Map, by Jasper Johns

One of the biggest gripes about US students is that they have no sense of geography.

I have a six-year-old who knows every state by it’s shape, so I thought I’d tell you how he learned it: From video games.

First, he was in the car one day searching for a new app on my iPhone. He went to top ten downloads for kids, and found one about states. He didn’t really want to learn about states, but he was sick of playing Angry Birds and Battle Bears and he couldn’t find anything else.

So he played Stack the States in the car for three days. I played with him, impressing him with my knowledge of state capitals. And he learned to pronounce tough words like Boise and Pierre because he had to read the question out loud to me to get help with the answer.

Then, he got a 3DS and it has this plaza where you can meet other kids, as avatars. Every morning the kids wake up and see which states the people in the plaza are from. This morning, only one state was colored in, and my son said, “Look! Someone visited from Tennessee!” That’s when I realized that during our experiment with unlimited video games we have been accidentally studying geography intensively.

13 replies
  1. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Thanks to this post, I learned about the artist Jasper Johns and found this piece of art (Map) is at the Museum of Modern Art (even though it’s not currently being displayed – http://goo.gl/Ttb7c ).
    So I wanted to see if I could find some detail images on the web. Not the same as in person but it would have to suffice. Here’s the link to a search within the MOMA art project [NYC] Flickr group for Jasper Johns’s Map painting – http://goo.gl/Y42RU .

  2. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    My current geeky teacher app for the iphone is SkyView. Point the phone (from inside your house even!) anywhere and it labels the constellations and planets that are in that direction.

    We also like Stack the States, though in general, we tend to use http://www.sheppardsoftware.com/ for our geography games.

  3. Christina @Interest-Led Learning
    Christina @Interest-Led Learning says:

    I think it also helps that you let you kids have lots of moments of boredom. That when I see the most creativity in my kids and the most willingness to explore new things.

    My daughter who is 5 (soon to turn 6) has a geography obsession. She loves to play the computer games World and History Explorer by DK Publishing. She also is for hours on the Discovery and National Geographic websites.

    In case you haven’t heard of these, the Scrambled States of America book and DVD are really fun. They also have a similiar board game.

    Thanks for sharing about the Stack the States game. I know both my kids will really like it.

  4. JML
    JML says:

    I meant to ask this when you originally posted about not limiting video games. How do you feel about television/YouTube/Netflix? Would you follow the same principle? I guess watching us a lot more passive than playing…

  5. Andrea
    Andrea says:

    The gripe is not that they don’t know anything about geography, it’s that they don’t know anything about non US geography. “Stack the States” won’t help that.

  6. Chelsea
    Chelsea says:

    I would love to find a “Stack the States” for world geography. Kids in the US don’t know nearly enough around the world outside of their own country. Actually no, it’s not just kids… that goes for almost everyone living in the US. How can we talk about global issues (war, poverty, global warming, natural disasters) if we can’t even picture the place or the people? Anyone know of an app for that?

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