I’m a child of the late 80s and early 90s. I have vague memories of watching my older brother and neighbors gather around excitedly to watch a table of plastic move around in an unpredictable fashion. I’ll be honest, I didn’t get it. But, wanting to be “part of the fun,” I, too, sat around and watched. What created this excitement? Why was this so engaging?
This era was also the dawn of the video game era. Ataris, Nintendos, and handheld single-player games came on the scene. So how could there be a niche for these electric football games. The answer is simple: seeing, feeling, and experiencing something is powerful.
Draw upon the parallel at play: we are at a time when screens are on the rise. Like the late 80s and early 90s when children would now sit for hours in front of screens, we now have awesome tools for our students to use, but also place them in front of screens for hours. So what in the world does this have to do with electronic football?
When we allow our students to get up, move, hold physical objects, touch and feel items, there is a level of engagement that can’t be supplied from simply looking at a screen. We need to use the “all of the above” strategy that is sometimes mentioned in political debates about energy sources. In my class, we recently were discussing our own city through the lens of why it was such a critical component within the realm of the French and Indian War. Could we have simply looked at a map of Pittsburgh? Certainly. Could we have talked about the geographic features of the region? Absolutely. But, using the “all of the above” and “electric football” mentality, what would happen if students got to hold physical objects, move around the room, and collaborate. Students were provided with placards of rivers, physical features, modern day landmarks, landmarks from the 1750s, and flags and given the task of using their own experiences to recreate our city.The end result was a level of engagement in class activities and an inquisitive attitude to “figure it out” as a group.
So, what can we learn from electric football? Even though we have engaging and powerful applications, resources, and ways to amplify our student’s voice in ways well beyond our classroom, sometimes, it can be useful to gather around together, grab some physical objects, and make a lesson come to life within the fingertips and in front of the eyes of our students.