How Kids Can Learn About Planning Skills and Physics from World of Goo

There is compelling evidence that kids are using all types of planning skills when playing video games. In fact, the data suggests that the more kids play video games, the better they get at developing the planning strategies and skills that make them into better gamers. Pundits such as Jane McGonigal in her book “ Reality is Broken,” and Mark Prensky in his book “Digital Game-Based Learning” might argue that this is sufficient for success in the real world, but I would argue that while it might help in some technology-based fields, these skills may not as readily apply to the world of people and business.

However, this should not diminish the potential of game-based Planning skills as an opportunity for learning real-world Planning skills. A physics-based puzzle game such as World of Goo–which requires the player to plan out a series of structures to guide a group of goo balls to an exit–provides for a great example of how Planning is used in games. The key thing here, however, is to use methods that can help your children to make obvious connections (what we call near transfer), and more distant connections (what we call far transfer) so that the planning skills used in one game generalize to using these skills across settings. Here are some suggestions about how to do so:

  • Ask them to teach you how to play the World of Goo. Begin by clearly stating that you are a novice and that they need to provide you with a basic understanding of the game, as well as the underlying thoughts that go into their decision making. This will help them to articulate how they plan and strategize.
  • Play the game with them. Think about how you are learning to set goals and develop planning strategies while building structures in World of Goo. After playing with them, talk about your most successful planned out structures in the game.
  • Ask them to show you another game that uses similar types of planning and strategic principles. Try and get them to tell you how they are able to transfer the skills and approaches they learned in one game to the new game.
  • Ask them to watch you play the game and to give you planning and strategic instructions while you play, between levels, or at the end of the game.
  • Use your new-found game experience to describe a connection between the planning skills you used in the game and those that you might use in the real world. Approaches might include discussing issues such as setting short, and long-term goals, thinking about your overall objective, and learning to recognize the tools and steps you will need to take in order to achieve your goals.

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