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Entrepreneurs Prove There's Room for Fun and Games in the Classroom

CHICAGO ( MainStreet) -- With back-to-school season in full swing, there's a renewed seriousness in many American households. It's time for kids put down the videogames and pick up some books.

Except that at more and more schools across the country, videogames are part of the lesson plan, with small businesses at the forefront of this sometimes controversial trend.

Tech-based educational products have become such a diverse field that they even have their own awards. The "CODiEs," given out by the Education Division of the Software & Information Industry Association, include categories such as "Best Classroom Content Management System," "Best Social Sciences Instructional Solution," and "Best Student Assessment Solution."

The increasing use of technology in education has plenty of pros and cons. Yes, teaching children to type on a computer screen may better prepare them for future careers than learning to write in cursive. But too much screen time at school and at home might, for instance, leave students relating better to avatars than their peers.

With so many changes coming so quickly, there are plenty of issues to get worried about. But the reality is that the wired classroom is here to stay. What's most important is to figure out how technology can be used to help children learn and improve. And sometimes, it turns out, videogames are the answer.

The key is to recognize that effective educational videogames are not simply standard games with a few scattered facts and quizzes added on. They are designed rom their inception to incorporate learning into the very fabric of the game. Done well, they don't feel "educational" at all.

Two start-ups, both of which won honors for being most innovative and most likely to succeed at this year's SIIA Ed Tech Industry Summit, exemplify the role small businesses are playing in this growing field.

Filament Games, a production studio based in Madison, Wis., has designed games that meet curricular standards in science, civics and reading. Some of their most popular titles include You Make Me Sick!, in which students take on the role of a pathogen working its way through a human body, and Energy City, in which students role-play as city managers who must balance issues of energy production and conservation. (You can try samples of the games on Filament's website.)
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