By Scott Powers, Chief Learning Officer
While watching the movie, Field of Dreams, I could never quite put my finger on what the voice Ray Kinsella kept hearing meant when it said, “If you build it, they will come.” It was mysterious and alluded to something beyond immediate observation.
While it turned out the baseball field Kinsella (Kevin Costner) built represents second chances, it also represents the idea that baseball, in its essence, is aesthetically and substantively compelling, that its charm is inexplicable and has to be experienced.
The World Series Champion Boston Red Sox, featured in the movie when Kinsella dreams about and then attends a game at Fenway Park, have enjoyed record attendance at the historic park in recent years. Baseball, in general, as enjoyed high attendance, spurred by the designing of new ballparks intended to enhance the fan experience in terms of both aesthetics (vintage appeal) and substance (good baseball). While substance will always matter, teams recognize that the experience must also accommodate the needs and interests of the modern fan.
They must engage fans.
If baseball isn't your game, consider the video game industry. Market research shows video game sales rose to more than $1 billion in September, 27 percent higher than the same period last year. When I say video games, I mean complex games like, Civilization, which is one of the most popular strategy games of all time. Many of these games are extremely difficult to play yet engage millions of people, not only to play them but to pay for the right to do so. They have hundreds of variables, they challenge participants, and they reward persistence. They elicit learning. If they didn't, they wouldn't survive in the marketplace.
The games must engage players.
What's the point? Experience matters. It matters for engagement. It matters for learning.
I got to thinking about this after reviewing the first six week's attendance figures for our schools. The numbers across the district aren't bad. In fact, average attendance district-wide is above the state average. But at our junior high school, attendance the first six weeks is at 99 percent. That's a big number, and represents a two percentage point jump over last year. In fact, in looking at the previous five years, it's the highest number at this point in the school year by far. Attendance is critical for a number of reasons, not the least of which is its close relationship with student achievement. Attendance informs multiple measures of achievement including grade-point average and reading and math performance.
So what's happening at the junior high school?
Part of the answer may be in the instructional design approach teachers are taking to enhance student engagement. It's an approach that recognizes the importance of experience in drawing more students, more of the time into academic learning. It's an approach that allows students to become more active with content and more active with others in the learning environment, both of which are essential for facilitating long-term retention, comprehension, an application. While time devoted to instruction positively correlates with student learning, the organization of content and the level of engagement with content have even stronger connections to student achievement, especially when the goal is long-term learning rather than short term retention.
The challenge schools face, then, is similar to Kinsella's. He set out to design something that would attract others to a baseball experience. For schools, it's about engaging more students, more of the time in academic learning. It's about helping students achieve higher levels of learning; learning that is transferable, usable...in college or in the workforce. It's about experience.
By the way, I've been to Fenway Park. It's special. They designed a great ballpark. But I'm an Astros fan, and while the experience at Minute Maid Park is terrific, substance will always matter.