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Bringing the Nintendo DS into the classroom?

September 22, 2008

How do you feel about using games to teach? We’ve long played classroom games like “Math Bingo” and “word finds” to find that most kids respond well to getting to having fun while they are learning. It gives them important practice time, and helps them recharge for more serious tasks.

More recently, computers have come into play. Early computer games were mostly skill-n-drill kinds of games; popping up math facts and having players fill in the missing letters to spell a word. But they got better (interactive), and better (adaptive), and better (immersive). Soon there were simulators, and even MMOGs (the evolution of the MUD and MOO) like Second Life entering education. Games worked their way up the Bloom’s Taxonomy. (SLURL to very cool SL representation of the Taxonomy as pictured.)

As good as Artificial Intelligence has become, working with classmates and friends is even better…

Simultaneously, I’ve been carrying forth a belief that we need to start working with the technology in the student’s pocket, and not trying to keep up by providing computer labs and redundant resources to our students. Cell phones, MP3 players, palmtops and organizers…

So, why not a Nintendo DS?

Doesn’t it seem these days like every child has one? They have been around for about 4 years now, and more than any other handheld, they seem to be exactly the ticket for the device of choice carried around by the 6-18yo crowd.

This is a pretty cool little device – two small color screens with a relatively decent resolution for reading very small text. One is a touch screen. There are stereo speakers and a microphone built in, and a standard headphone jack. Batteries last about 5-6 hours with a full charge. But best of all, this device has built in WiFi enabling it to connect to other DS units, Wii consoles and other Nintendo Kiosks.

Software can be purchased on cartridge, but it can also be downloaded from special download kiosks such as the Nintendo Channel that is part of the Wii. Downloading takes just a few moments for most software, and the software stays in memory until you turn the DS off.

I would love to talk more about the FOSS and “homebrew” movements, but perhaps I had better save those for a future blog post. There are obvious difficulties with getting YOUR spelling words into software to be deployed on Nintendo’s DS Download service. And Nintendo doesn’t appear to be THAT education friendly to provide us with special teacher units to put in our classrooms capable of allowing us to run our own software on their platforms.

So how else to get it on there?

Nintendo’s Opera-powered browser was a terrible failure, being canned just months after getting released last year. Its biggest problem was that it didn’t support Adobe’s Flash, and shipping on a cartridge, couldn’t be easily updated. That sort of rules out downloading flash based applications to a DS via web browser.

So lately I’ve been playing with a little developer cartridge from a Chinese company called SuperCard. For $30 or so, plus the cost of some additional SD flash media, you can put just about anything you want into your handheld.

So far I’ve put an application called Moonshell on mine which allows me to play music and videos on the DS. And I’ve tried out a few more homebrew titles – the one we’re having lots of fun with right now is called Video Games Hero, a free “knockoff” of the popular Guitar Hero and doesn’t require the additional hardware. (It’s really good, so perhaps Nintendo’s lawyers will move swiftly to punish them.)

But as for now, I can only hope and dream a bit that the FOSS and Homebrew movements somehow inspire at least a few neat educational games that will make use of that Nintendo DS in my kids’ pockets beyond just recording their homework assignments.

I keep wondering how I might be able to use this to help inspire and teach. Got any ideas?

7 Comments leave one →
  1. September 25, 2008 8:03 am

    The element of fun in education leads to sustained interest. It is great news that the gaming guys are bringing out more educational games based on their systems. Modern technology is here to stay lets use it to its maximum capacity.
    How about a random password that is a math question to get into your cell phone.

  2. October 6, 2008 1:05 pm

    Yeah I was just looking into getting a DS for my 5 year old, and was looking into homebrew stuff.

    I’ve done a tiny bit of C/C++ programming, but I’m not much of a fan. If they get java working that would be cool to use for developing some educational apps:

  3. October 17, 2008 12:51 pm

    //My apologies to Doug. His comment above had been marked as spam. I happened to look in that folder this time and saved it before it timed out.//
    The NDS must speak “something” – and I would think we should be able to program in that, or at least use the right kind of compiler that might help us bridge the gap? The types of educational software I’m interested in are less speed and graphics intense, as ones that involve kids working with one another – one idea is as game show clickers?

  4. jsuriano permalink
    February 24, 2009 12:16 pm

    Hi Dan,
    We actually had some success testing out direct integration of the Nintendo DS in a classroom in Alberta, Canada. Each student was provided with a DS and challenged to play Brain Age for up to 10 minutes a day to test math comprehension skills. The study is still ongoing but preliminary results were positive.

    Our company has also produced gaming modules to supplement a university level geology course which was very cool. You can view the slide deck on the project on my blog:


    • February 24, 2009 12:19 pm

      Wow! So very cool! I’m looking forward to a system that schools can buy to actually use the wireless to push small educational applications out to students w/out having to have a cartridge for every child. Surprised that there are no homebrew applications like this yet! When you turn off the NDS, the application disappears.

  5. March 12, 2009 7:52 pm

    Found this rather interesting article about schools in Japan supplying NDS units to students…


  1. So, why not a Nintendo DS? by Dan Gross « Teaching with DS

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