Playing to Learn: A Community Outreach Framework in Action

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Can fifth graders play tolearn? Wake Forest University's Babcock Graduate School of Managementset out to find the answer to that question by developing a communityoutreach project with a class of fifth graders at Speas ElementarySchool in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

The outreach projectphilosophy was simple: put students, a computer simulation game andMBA business faculty and staff in a room, and learning will be theresult. A learning experience for all participants, the outreachproject fostered a principle-centered learning environment as definedby Stephen Covey in Principle-Centered Leadership.[1]Technology was integrated into a fifth grade curriculum, with thesupport of the community, parents, teachers and the school system.The result was a successful outreach project with technologyenhancing the learning process.

The Babcock GraduateSchool of Management (Babcock School) has been a business partnerwith Speas Elementary School for five years. The partnership includedproviding the students with tutors and the teachers with appreciationparties. This spring, the partnership added a new component: theCompanies in the Classroom (CIC) Project, which was sponsored by theWestern Triad Science and Mathematics Alliance. CIC is a communityinitiative whereby over 3,000 individuals in the communityparticipate in science, mathematics and technology instruction andlearning in the classrooms. The schools are paired with businesspartners who work closely with the classroom teacher on developingthe project and integrating the project into the fifth gradecurriculum. The project ends after a 12 week period with a communitypresentation to celebrate the efforts of the business partner andclass.[2]

Babcock and Speas' CICproject featured technology and learning, with a focus on businesspractices and principles.
The project included:

  • A computer business simulation game, Dino Park Tycoon by MECC;
  • Faculty lectures on business practices such as marketing, pricing, sales, operations and finance;
  • A field trip to a state-of-the-art technology classroom at the Babcock School;
  • A market research survey on the software product completed by the students; and
  • Community presentation with PowerPoint and HyperCard slide shows developed by the students and the Babcock School partners.

The goals of theproject included:

  • Providing hands-on computer experiences for the students;
  • Integrating business principles and technology into the fifth grade curriculum;
  • Exposing the students to MBA faculty, staff and facilities; and
  • Providing an opportunity for the Babcock School to make a contribution to the Speas Elementary School learning environment and community.

Making aTycoon

The Babcock Schoolinformation systems staff installed the business simulation softwaregame, Dino Park Tycoon, in the Speas Elementary School computer lab.The game is an actual business simulation where the players set upand run their own dinosaur amusement park. The students make thetough business decisions involving real estate transactions, dinosaurpurchases, dinosaur food, parking, concessions, security and staffhiring and firing. Of course, students must pay taxes to thegovernment and loan interest to the bank. Accounting ledgers and parkattendance records are provided in the simulation, and loan interestpayments are automatically calculated. The simulation moves quickly,and the students must respond to the pace.

A demonstration of theDino Park Tycoon game was conducted by a fifth grade honors studentand a business school faculty member. Written instructions were alsoprovided to the class. The students were allowed several trial visitsin the computer lab to experiment with the game. The students weredivided into teams of two or three for developing strategies to runtheir business. Then the games began. The students spent six weeks inthe computer lab, three days a week, playing the simulation game. Thestudents could start over if they went bankrupt, and rethink theirinitial setup decisions. They learned to watch for indicators fromall fronts, such as declining park admissions, escaping dinosaurs andthe weather reports. The simulation game is not simply controlled bythe student inputs. External forces, such as the weather, areprevalent in the simulation.

The simulation game wassupplemented with business school lectures and in-classdemonstrations. The students met with business school faculty andstaff to discuss such topics as differentiation, pricing, operations,accounting and market research. Market research was demonstrated by asoft drink challenge, with one business school faculty member as themoderator. The fifth grade teacher, Linda Dagenbach, reinforced andsupplemented her mathematics and social studies lessons with businesstopics from the lectures, simulation game and demonstrations on adaily basis during the project.

MarketResearch

Market research was a keyelement of the project. The students went into the simulation withthe knowledge that they would be asked to rate the software product.The students rated the software product on various user dimensionswith a survey instrument prepared by the Babcock School staff. Theresult of the simulation game was remarkable: the winning team made anet profit of $121,000! The teams were given opportunities to discusswinning strategies and relate the strategies to real life business.The students were provided with a market research survey to completeafter the simulation game. The students were asked to rate featuresof the game and respond to questions on technology and learning. Thesurvey featured rating scale questions and several comment questions.The market research results are shown in the followingtable.

