Videogames in the Classroom? They Might Help Boys Learn

March 20, 2012 at 8:53 am 3 comments

Every chair was taken, causing the staff at Schlow Memorial Library to quickly add a few more rows in the back of the room. But still, some people had to stand in the back of the room, and others peeked in through the doors.

They came to the spring’s first talk in the Research Unplugged series—which is designed to connect Penn State’s researchers with the State College community—to hear Alison Carr-Chellman, department head and professor instructional systems in the College of Education, discuss how the U.S. school system is failing boys. Looking out at the crowd, she said, “I do think the gender issue brings out lots of people.”

It certainly does. Carr-Chellman gave a talk about the issue at TEDxPSU in 2010, and since the video was posted on the main TED website, she’s received at least one email or phone call every day. She believes that a combination of Zero Tolerance policies (designed to stop bullying and violence) that are carried too far, a drop in the number of male elementary school teachers, and a collaborative learning culture that discourages competition and individualism are causing boys to tune out in the classroom—and eventually drop out.

She provided a lot of numbers to back up her position—check out The Boys Initiative or the 100 Girls Project, which has found, for instance, that for every 100 girls who are expelled from school, 325 boys are. And she talked about a provocative solution: incorporating videogames, even violent ones such as Call of Duty and World of Warcraft, into the classroom.

The way Carr-Chellman framed her talk was particularly clever. She asked, “What are boys like?” Then she showed a photo of her sons curled up together in a hammock, reading books—it was titled, “what we want them to be like.” She then showed a second photo—the same boys, outfitted for Halloween in full soldier regalia. “Halloween,” she said, laughing, “is all about, ‘Can I get a sword or an axe or a mace?’”

Just about everyone in the audience laughed knowingly.

Carr-Chellman understands that some teachers have reservations about using videogames, and she certainly doesn’t want to abolish Zero Tolerance programs. She’s also a feminist, and she doesn’t want to hinder girls’ progress at the expense of boys. But she wants policy makers and teachers to think about ways to keep boys engaged in the classroom. “This is a symptom of a larger problem,” she said. “They need to feel confident.”

The issue is complex, and it deserves a thorough treatment; we’re working on a story about Carr-Chellman and her research for an upcoming issue. In the meantime, you can check out her TEDxPSU talk here, and watch an excerpt from her Research Unplugged talk here.

And if you’re in the State College area on a Thursday between now and April 19, stop by Schlow Memorial Library, on the corner of Beaver Avenue and Allen Street, for additional speakers. The talks start at 12:15 p.m. and last for about an hour. They’re always worth the time.

Lori Shontz, senior editor

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. mrepluribus  |  April 12, 2012 at 1:49 am

    Dr. Carr-Chellman, an absolute delight to have as a guest on Radio Free Threedonia last year. http://www.threedonia.com/archives/35582

  • 2. GameDesigner  |  June 8, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    It’s an interesting thought, but how can they use video games in a classroom as a teaching tool, especially violent ones? I find Interactive learning to be one of the best ways of teaching, now if they can mix it up with games…

  • 3. Muriel Hykes  |  November 3, 2012 at 3:27 am

    As soon as the most recent article about her research is posted here, I’m going to foward it to Bruce Coville and several librarians who are interested in boys’ literature.

    I would enjoy a few days talking to Dr. Carr-Chellman. I was a hypenated feminist who tried to raise sons in a non-sexist way. I got quite an education and used all my degrees while raising five sons!

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