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Posts Tagged ‘chocolate-covered broccoli

Yesterday my wife and i sat through a series of cinema ads that screened before the latest Hollywood blockbuster. One ad made our stomachs turn and churn.

The ad was from a regional publishing and edtech company. It claimed to have a cool new app that gamified math. Their solution was a problem: It combined slick-looking graphics of a town and data “analytics” with conventional worksheets.

I have described this type of “gamification” as chocolate-covered broccoli. It is an attempt to get kids to consume something good for them (broccoli/math) by disguising it with something they would actually eat (chocolate/game).

Doing this spoils the taste of good chocolate and healthy broccoli. It also sends the wrong message and expectation that games are for incentivising the unpleasant work that is math.

Consider another way to picture the app in the hands of a young learner. Imagine sending a child on a mission to collect recyclables from her apartment block. Every time the door opens at each household, she is given a math worksheet to complete. As she walks up each floor, the math gets more difficult and she receives stickers for each completed worksheet. Oh, and chocolate to fuel her climb.

Was the point of the exercise the collection of recyclables or the completion of math worksheets?

The point of math is logical thinking and problem-solving. There are aspects that need memorisation and even drilling, e.g., multiplication tables. But math should not be extrinsically driven by game mechanics.

Case in point — consider the approach of Eddie Woo, a math teacher who was a finalist in the Global Teacher Prize 2018 and winner of Australia’s Local Hero award.

Video source

Woo leverages not on games or gamification but on the wonder, utility, and authenticity of math.

To the developers of gaming or gamified math apps that say “it just works”, I ask WHY.

You cannot be a-theoretical with your answer. If you are, you have not done your research. If your answer is that it works in the short-term, consider what it does in the longer-term with learners who rely on incentivisation over actualisation.

I read this tweet conversation on this week’s #asiaED slow chat with some concern. Click here to see the whole conversation if only the first tweet appears.

The chat focused on the issue of homework and opinions flew left, right, and centre. It was good, it was bad, it depended on context, it could be flipped, it could be renamed, it should be redesigned, etc.

The conversation I highlighted was a bit different in that it implied that homework had a bad name and needed good “public relations” or a better public perception.

What immediately sprang to my mind was homework as chocolate-covered broccoli.

Broccoli is actually good for you, so the imagery was not quite apt. Perhaps most traditional and uncritically assigned homework is better described as rotten chocolate-covered broccoli.

Say “homework” to teachers and the majority will:

  • not question it
  • view and practice it as they experienced it as students
  • not factor research on the impact of homework on learning
  • not reconsider the practice and design of homework

Not many will associate homework with rotten chocolate-covered broccoli. As a result, not many will associate homework with a challenge to change mindsets and behaviours.

Homework is rotten chocolate-covered broccoli when:

  • it is the thing to do (it is in your formal or informal job description)
  • you dish it out because someone else (a superior or a parent) expects you to
  • it is no different from what you experienced as a student despite the differences in contexts
  • it keeps everyone busy for business sake
  • it does not reinforce or enable learning
  • it does not provide meaningful and spaced practice

Is there an alternative to rotten chocolate-covered broccoli? Yes, it is called NONE: No Other Non-critical Extras. Learn instead to GAME: Generate Authentic and Meaningful Experiences.

If homework is a knee-jerk response instead of a well thought out and designed activity, leave it out. If the practice of homework is not informed by context, good educational research, and concern for learners, leave it out.

When in doubt, leave it out.

There should be no doubt that there is homework that is useful or powerful. There should also be no doubt that homework is work and can be difficult. Anything worth doing or learning takes effort. But it does not have to be dreary, dreaded work.

Games are difficult, but they are fun. They are fun because they are difficult. But do not gamify homework; that is creating a contest for eating rotten chocolate-covered broccoli. Unpack a game to determine good design principles for homework: Relevance and reach, reward, returns, rapid response.

The redesign of homework is not a superficial change in moniker or the reinvention of something old. It is the opportunity to innovate and change. That is your homework!

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