspire kids to love science, we need to do more than drill them in math and memorized formulas. We should stimulate their minds’ eyes as well. Even let them daydream.- Walter Issacson (NY Times)

Read The Light-Beam Rider here.


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School’s Out: What has your kid learned this year?

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There is an Aboriginal tribe in Western Australia – they don’t celebrate birthdays chronologically – but only celebrate if a person has truly learned something. What if you didn’t celebrate each passing year just for the sake of +1 – but only if you really learned something – gained a knowledge tool that you didn’t have in your belt last year…or the year before…or ever.

What has your kid learned this year?

End of June – you’ve received your kid’s report card. You’ve scanned the pages of columns with the checks and grades – and gotten a snapshot of what? Do you really know what your son or daughter has learned? I’m talking about navigational knowledge – not rote knowledge. Rote knowledge is important – it’s the foundation – it’s the starting point. Truth north. It’s great for calm seas and clear sky.

Is that the future our kids are heading into?

Here’s my question & concern: Are we doing enough to teach our kids the creative problem solving skills that will serve them – when as futurists point out:

We simply cannot know what students will need to know in their future lives.

But we know one skill students will need to know in the future: learning how to learn.

Back to today: We do fine with assessing how a student did on a 6th grade math final.

Report Card lgr

But show me a report card that emphasizes innovative thinking or creative problem-solving skills. These are essential skills our kids will need to navigate a digitized world with boundaries so fluid that student avatars will fare better than classical cartographers.

It is our challenge as educators and parents to take a more creative and far-reaching approach to what we teach & grade in school and reinforce at home.

Below are three categories that probably didn’t appear on any year-end report card. I turned them into a discussion with my daughter about her 6th grade year:

  1. What have you learned about how to learn?

 “We did coding this year,” Natalie said, “and what’s cool is you get to create your own world…your own alternate universe.” I don’t know coding – and Natalie explained that in developing code there are gaps when you don’t have all the necessary information:

“Sometimes it’s like an incomplete puzzle – you may just get a few pieces,” she explained, “but it’s your responsibility to try and imagine the whole picture – as part of solving the problem.”

She added, “It’s like one move can determine the outcome. Might be right or wrong – but you have to try.”

 Research has shown that trial and error is a key component of the creative process and of all learning. Hearing Natalie mention making a mistake or failing at something led to a second question:

  1. What have you learned about how to approach a “difficult” or “confusing” problem?

“At first I got frustrated a lot. You and Mom tell me that mistakes and failure are part of learning. Like figuring out something new on my computer. I still get frustrated sometimes – but I learned – it’s okay not knowing what to do at first. I try to persevere. It doesn’t always work but…..when you’re down – there’s no other way but up. It’s really okay to make mistakes. ”

Time for me to step back – startled that this was an eleven-year old talking. I know when I was a sixth grader in a strict all-boys school – Dickensian schoolmasters publicly shamed and damned anyone who made mistakes or, even worse, failed.

 As parents – it’s so important to allow our kids to make mistakes on their own as part of the learning process.

It’s also important to celebrate their successes. But “What is a success?”   An A+ in history. Yes – acknowledge the accomplishment.

But parents must also be aware of less obvious accomplishments such as:

  • When a student struggles to understand any academic problem (and the fear and insecurity that bubbles forth) and then perseveres and solves it independently.
  • When a student fights through an uncertainty or insecurity and discovers a voice they didn’t know they had and expresses it as an idea or opinion or in a project.

Accomplishments like these are as important as any A+.

  1. What have you learned about creative problem solving?

“That it’s fun! It can be like the best playground. Anywhere!” Natalie said.

Natalie told me about a “great assignment” her science teacher gave the class. Students had to use their imagination to create an environment similar to a cell. My wife and I and Natalie sat around the dining room table one night and brainstormed about different possibilities. Some made sense. Some were ridiculous. But, most important, we tried to create an environment where it was safe to express any idea.

After some trial and error, Natalie came to us with an idea that we hadn’t discussed – the environment of a farm for the model of a cell: the farm house as the nucleus; the silo as vacuoles; tools, shovels etc. as lysosomes; and the surrounding fence as the membrane.

***

Often times our kids don’t realize the significance of a particular breakthrough. As parents we must make our kids aware of and celebrate their developing abilities in learning how to learn, discovering their unique voice and in creative problem solving.

Hopefully our kids will then circle these points on the map of their developing consciousness. We can help calibrate the compass they will use when facing new territories. But before we feel too self-important – we have to realize it’s the kid’s first compass – a starting point – and they may decide to throw away that compass – or use it in ways we can’t even envision.

Review the report cards you received in the mail. But go beyond the listed categories and check marks – try to discover the less obvious but equally important areas where your child may have broken new ground.

 Revisionist history has not been kind to Christopher Columbus – but he said something that rings true for any learner in a physical or virtual age:

 “You can never cross the ocean unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.”

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If you’re a parent you might be interested in the following articles from DadsforCreativity:

Let Your Child Daydream: Imagination is more important than Knowledge

Role of Trial and Error in Creativity

12 Books to read before you’re 12!

What if…Your Child’s Imagination Could Soar!

 

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