So the kids got Nintendo DSs for Christmas.
The DS is a handheld game/communication device that can communicate via wireless with any other DS in range, about 100 feet. You can share games, play together, and swap notes that include drawings via "PictoChat." It has two touch-sensitive screens, the usual game-controller buttons, and a microphone and speaker. Games come on cartridges that insert into a slot in the unit. It folds closed.
A few random observations...
When the boys play together, they are running around a futuristic landscape blowing up evil robots and shooting lightning bolts at each other. Sample conversation snippets: "Over there! Get 'im!" "Hey! Why'd you shoot me?!?!"
When the girls play together, they are training puppies. Sample conversation snippets: "Here, Daisy!" "Hey - she's drinking out of my dog's water dish!"
Gender differences? What gender differences?
Four kids in the back of the van, faces illuminated by a soft blue glow. They are racing cartoon go-karts against each other. Conversation snippets: "Hey! Who threw that banana?" "I got a King Mushroom!" "Balloon! I need a balloon!"
Making use of the affordances of the platform....
To train your puppy, you stroke its nose with the stylus, then speak a command and the dog's name. "Sit, Daisy!" After a number of trials, you can just say, "Sit, Daisy" and the little pup plops proudly down on his virtual derriere. Rub his nose vigorously and you can make him sneeze a little puppy sneeze. It's waaay cute.
In another game you face a monster that looks something like a giant yellow rubber rabbit, bouncing all over the place and threatening to squash you. However fearsome it may be, it actually is a very timid creature. If you yell at it, it runs away.
At one point in one of the games, you have acquired a talisman that must be placed into a niche in a door. Problem: The talisman is on one screen. The door is on the other screen. There's no way to drag it from one to the other. Solution: Close the unit, thus pressing the screens together and transferring the talisman to the other screen. (Darned clever, if you ask me.)
Why can't our educational tools be this interesting, inventive, and engaging? Of course, the DS is an educational tool. The kids are learning to solve their own problems, to find solutions from others, to share, to communicate, to figure it out on their own. They are also learning that if you give something away you can sell more of it.
(The preteen noted that the feature that lets you share games will result in more games being sold, since you'll want your own copy so you can save your progress.)
These are all valuable lessons that will serve them well throught their lives. Pity we can't measure them with a Scantron sheet.