Playing Video Games & Learning-Some parallels

I had an epiphany about video games and learning the other night.  My middle son was playing a game the other day (ok, so it was Angry Birds...).  He was stuck at a level and brought the iPad to me, asking me to complete the level for him so he could move on to the next level.  Since I was cooking dinner, I simply said, "No," and let him go on his way.

All of a sudden I realized that he went from me to his older brother in the other room, who did indeed take the iPad from him and was trying to complete the current level.  I walked in and informed him that if he thought he was old enough to play the game, he had to struggle through the levels on his own until he completed each, not have his brother do it for him; that THAT was the only way he would improve and deserve to see the next level.  He remarked that he could always go back and play the level again later on his own.  I retorted back how did he think he would be able to complete harder levels if he couldn't do the easier one, and then walked back in the kitchen to finish dinner.

The conversation resonated with me the rest of the night.  Being in education, it brought a couple questions in my head that I couldn't shake-
  1. How often when we "help" students, are we really hindering them? I think back to my earliest days as a math teacher, and those moments I broke down and worked the problems through for a student or students.  I knew I could do the problems; I knew they couldn't do the problems; my doing the problem for them without letting them struggle with trial and error certainly did none of us any good.  And I certainly never ended with the knowledge that they understood and could do the same type of problem on their own.  I did get smarter about this, but the first couple years of teaching I certainly wasn't... This is similar to how my son would fail at the harder levels if he gets "helped" on the easier levels of a game, which certainly doesn't make the experience fun for him later on.
  2. When did it become so negative to fail?  I want my boys to fail... and learn to dust themselves off, get up and try again...and again...and again.  To learn to persist through a problem until they have a solution.  Often the deeper and better learning comes from persisting through failure, with the addition of a host of life lessons embedded in the experience.  I am dumbfounded by the number of people (adults and children) that find a wall, then sit down and quit.  They don't check out the wall to see if there is a way through, around, over or under it.  They are so worried about failure, that they don't even start.  In playing the game himself, my son failed over and over again... but finally succeeded.  And was proud of himself for it! 
Some of these ideas have been peculating in my head for several years, but I guess it took this personal experience with my son for the thoughts to really hit home.

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