Table One

Results of Speas Elementary School Market Research:
Dino Park Tycoon Software and the Learning Experience


AGREE

NEUTRAL

DISAGREE

The Dino Park Tycoon software simulation provided a good overview of business practices.

96%

4%

0%

Instructions for the software were easy to understand.

79%

17%

4%

The general ledger was easy to understand.

70%

26%

4%

The quarter end accounting was easy to understand.

70%

26%

4%

The pricing structure was easy to adjust.

87%

13%

0%

The game was fun.

96%

4%

0%

The game is suitable for my age group.

87%

13%

0%

I learned a lot about running a business from this game.

91%

9%

0%

I would play this game again.

100%

0%

0%

This activity made learning easier for me.

74%

17%

9%

The use of computers helps me learn more.

87%

13%

0%

I enjoy class more when I get to use the computer.

96%

4%

0%

I feel comfortable using computers.

100%

0%

0%

I learned more by playing this game on a computer.

87%

13%

0%

I would rather play Dino Park as a board game.

21%

9%

70%

The survey foundthat:

  • The fifth graders overwhelmingly felt comfortable with computers;
  • The fifth graders felt that the simulation game provided a good overview of business practices;
  • The fifth graders enjoyed class more when computers were utilized;
  • The fifth graders enjoyed the game and would play the game again;
  • The fifth graders stated that the use of computers facilitated their learning; and
  • The fifth graders preferred playing the simulation game on the computer, rather than as a board game.

While some of theseresults may be attributed to the novelty of the outreach project, thefact is that the students understood business practices andprinciples better after the combination of the simulation game andthe faculty lectures. Constance Hash, Speas Elementary Schoolprincipal, stated: "Our students gained a well-rounded learningopportunity which enabled them to experience social studies,mathematics, writing and reading as they integrated the technologyproject into their course of study. Simulating their business venturethrough computer technology gave students real reasons for writing,calculating, estimating and organizing their thoughts. The benefitsof the experience were noticeable."[3]

The ExecutiveClassroom

The field trip componentof the outreach project celebrated the students' efforts. The fieldtrip to Wake Forest University's Babcock Graduate School ofManagement facility, the Worrell Professional Center, included a tourof an executive classroom. A social studies lesson was taught byLinda Dagenbach with the classroom technology. The lesson once againreinforced the integration of technological advances into thecurriculum. Students were able to see the Mayan ruins via theInternet as well as NASA live satellite pictures. The students werealso shown the classroom technology equipment, including a "smart"instructor desk, integrated computer and audio-visual equipment,document cameras, videocassette recorder, video camera and laptophookups at each student desk. The students were awarded prizes(marker boards in the shape of a computer) and they enjoyed a picniclunch at the facility.

The Companies in theClassroom (CIC) community presentation event brought together areaschools and partners, parents, students and friends at the localcoliseum, and was sponsored by the Western Triad Science andMathematics Alliance. The presentation event is an opportunity forthe school and partner to show off their project to the community.Partners and schools had projects ranging from nature trails tobridge building experiments. Schools and partners hosted each otherat their booths, answering questions from students, teachers andparents. The Speas students and the Babcock partners worked on a"techno" booth that featured two slide shows running concurrently ona Macintosh and an IBM Thinkpad. The Dino Park Tycoon game wasrunning on a separate IBM Thinkpad for the students to demonstratethe simulation. The Speas fifth grade class worked on their firstHyperCard slide show for this presentation, featuring sounds,pictures and text. The Babcock School also had a PowerPoint slideshow featuring overall specifics of the project. The studentspresented the project to the community and fielded questions. Theevent provided an opportunity for the students to buildself-confidence and self-esteem.

The Babcock Schoolpresented the outreach project at the Literacy Assistance Centerworkshop entitled "Playing to Learn: Exploring the EducationalPotential of Computer Games for BE, ESOL and Youth Literacy in NewYork City." The workshop participants played the Dino Park Tycoonsimulation game and discussed the outreach project framework. Theparticipants found the project adaptable for adult learners as wellas for ESOL students. In fact, many of the participants were going towork the Dino Park simulation into their curriculums and they weregoing to search for business partners to supplement the simulationexperience.

