Time to 'geek out' and learn 'beautifully'

27th April 2012 at 01:00

WARNING: This issue contains references to World of Warcraft, Dungeons and Dragons and Battlestar Galactica.

If any of those cultural phenomena strike you as irredeemably geeky, you may want to look away now. But be aware that "geeking out" is a 21st- century form of learning - and it means more than gaining an obsessive knowledge of popular fantasy.

The authors of a book published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology used the phrase to describe when young people work intensely on a creative project that directly interests them, whether it is programming a computer game or customising a guitar.

"Geeking out" certainly describes the work of five high school pupils in California, who are currently building a fully rotating flight simulator based on a spacecraft from Battlestar Galactica (see page 11).

The phrase has also been adopted by games designer Jesse Schell. His article in this issue is not about how schools can operate more like video games (see TESpro 4 November 2011 for that), but about how teaching should share the attributes of popular 21st-century products and services, such as the iPhone and Amazon.

Customers today want things that are beautiful, customised, shared and real, he argues (see pages 4-7). Why can't teaching be like that, too?

Cynical teachers may scoff that it is all very well saying this if you are a games designer, or a Hollywood animation instructor or running a flash- looking after-school hang-out for creative teenagers in Chicago. It is not quite so easy if you are teaching bottom-set Year 8 maths on a Monday morning.

This is true. But great educators, from Rousseau to Jim Henson, have been adept at seeing what engages a contemporary audience, then using it to deliver an educational message.

So do not be afraid of the references to fantasy games and science fiction series. If a way can be found to get those Year 8 pupils to "geek out" over maths, everyone will be happy. So say we all.

Michael Shaw is editor of TESpro @mrmichaelshaw

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