Field of Science

A Middle/High School That Teaches Complex Systems Through Games??!

A new school is opening in New York for grades 6-12 that completely blows my mind. The Quest to Learn school combines games and complex systems in a way that pretty much would have made my life as a teenager. Hell, I wouldn't mind going back to high school now if I got to go here. I'll let them describe it:

Mission critical at Quest is a translation of the underlying form of games into a powerful pedagogical model for its 6-12th graders. Games work as rule-based learning systems, creating worlds in which players actively participate, use strategic thinking to make choices, solve complex problems, seek content knowledge, receive constant feedback, and consider the point of view of others. As is the case with many of the games played by young people today, Quest is designed to enable students to “take on” the identities and behaviors of explorers, mathematicians, historians, writers, and evolutionary biologists as they work through a dynamic, challenge-based curriculum with content-rich questing to learn at its core. It’s important to note that Quest is not a school whose curriculum is made up of the play of commercial videogames, but rather a school that uses the underlying design principles of games to create highly immersive, game-like learning experiences. Games and other forms of digital media serve another useful purpose at Quest: they serve to model the complexity and promise of “systems.” Understanding and accounting for this complexity is a fundamental literacy of the 21st century.
Elsewhere they go into a bit more detail about how games are used to teach different subject areas:

At Quest students learn standards‐based content within classes that we call domains. These domains organize disciplinary knowledge in 21st certain ways—around big ideas that require expertise in two or more traditional subjects, like math and science, or ELA and social studies. One of our domains— The Way Things Work—is an integrated math and science class organized around ideas from design and engineering: taking systems apart and putting them back together again. Another domain—Codeworlds—is an integrated ELA, math, and computer programming class organized around the big idea of symbolic systems, language, syntax, and grammar. A third domain—Being, Space and Place—an integrated ELA and social studies class—is organized around the big idea of the individual and their relationship to community and networks of knowledge, across time and space. Wellness is the last of our integrated domains, a class that combines the study of health, socio‐emotional issues, nutrition, movement, organizational strategies, and communication skills.

One of my favorite aspects of this school is that they have a separate staff of game designers working together with their teachers. As a former teacher I can tell you that designing good, creative lessons is a relatively different skill-set from actually implementing these lessons in front of a class and following up with your students, and that doing both well requires more time than is physically possible without traveling at relativistic speeds. So having designers who are there at the school and understand the teachers' needs, and who have the time to make great lessons, is a really really good idea.

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