In the last two decades, American students have fallen behind in critical subjects like math, science and reading. In 2005, the U.S. ranked ninth among some industrialized nations in the percentage of students graduating from secondary school.
American education officials are searching for novel ways to stimulate learning again. One tool that is getting some attention is the use of video games.The National Education Association says some schools across the country are now incorporating video into learning.
Sixteen-year-old John Diaz is a typical teenager. He says he loves playing video games but doesn't like traditional schoolwork. "I'm not big into doing homework or something like that," he said.
During his summer vacation Diaz is continuing his studies at home. That is because his courses are available on his home computer, by way of the Florida Virtual School.
Florida Virtual's Executive Director, Julie Young, says the school teaches students with the technology they most enjoy using in and out of school. "We have so many students that [who] are unengaged in our schools," Young said. "They power-down [lose interest] when they go to school. And we're very hopeful that Conspiracy Code will entice the learner to really get into the detail of the learning."
Conspiracy Code is a video game that teaches U.S. history. Students guide two heroes in a quest to stop a conspiracy to change the past. Along the way, students learn about events such as the American Civil War, and report back to their teacher who is posing as a spy.
John Diaz says he enjoys American history now. "I like to do the game everyday," he said. "And I try to keep up with it, and it's a lot of fun. It keeps me interested and I also get to learn at the same time."
The game is jointly developed by the virtual school and these computer programmers from an educational software company [called 360ED].
During training sessions, staff at the Florida Virtual School are shown how to integrate video games into lessons.
But not every school district and educator endorse the use of video games. The Federation of American Scientists says schools are often reluctant to abandon textbooks for video technology.
Educators from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology say the use of video games has also been limited by strict state requirements and the cost of producing the videos.
A recent study by scientists from Madrid's Complutense University found that gaming can sometimes lead to high dropout rates and low student motivation. The Madrid study found students need more feedback from teachers during the learning process.
But John Diaz says Conspiracy Code has helped him with his history studies, and says he hopes more video games will be created to cover other difficult academic subjects such as math and science.