Which Comes First – Problem Solving or Facts?

Perhaps they can be learned together in a more meaningful way. In a Frontline video James Paul Gee makes a case for using video games with students to teach 21st Century skills of problem solving and innovation.

We typically test students on the facts that they know but are less adept at assessing if they can use the facts to solve problems. We often attempt to ensure students know the vocabulary and facts before we give them experiences in which these words and facts are used. They are both important and require the other in order to be meaningful. You need facts to solve problems. A game or virtual environment has the quality of providing an experience in which a student can solve problems and learn facts and concepts simultaneously, they may even learn vocabulary after concepts are learned.

I watched a 7 year old playing a video game called Spore, the concepts were about evolution and biology and the game required manipulating an organism in varying stages of evolution. This little girl solved a variety of problems including avoiding predators, experimenting with mobility and communication and finding shelter and food. Among the concepts learned were the importance of a brain to a living organism, usefulness of camouflage, and the value of mobility types. She does not yet know all the vocabulary associated with these concepts but the frame of reference allows for a meaningful learning of facts and vocabulary. When told the word “predator” and “camouflage” in relation to the images on the screen that she had played with, it made perfect sense and the words were then used in conversation. Interestingly, none of this took place in a school classroom.

James Paul Gee describes games as being best for “preparation for future learning”, to give a foundation and background for learning that will take place later in another mode. What are the implications for children with limited experiences? Could a virtual environment provide that preparation for future learning effectively enough?

2 comments on “Which Comes First – Problem Solving or Facts?

  1. Marion Brady writes that big ideas are needed to assist in organizing and making sense of what is to be learned.
    “Give adults the exams they took a few years earlier in high school or college, and their poor performance will prove that facts that are not made part of an often-used larger scheme of meaning are soon forgotten”

    http://bit.ly/9kD3RY

  2. ” You need facts to solve problems. A game or virtual environment has the quality of providing an experience in which a student can solve problems and learn facts and concepts simultaneously, they may even learn vocabulary after concepts are learned.”

    Especially if this game or virtual environment considers PBL
    http://www.edutopia.org/project-based-learning

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