Lately, having the opportunity to enjoy some free time with my Wii U, I was able to go through a great variety of Nintendo games and revisit some old ones that I had not finished. I never lose the chance to point at Nintendo game designs when it comes to family games. Highly polished, some times totally unique some times classic, intuitive games, exploiting to the fullest the particularities and characteristics of the platform for which they were developed, Nintendo games offer amazing gaming experiences.
However, after playing Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, I started reflecting on its mechanics and target group. Basically, Captain Toad, is a 3D puzzle game where the main character is in search for a magic star. Finding it, leads to the completion of the level. However, the game features a very interesting gameplay, where players need to use the Wii U gamepad’s full capabilities by moving it around space to rotate the camera, blowing over its microphone to make elevators move and rotate spinning wheels on its touchscreen in order to rotate or translate ground elements in the field.
The game also uses an intuitive, yet sometimes sophisticated camera rotation, which is handled by the player, allowing them to select their preferable perspective for each particular solving case. And it was this interesting work with camera manipulation that actually made me wonder if we could use this game in the kindergarten for the teaching of spatial thinking.
Spatial thinking is an important human ability which contributes to mathematical thinking. The importance of developing skills related to spatial thinking, such as mental representations, orientation and navigation, starting from the early childhood is great also for other mathematical competencies, such as geometry. In addition to this, the continuous research interest on the impact of video games on student motivation raises interesting questions on the capabilities of a game based learning environment for spatial thinking in the early childhood. “Find the Jackalop” is a video game designed specifically for this purpose, using a variety of different technologies, enabling their collaboration towards the optimum gaming experience and learning impact.
Spatial thinking is related to two major abilities: spatial orientation and spatial visualization.
Spatial visualization is related to constructing and manipulating mental representations of 2D or 3D objects and perceiving them from different perspectives. Spatial orientation is related to identifying different positions in space. This ability starts being developed from one’s position to an abstract perspective including maps and coordinates. Spatial orientation is linked both to mathematical knowledge and memory. Children are able to record the distance and direction of their movements to remember the path they walked through. Children start to use spatial terms like “on” or “in front of” from the age of 3. However, words like “left” and “right” are usually not well understood till the ages of 6-8 years of a kid’s age. Specific attention to these words helps young children’s navigation skills. Building relationships between spatial entities and identifying landmarks in the environment (external-based reference system) is important for the development of spatial thinking. In order to develop these competences, children need to be able to compare and evaluate through a reference framework involving orientation, location, distance and direction.
Students of the early childhood should try to answer questions like: “which way?” (direction), “how far?” (distance), “where?” (location) and “what objects?” (identification). To answer these questions, children should learn to deal with mapping processes of abstraction, generalization and symbolization. Also, it is important that students get instruction that connects real-world space and maps. In addition to this, students should be able to create individual connections between objects and icons on the map. The combination of physical movement and computer work can support mathematical learning and map skills. This is particularly interesting, since it is connected to the way students move their bodies. Examples like this can be found in the use of the LOGO language or the Ladybug’s Box, a game based learning platform designed to teach spatial thinking and working with maps to children of the early childhood.
Taking these elements into consideration, I consider that the use of Captain Toad on this direction could lead to an interesting intervention into the classroom, using a very nice game by Nintendo. Such an intervention is being planned through the next months and the results are going to be discussed then. Until then, I will enjoy the wonderful design of Captain Toad on my Wii U!