Why Were Your Kids Playing Games?

"We need to talk," the principal tells me.

"Mind if I shut the door?" I ask.

"I do. I have an open door policy to keep up."

"Oh." We sit down at a table and I pull out a hoarhound from his candy dish.

"I see you were playing games today instead of teaching."

"It was an advanced simulation."

"It was a game."

"But not like Tic-Tac-Toe or Dots. This one involved a mock factory, where they were making their pictures and . . ."

"So they were drawing?"

"They were reading as well. They had to read various scenarios and describe their solutions in a text. It was real interactive and the kids were engaged and . . ."

"Do you remember what I said after the Hang Man Fiasco of 1895?"

"No games, period."

He raises an eyebrow at me. I gulp hard and almost swallow my hoarhound.

"Yes, but this wasn't violent. How could a parent possibly complain?"

"It's about learning, Tom. I know you're trying to connect it to learning, but frankly it's a stretch," the principal tells me.

"Well, soldiers play games. Surgeons do simulations. It's part of their education."

"Yes, but this isn't war and this isn't a hospital. If we want students to pass the rote memorization test, we need to focus on rote memorization skills. Were you sleeping during our professional development lead by the Drill and Skill Consulting Group?"

"I was paying attention," I lie. The truth is that I was paying attention, but only to the words. I wasn't about to let Mr. Brown win another week of Buzzword Bingo.

"If you want to abandon slate-based learning, at least try the Jonestown Intervention worksheets. Or maybe fill out the packets of algorithms."

My solution: we'll create an algorithm factory and integrate it into our Conflict-Oriented Reading and Writing Project (a.k.a. The Factory Game).


  1. Interesting writing style.

  2. Love it, been lurking for ages, keep it up! Just wondering what your views are on the potentially contentious issue of integrating pencil sharpeners? Is this a step too far?

  3. Hello, my name is Rodney Patrick and I am a student in EDM 310 at the University of South Alabama. I would first like to say this displays and excellent example of the many tactics that should be used in education, but it is usually frowned upon. In my opinion, students really have a better chance of not only learning material but actually understanding it. My professor commonly uses the phrase "burp back" in order to explain to us that it is easy to memorize and "burp back" the correct answer and it is even easier to forget. However, when we actually have a hands-on interaction with what we are trying to learn we not only memorize, but we understand the concepts and are able to use them. This post has been very insightful and I look forward to viewing more of your posts. Here is a link to our class blog EDM 310 Class Blog. Also, here is a link to my personal class blog, where I should have a summary of my visits to your blog posted by February 12,2012. Rodney Patrick's EDM 310 Class Blog

  4. Hello, my name is Cedric Lett. I am a student in EDM310 at the University of South Alabama. After reading your post I remember a post I read about keeping your students engaged in learning. The post compared engaging your students to entertaining your student. I believe that your post displays a great use of keeping your students engaged. Rodney Patrick spoke about the phrase "burp back" and easy way to open a students head and fill it up with every thing you know, then give them a test so they can give your knowledge back. I think its a must that we find other ways to teach. I enjoyed reading your post and look forward to reading many more. Here is a link to my class blog please feel free to visit and leave comments if you like.


  5. Check out this article about the importance of play:

  6. Hello Mr. Spencer,

    My name is Jason Lynch and I am a student at the University of South Alabama in EDM310. I wanted to say your dialogue was interesting. I was impressed with your ability to continue to stay on track with your content learning even though your supervisor was trying to shift your classroom lesson into a supposed unsuitable practice in your school. I also, find this type of writing to be very dynamic. It enhances the content to a more interactive style of blogging. You read one line and then you want to read the next line. I really appreciate your contributions to the blogging community and look forward to your future posts.

