Page last updated at 00:13 GMT, Friday, 20 November 2009

Computer consoles 'no better' than books for learning

Boy playing computer game
Pupils' maths improve, but no more than by using books

The claim that computer games consoles can improve pupils' maths ability has been dismissed by an Edinburgh University brain scientist.

Prof Sergio Della Sala said pupils' performance was just as good when using traditional textbooks.

Use of the consoles has been supported by government body Learning and Teaching Scotland, (LTS) and has spread beyond Scotland and around the world.

Derek Robertson of LTS said he has had support from both teachers and parents.

The criticism from Professor Della Sala came in a speech to Scotland's headteachers at their annual conference.

He said: "This research shows that when pupils in a school use a games console after 10 weeks they become a bit better in performing maths but the same applies to the students who did not use the console.

Generally the parental attitudes and responses have been wholly positive
Derek Robertson
Learning and Teaching Scotland

"It may be fun, but it is not a learning device.

"The message for teachers who are bombarded with these new flim-flam initiatives about how they should improve their teaching is they are good professionals, they should resist.

"The message for parents, is always look at the available data.

"Who says this improves the performance of their kids? Show me the evidence.

"This study shows there is no advantage - why should we spend money on finding out more rather than spending money on good teaching and good learning?"

But Derek Robertson of Learning Teaching Scotland responded: "These devices have a low technology skills threshhold - teachers don't feel compromised by them.

"They're the ones who report back to us about the impact on the children in their classrooms and they like what they're seeing.

"That's one of the reasons this approach has spread quite widely across Scotland and has then spread further into England and further afield."

He said parents' attitudes had changed in recent years and they were no longer so suspicious of computer games.

Girls playing computer game
LTS says teachers and parents like the use of the consoles

"Generally the parental attitudes and responses have been wholly positive," he added.

Michael Taylor, primary six teacher at Rosehearty near Fraserburgh also supported the use of the consoles.

He said: "The DS has been a super tool for motivating children for maths in particular. It's an accessible format and the children really enjoy it and they look forward to it.

"We've seen huge improvements in all abilities of children in their mental maths testing.

"I wouldn't say it's the only resource I would use for maths - to have children sitting in front of computer games all day would be ridiculous, but in conjunction with the work we do in the classroom, its helping, especially their multiplication tables."

He added: "It's accessible for them and we know for ourselves it's not fun to sit down with a textbook."

Sally, aged 10, said: "It's fun and it helps me get better at my maths. It's much easier than reading things. It tells you if you're right or wrong.

Eleven-year-old Joseph added: "It's more fun because it doesn't take so long to write it out and it helps you speed up because it times you.

"I'm doing my sums a lot faster than I used to.

"It's more easy and it lets you know how you're doing and it shows your record through the day and since you can do that you know that you're getting better. We've all been improving I'm sure."

The LTS trials involved 600 pupils and cost about £30,000.



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