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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Sports and Games

We turned off the Jets-Steelers game at half-time — looked so bad already and was a late Sunday before a school night. And it was hard to read the paper this morning. I had gotten caught up in the Jets run through the playoffs. Driving alone in the car I’d turn to sports radio channels where there was always a combination of analysis and boosterism. The prospect of the Jets going to and even winning the Super Bowl had consumed a great deal of emotional energy in this household. Sports generates hope and fear in nearly equal measures — visions of total triumph and absolute defeat. Many people are trying to marry those emotions to learning — by having young people play, or design, games that involve decision-making — the games may echo history, diplomacy, engineering, rocket science, but the idea is to link the adrenaline rush and the Deweyite learning-by-doing mode of gaming to content which young people come to master even without realizing they are studying.

I have been hearing more and more about large scale experiments with this mode of teaching, but at least so far the focus seems more on the computer design skills than the content. It is as if when we speak about 21st Century Learning we mean 21st Century technical prowess — comfort with hard and software — even as we teach the same old Social Studies curriculum. At the very same time — and you will see this featured in the upcoming special Horn Book issue on nonfiction — authors who write nonfiction for young people are going in all sorts of new directions. So there is this odd mismatch — kids are using new approaches to technical learning to master old subjects, just as authors are using old technical skills to master new subjects. There is some basic crossed wire here — where we authors should be working with the kids, and the kids should be exploring new ideas with the authors. Somehow it is easier to convince a school to devote resources to this broad category called 21st Century Learning than it is to get them to notice 21st Century thinking in regular old books.

I hope I don’t sound to my-team-lost grouchy. But I love the idea of getting that sports mind spinning about history, and so far what I am seeing is sports and games in one room, and history in another.