Framework inAction

The outreach project waseffective in enhancing student learning as measured by the Speasstudents and the principal. The project is a framework, featuringactionable steps that community partners can take to ensure thattechnology is not wasted in the classroom. If technology is left inisolation, then learning objectives will not be accomplished. Theoutreach framework in action is simple:

  • Integrate technology into the classroom curriculum and integrate the curriculum into the technology. For example, Dino Park Tycoon helped reinforce the business practices that were taught in the curriculum, and the curriculum included projects that reinforced the Dino Park Tycoon business applications.
  • Partner commitment is crucial. The Babcock School had 16% of its employees involved in aspects of the CIC project.
  • School support is essential. The principal of Speas Elementary, Constance Hash, was very supportive of the CIC project and the teacher, Linda Dagenbach, committed a great deal of time and energy to the project. The Western Triad Science and Mathematics Alliance sponsored the CIC project and provided partner and teacher support materials.

Sharing the responsibilityfor education compels business leaders to participate in communityoutreach programs. In fact, shared responsibilities are thefoundation for Stephen Covey's principle-centered learningenvironments.[4] The principle-centered learning environmentidentifies stakeholders who share equal responsibility in theeducational process. The stakeholders are truly owners of thelearning process and have a shared responsibility in seeing thatresources are provided. Stakeholders include the student, parents andfamilies, teachers, school boards, central office and business andcommunity. Covey stated that "parents within the private communityand business leaders within the public community also have a vestedinterest in the learning environment."[5] Covey has developedan implementation process for school districts based on hisprinciple-centered learning environments with the objective offostering educational reform. A prerequisite in his process is that"stakeholders involved in the process must walk theirtalk."[6] Commitment to empower the students is essential forall stakeholders. Teachers and students must not be left alone in thelearning environment. All stakeholders should walk the talk anddemonstrate commitment to the educational system. The CIC projectwith the Babcock School and Speas Elementary provided an opportunityto demonstrate community and stakeholder commitment. Empowering thestudents with the integration of technology and business into atraditional fifth grade curriculum was an example of an ongoing,supportive relationship between the partners.

The Babcock Schoolidentified its role as a community stakeholder and realized itsvested interest in school learning environments. The Babcock Schoolfaculty and staff who participated in the project learned thatwalking the talk as a community partner and stakeholder has benefits.The benefits are the satisfaction of providing leadership incommunity ventures, and an opportunity to provide role models forstudents. The benefits to the learning environment far outweigh theimplementation of a software simulation game and lectures on businesspractices. However, implementation and integration of technologyprovide an opportunity for the community to support the educationalsystem and learning environments. While implementing the technologyand business practices into the curriculum was a fascinating venturefor Speas Elementary and the Babcock School, the effects are longerterm than a grading period. The benefits include the development ofencouraged, empowered students, and the promotion of aprinciple-centered learning environment whereby students seecommunity commitment and partners in action. The framework is here;action-oriented partners who walk the talk are needed to foster thesame type of principle-centered learning environments in their owncommunities.


Robin Ganzert is the Assistant Dean of Administration and HumanResources at the Wake Forest University Babcock Graduate School ofManagement. She has a BA and an MBA from Wake Forest University. Sheis currently a doctoral candidate at the University of North CarolinaGreensboro in higher education administration. She holds thecertified cash manager (CCM) and certified management accountant(CMA) designations. E-mail: robin.ganzert@mba.wfu.edu

Allen Helms is theDirector of Information Systems at the Wake Forest University BabcockGraduate School of Management. He has a BS in management informationsystems from the University of North Carolina Charlotte, and is aWake Forest University MBA candidate. He is currently preparing forthe Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer certification program.E-mail: allen.helms@mba.wfu.edu

References:

  1. Covey, Stephen (1991), Principle-Centered Leadership, New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
  2. Western Triad Science and Mathematics Alliance, "Companies in the Classroom: A Collaborative Effort of the Western Triad Science and Mathematics Alliance, Western Triad 5th Grade Students and Teachers, and Local Business and Industry," Winston-Salem, NC: Western Triad Science and Mathematics Alliance.
  3. Constance Hash, letter to author, 18 August 1998.
  4. Covey.
  5. Ibid.
  6. bid.

This article originally appeared in the 12/01/1998 issue of THE Journal.

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