(Mark) Smithfield isn't a world-renowned scientist working in a remote part of the world—he's a 10-year-old sitting in front of a computer. And the game he and other fourth graders at University Elementary School in Bloomington, IN, have been playing for the last few weeks is Quest Atlantis, a free multiuser 3-D virtual environment in which humans provide the inhabitants of the planet Atlantis with knowledge as they slowly rebuild their destroyed Arch of Wisdom.
Smithfield's teacher, Beth Piekarsky, knows firsthand that gaming has transformed the lives of her students. Before joining the ranks of more than 3,000 Questers in the U.S., Australia, Singapore, Denmark, and Sweden, Smithfield had no interest in school. "I couldn't reach him," Piekarsky recalls. But once Quest Atlantis was introduced to the curriculum at the beginning of the academic year, "He just lit up like you wouldn't believe." Now students turn to the once apathetic, quiet boy for answers to all questions about the game, and the quality of his schoolwork has greatly improved.Another video game, Whyville, teaches stuff like epidemiology and the spread of infectious diseases:
With more than 550,000 registered users worldwide, an estimated 14,000 kids from age nine to 15 log on each day as citizens of this fictional town to explore, learn, create, and have fun—while soaking in knowledge of physics, biology, and world history.If anybody has experience with these games, let us know what you think. And especially what your kids think. My kids discern the "educational" label from a mile away, translate it as "adult-imposed (no fun)," and back off. Maybe I'll let them try quest atlantis and whyville. Report to follow.