kitchen table math, the sequel: the most fun part

Sunday, June 6, 2010

the most fun part

I love the Corner Office series.

Here is Jen-Hsun Huang, president and chief executive of Nvidia, on the origins of his ability to 'fail forward':
When I was in high school, nothing gave me greater joy than computer games. It was part of how I grew up. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the video game era, but I’ve never beaten myself up about mistakes. When I try something and it doesn’t turn out, I go back and try it again.

Most of the time when you’re playing a game, you’re losing. You lose and lose and lose until you beat it. That’s kind of how the game works, right? It’s feedback. And then eventually you beat it.

As it turns out, the most fun parts of a game are when you’re losing. When you finally beat it there’s a moment of euphoria but then it’s over. Maybe it’s because I grew up in that generation, I have the ability to take chances, which leads to the ability to innovate and try new things. Those are important life lessons that came along.

I’m Prepared for Adversity. I Waited Tables.
Published: June 4, 2010
interview by Adam Bryant


Tex said...

I’ve read elsewhere about how video games provide players with valuable lessons about persisting against repeated losses. However, the slant in the story I read was that this was something that boys experienced much more than girls, who don’t play video games as much as boys do.

Besides sports, I wonder if there is another activity in which girls commonly engage that offers similar lessons in risk taking. Offhand, I can’t think of one.

Anonymous said...

"I’ve read elsewhere about how video games provide players with valuable lessons about persisting against repeated losses."

Amusingly, I feel that video games may teach the wrong lesson here (but, then, they are trying to sell entertainment, not make people better ...). In a well designed video game, you make progress fairly quickly compared to real life. Ten hours of game-time usually results in quite noticeable improvements in skill. In the real world, things tend to go much slower. One of my concerns (with little or no evidence) is that video games teach kids to expect very fast payoffs. If you are used to mastering something after a few hundred hours (max), what happens when you run into something at least an order of magnitude more challenging? And also without the built-in short term positive reinforcement?

Do the kids learn from the video game the lesson that you keep going? Or do they learn the lesson that there is *supposed* to be rapid mastery? I don't know, but I wonder ...

-Mark Roulo

lgm said...

I'd say mastering an instrument would be a common opportunity for girls which allows the developing of persistence and problem solving. Jazz band certainly gives a student the opportunity to put him/herself out there with the 'what if' and risk it all on the solo improv.

Girls also play nonvideo games, as well as video games such as Dance, Dance, Revolution and Rock Band/Guitar Hero. Games give quick payoffs for problem solving and risk taking.

One of the lessons my boys have learned from video games is that the problem must be solvable, or it wouldn't be in the game. That gives them add'l incentive to go for the payoff rather than give up. They also realize that if they don't have the skill to crack the problem now, they can put the problem on the shelf and come back to it when they have gained the skill, figured out the puzzle, or lined up someone who has. They have only had one math teacher over the last eleven years who has been able to convey similar thoughts via the Problem of the Day.

SteveH said...

Unfortunately, it's too easy to Google a "cheat". Actually, I don't like games that require almost random guess and check to figure out.

In terms of confidence and persistence, I think schools do a great disservice with their excessive group work. There is nothing like having no one else (even a teacher or parent) to fall back on to force you to really work hard.

I also don't like approaches to learning that involve substitutes. Schools never seem to like to dive right in and get to work. They dance (spiral) all around learning. They don't think kids can learn unless they are properly motivated or enticed. Educators think that learning should be natural, but they treat the process very unnaturally. They try to find substitutes.

High schools still push things like Project Lead The Way even though the time for motivational techniques is long gone. Students should be learning how to master the actual course work (math!) they will need in college.

Independent George said...

As a video game nerd, let me amend the quote with something pertinent to education: failure & repeated attempts are only fun in a well designed game, where your efforts at different strategies are rewarded by different, logical, and not-necessarily successful outcomes. A difficult game is only fun if it's fair - which is a devilishly difficult result to achieve (which is why, as is the case of most things, 80% of video games are crap).

This applies to math education because instruction has to be calibrated based on the abilities of the students. You can't just sit a fourth grader in front of a blackboard and expect him to prove the Pythagorean theorem. You have to spend years gradually building up his knowledge, calibrating the difficulty so that the student is constantly challenged, but never in a situation where he's in over his head.

The latter, incidentally, is exactly what the spiral does - it throws a student into an impossible situation, and assumes he'll find his way out. If he doesn't, then it's nobody's fault - he just isn't suited to learning math.

Catherine Johnson said...

This reminds me: there were several other lines from that interview I wanted to post...