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So, my grandson was having his weekly “sleepover at Grandma’s house” the other day and he brought along the “Skylanders” video game he received as a Christmas gift. It is a fairly complex game with many different characters, skill levels, and options that allow the players to improve their characters’ abilities. As he was playing, we noticed that he had chosen one specific level. It was one that we had seen him play before. When we asked, “Why are you playing here?”, his response was, “I like this one. I have played all the levels already. Now I choose the ones that are fun and I play them.” He is 6 1/2 years old. He had never played this game before the morning of December 25, 2012. That was 60 days ago.Skylanders He has never read an instruction manual. He has conducted no search on the Internet to find hints about how to overcome obstacles. He did not ask his parents or his grandparents for help (he knew better than to ask old people about new things). Yet, he has mastered the game… learned what to do and how to do it proficiently… in just 60 days. It started me thinking about education and process. How did he learn so quickly? How did he become so proficient in such a short time?

My first realization was that he was completely engaged in playing the game. The characters, the settings, the colors, the action all focused his full attention on what he was doing. This is amazing. His First Grade teacher comments regularly on his lack of focus and attention, and, yet, while playing the game, you have to stand in front of the screen to break his focus and get him to come to dinner!

My next “aha” was that he gathered information as he worked through the process. He attempted methods to overcome challenges and used them until they no longer worked. He then asked “What might work here?” and experimented with different answers until he found the method that allowed him to defeat the challenge. Then, he moved on.  He didn’t stop playing. He didn’t stop and ask an adult to tell him what to do. He kept experimenting until he discovered the solution to his problem on his own! He learned how to succeed by asking questions (experimenting) over and over.

Lastly, I realized that he was not afraid to fail. His success was built upon repeated failures. He learned by making mistakes. The more mistakes he made, the more proficient he became. playingvideosThe more proficient he became, the greater was his success. His greatest rewards came from getting the wrong answers.

Engagement – Self-directed Inquiry – Experimentation – Failure – that was the educational process that led to proficiency in 60 days. Is that your approach? I think we are on to something here. Maybe we need to find ways to use what I am now calling the “Skylanders System” to achieve proficiency across the board, not just in video games.

When discussing this with my colleague, Matt, he expressed similar findings with his son and daughter.  In fact, when he needed to learn some complicated video editing software for his fishing adventures, he gave the program to his daughter for a week or so…she learned it, and was able to teach Matt the basics in no time flat. She also began doing her own editing with friends and was soon winning weekly contests on a website for her creative videos cut to music.  I’m sure this story is familiar to many.

How can we as teachers learn from our students? How can we “re-think” our approach to teaching so we can be truly effective for 21st century learners? Can we deliver a better Math,Science, Social Studies, or English lesson using this system? What would it look like in the classroom?  Maybe, just maybe, we’re on to something here. Stay tuned, stay connected,…..!


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