Politics & Government

State Senate bill encourages learning via video games

OLYMPIA -- Many parents try to limit their children's video game time at home.

A new state bill, however, could give children more gaming time in an unlikely place: school.

Senate Bill 6104 would create a committee to examine how interactive gaming can boost student involvement and achievement, and create a pilot program for integrating games into K-12 curriculum.

The bill was heard Wednesday in Olympia by the Senate Committee on Early Learning & K-12 Education.

Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, one of the bill's co-sponsors, said interactive video games could add to the diverse learning styles of today's classrooms.

"We have all different types of learners," Brown said. "We need to address that, and this is one of those ways."

Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, thinks interactive gaming will give students the opportunity to learn while enjoying a game, something she experienced while visiting students of Washington Virtual Academies (WAVA), an online K-12 curriculum program used by the Monroe and Omak public school districts.

Studies from the University of Washington's Center for Game Science show interactive games can promote creativity and enhance knowledge of science and technology-based fields among students.

"I think we have to bring that technology into the classroom (and) into our schools," McAuliffe said, "because kids are way ahead of us in that right now."

Seattle attorney Matthew Hooper testified about academic-based gaming in schools. A report from the Entertainment Software Association indicates 95 percent of American children -- and 97 percent of teenagers -- play video games, he said.

By the time an average person reaches age 21, he of she has spent more than 10,000 hours playing video games, according to the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project.

"Their brains are learning, from a very early age, differently than we did," Hooper told the committee. "It's no longer absorbing passive information; it's now absorbing interactive information."

Hooper also cited a brain-based research study by Stanford University professor and neuroscientist Brian Knutson that analyzed the effects of educational video games on youths.

The study used MRIs to monitor student brains in two groups: those engaged in playing interactive games, and those passively watching the games.

The study showed specific areas of the brain associated with incentive, motivation, memory and learning were engaged by the game-playing students, but were not engaged in those merely watching, Hooper said.

Additional testing showed that, months later, students involved in game play retained more information.

Hooper also cited reports of academic progress in districts that tested academic video games in their curriculums.

A 2012 pilot initiative in Clark County, Nevada introduced an academic video game to seven of the district's lowest performing elementary schools. Schools using the game saw the percentage of students meeting or exceeding standards on a statewide math exam double, Hooper said.

Not many school districts or states are incorporating academic games into their curriculums, Hooper said.

The Interactive Gaming in Schools Public-Private Partnership (PPP) would be a 10-person committee comprised of four state legislators, four experts for educational gaming integration, and representatives from the Department of Early Learning (DEL) and Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).

A legislator would be appointed from each caucus of both the House and Senate.

If the bill passes, the committee will need to be appointed by August 1 and will need to submit a proposal for a pilot program no later than Dec. 1, 2015.

-- Washington State University student Matt Benoit: 509-947-9277, mbenoit@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @Matt_Benoit_