"I think the Nintendo Wii works well in my classroom because it gives students experiences similar to playing real sports without tiring them out," reports Kevin McDaniels. "The Wii is fun and provides an opportunity for students to play against their friends."
While students in McDaniels' special needs classroom at Elgin West Elementary in Marion, Ohio, do enjoy friendly competition through the Wii, they seem to get even more excited about the "Mii" characters of other students in the class being included in the games. The children explore games that otherwise might not be accessible to them because of their unique challenges.
"I knew retirement homes and rehabilitation centers were using the Wii to keep clients happy and active," McDaniels recalls of when he first considered the Wii as a teaching tool. "I thought if the Wii was helpful in rehabilitation centers, then it should be acceptable for my students. There are a variety of benefits -- both real world and classroom -- for my students."
As an intervention specialist for grades kindergarten through four, McDaniels works with students who have autism, Down syndrome, and cognitive delays. Several receive physical therapy, and all have occupational therapy. When they were first introduced to the Wii, some students needed frequent assistance, but now that using the game console is "old hat," many are able to perform most of the tasks independently.
"One of the things that surprised me is that all my students are graceful in defeat," McDaniels admits. "They have so much fun playing, they don't really care if they win or lose. I don't have a single student who has never won, so everyone has been successful at some point. I was afraid I would have one or two students who might cry or destroy some property when faced with a loss, but it has yet to happen."
McDaniels has noticed improvement in the length of some students' attention spans during game play and an increase in their ability to work independently. One student who could rarely connect with the virtual baseball at the start of Wii play is regularly hitting the ball. Although most of the hits go foul, the child's timing and hand-eye coordination are definitely on the rise.
"We worked on paying attention to the game and when to swing the bat," said McDaniels. "After about a month, he hit a home run. Everyone in the class was so excited for him."
While most users agree that the Wii is a fun machine, McDaniels argues that doesn't mean it can't be educational. He selects programs that allow students to achieve success, regardless of their level of ability. For example, students respond strongly to Wii Music because it offers a variety of songs and the most basic movement yields results.
Wii Fit is another tool for the console that has proven effective with McDaniels' students. Even remaining still to allow the game to measure and calculate can be difficult for some children, and yet they will do just that to create their Wii Fit identity. To illustrate a Wii Fit game, McDaniels recently borrowed a hoola hoop from the gymnasium. He demonstrated the orbital motion of the hoop around the body so his students would see they needed to make the hoop rotate and not just go back and forth as it appeared on the screen.
There are those who view the Wii as strictly for "play," but in McDaniels' classroom, it is much more. Still, he is careful not to allow students to spend too much time with the games. The activity exercises muscles all over the body, builds coordination, and develops social skills. In fact, the Wii actually is having a broader positive impact than even McDaniels anticipated.
"Over time, I also have learned that students are willing to do a little more work in order to get a chance to play the Wii," he shared.
Article by Cara Bafile
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