Gamification, Ed Tech, and Ways of Learning

In the Chicago Mama household, we talk about learning a lot. More specifically, we talk about the ways we each learn, and what ways resonate the best with each of us, and with The Girl, The Boy, and Number Three in turn. We talk about it because it’s interesting to me. And we talk about it because three out of five of us are dyslexic.

Dyslexics learn things in a different way than everyone else, so learning how to navigate the changing educational environment is extra challenging. Dyslexia, simply, is trouble with reading. But while a lot is known about dyslexia, teachers often do not know a lot about it. It’s tough to be in a literacy-heavy school (which is every school in K-3rd grade) and have great difficulty learning to read.

In our house, this was more true for Number Three than it is for The Girl. I have often wondered if girls are simply better readers (or more drawn to reading) than boys, on average, but I have no evidence for this. A May 2016 article in the Wall Street Journal suggests that my hypothesis is a shared assumption.

The article reveals a small study published recently. In the study, which took place in France, children were given reading tests and told alternately that they were assessments or research for a new game in development. Boys scored higher than girls, comparatively, on game-related tests.

This is not surprising to The Dad, he says, because boys are more competitive than girls (or are competitive in a different way). To me, this explains the current trend of gamification in curriculum. Indeed, Mark Zuckerberg rather famously announced his intentions toward education with a Facebook post (announcement) about education in September 2015.

Little did I know at the time that my children would be soon be ensnared in the Summit PLP. Yes, I know that is a provocative way of referring to a program rolled out to six CPS schools this year in a pilot of “personalized learning.”

I’m using provocative language because this program, what it represents, and what it will do to education in America is very scary. I want you to know what is happening in your school and why this new program doesn’t have to be an example of the future of education. At this school or at any other.

In September, I authored a Facebook note about the plan to roll out something called Summit Basecamp to three grades, which directly affects 2/3 of my students. In October, I followed it up with another Facebook note, primarily a list of questions for which I am still awaiting clear answers. In November, I began hearing whispers of complaints from parents about the program. During the December round of parties and festive events, parents were no longer measuring their words about the program: Is it staying? Is there anything we can do to get rid of it?

This post is an attempt to answer those questions in a transparent way. As a policy wonk, armchair researcher, and person who occasionally reads the fine print, I have done a fair amount of research on this nascent program and its implications not only for my children, but for all children. Not surprisingly, and mirroring the responses to my own initial school-level inquiries, what I found initially was marketing fluff.

In the absence of clear answers, I refused to sign the parental consent waiver. While this has caused some extra work for a few teachers, it has also kept their skills fresh. And that’s important.

Because the implementation/instance of the PLP is a disaster.

It’s possible that Seattle could have told us that. Or New Hampshire. Certainly most parents I’ve spoken to decry the PLP’s effectiveness (as they quietly put their houses on the market, find room in the budget for parochial school, and freak out completely–or all three). It’s all anecdotal, and most people know that I am critical of the PLP, so I won’t bother to tell you the number of folks who do not think well of the PLP.

Would they change their minds if their children did well on the three required sittings of NWEA* this year? Possibly. For now, it might be enough that their children find no joy in learning. It might be enough that the competency-based grading scale with its tightly controlled weights make it extraordinarily difficult to earn a mark higher than 91%. It might be enough that students spend 3/4 of their school days looking at a glowing screen.

A growing body of research has found problems with an over-reliance on technology. In classrooms and full stop. In fact, Parents Across America has put together a number of resources and research about edtech, including this glossary that defines what all the terms (often used interchangeably) are. These terms often sound like your child is getting one-on-one education,  but nothing could be further from the truth.

Check out these resources and let me know what you think.



* more on this in a subsequent post.


2 thoughts on “Gamification, Ed Tech, and Ways of Learning

  1. Stacie says:

    I have pulled my child out of our local public school because of this program. It is a disaster! Our school announced it will never go back to traditional teaching! Engagement is the piece that is missed, that’s it. Please let me know if there is a group that I can join to stop this program, it’s killing our kids education, as they hate sitting in front if a screen all day. Thank you for writing!

  2. Colleen says:

    I am in the process of starting a petition in my school district. They did not give us a chance to say no to the summit as it was included in freshman orientation a week before school started and THEY DID NOT TELL US WHAT THEY WOULD REALLY BE DOING! I feel the same as you about this program. I have spent countless hours researching this and realizing this is much bigger than the Summit. This is an attempt to give politicians and billionaires full control of the educational system. We should all be scared. I just saw a new program, Future Ready Schools, partners with Summit and it is the same exact program! We need to stand up, speak out and come together in the fight for education!

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