    Jason Lynch

  7. Mr. Spencer, I have been reading a lot of your posts lately and find them all very interesting. Your supervisor doesn't seem to be on your side and isn't really focusing on the more important things about teaching. Yes, test scores are important but our main goal as educators can not be to force material into a child's head just so they can pass a test. We, as teachers, need to allow our students to think for themselves and learn in a way that they can use their knowledge even outside of the classroom. I enjoyed your post and I like how you are not a burp back teacher. Keep up the good work and I look forward to reading more of your posts.
    Caitlyn Latini

  8. Hi John,
    I really enjoyed this set of dialogue! I feel that it is extremely important to keep your students engaged while learning, for that’s when they are learning the most. I know how hard it is to pay attention to lecture after lecture, and to memorize straight facts. When you incorporate these concepts into a game, however, the information suddenly seems simple and a breeze to recall. I also feel it is important for students to learn skills instead of just memorizing facts. If you teach a child how to retrieve information (and then let them show you they can do it), they’ll never forget how. Repetition is important. I mean who wants a doctor performing surgery on them who has never even practiced the procedure? I really enjoyed reading your post!
    Best wishes, Victoria

  9. Dear Techno-Tommy,
    I am a student at the University of South Alabama in EDM 310, and have just been reading around your blog. I was encouraged to hold onto my human side or pencil as I strive to internally motivate and lead students into the emerging world of technology. After all, we are not imputing information into robots, we are helping students to learn information they can relate to a better life. If I were teaching a techno-nut who was on a quest to be a teacher, I would send them to your blog as a model. Balance between humanity and technology is elementary and necessary.
    The pencil is a wonderful example of my life experience. I love that you animated it. This brings reality to a shared experience with me. The pencil was always there and I am able to look at myself in a deeper way by considering the pencil as an external extension. So weird.
    Thanks. I love your blog. Ann,@BurgoAnn, http://murphydeborahedm310.blogspot.com/

  10. Hi, my name is Pamela and I am a student at the University of South
    Alabama in EDM 310. Our professor Dr. Strange always uses an example of "burp back" education, at the beginning of our first class. I agree that student's learn better when they are engaged in an activity. I appreciate your sense of humor and contributions. By letting us read your post, we are also learning how to change and how to become better teacher's.

  11. Hello Mr.Spencer,
    I think it is great that you found a way to get your students to learn while at the same time having fun learning. Although it is unfortunate that not everyone thinks this way. Some people are more by the book kinds of people. I think that Principals take a step back sometimes and allow the teacher to be flexible in their teaching styles, and only step back in when their is something that needs to be addressed, when it is concerning the mental well being of a student. (as far as learning things that aren't appropriate or that could be racially bias etc.) I really did enjoy reading this post, while it did sadden me that the principal was discouraging something that is obviously good for the students.

  12. Mr. Spencer,
    I have been reading your blog today. I am an EDM 310 student at the University of South Alabama. I have really enjoyed your posts. I love your use of sarcasm. Our kids really do learn by doing, not by memorizing and "burping back" as my professor would say. There is way to much politicizing of our systems. We have to do what works best for OUR students. Which in the end may not be suitable for others and that's o.k. too. We have to teach our students to be thinkers and doers.

  13. Mr. Spencer,

    My name is Phillip Hall and I am a student at the University of South Alabama. I am taking EDM 310 under Dr. Strange. Thanks for being the teacher I can aspire to become. Although your principal is concerned with how the school looks and keeping the school out of trouble, I'm glad you are concerned with teaching your students meaningful information. When I was in grade school, I learned best when my teacher had us engaged in collaborative learning situations. I remember information taught in these lessons, much more than the teachers who lectured and we memorized (burp-back>. Learning while having fun; this is the kind of teacher I hope to become. Thanks for allowing us to read your post.


  14. Hello, I am an EDM310 student at the University of South Alabama. I think it's great that you voiced your opinion about your teaching techniques. If more teachers would do the same we would make some progress.

  15. Hey Mr. Spencer, I am a student at the University of South Alabama. I love your sarcasm throughout most of your post. It’s a great way to put a smile on your face in today’s life with all the different styles, tactic, and rules in education. Principals have a great role in our schools, but don’t help much with actually teaching the students. They are more about carrying on a good image for the school. Seeing that you are more concerned for the students that you have to educate than what your peers think is a very important quality for a teacher. Thanks so much for your post I look forward to the next one.
    Kristy Burton

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