Candy Crush Education

A few months ago I decided to join the throngs of folks who were playing Candy Crush Saga. My kids had been playing for a while and many other adults I know had dabbled a bit with the game. At first, I found the game to be a bit sophomoric, but then I hit level 33 and realized that the game can be a little challenging at times. I stuck with it and this weekend I realized that I’ve actually learned a lot about good education from my Candy Crush addiction experiment. When you start playing Candy Crush, there are only a couple of candy colors to play with and limited obstacles in your way. Mastery comes relatively easy and encourages you to play on. As you master the beginning levels there are new colors, new obstacles, and new episodes (levels where new layers of complexity are added). In education, when we are learning something new we start at the beginning to build our foundation. Once we have the basics down we learn more, apply our knowledge in new ways, and better understand the intricacies of our knowledge. Think of your K-12 education where you started math by counting but by the end you were able to understand the derivative of a double angle (hopefully). Candy Crush is a great example of Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development.

In Candy Crush, sometimes you succeed and sometimes you fail. Yes, you literally FAIL! I know this because I’ve experienced it first-hand and listen sympathetically (not really) when my husband complains that he sees the “you failed” message. But the truth of the matter is that in real life, we fail all the time. Thomas Edison failed 10,000 times, yet we don’t view him as a failure. In Candy Crush, when you fail a level you just start over and try again, just like Edison. Failure is a step towards success in the Candy Crush world. However, in education sometimes we accept failure as the end of the event and not an opportunity to reboot. If my son fails an Economics test at the end of the chapter, that’s his grade and the class moves onto the next chapter. He doesn’t have the option to attempt the material again or show mastery at a later date. It’s pass or fail at a given point in time and the march goes on.  This model doesn’t encourage real learning or mastery. Instead it sends the message that failure is final and can’t be overcome.

In Candy Crush Saga, you earn a life every thirty minutes, up to a five lives maximum. Sometimes I can blow through all of those lives in a matter of five minutes. When this happens I have to wait to earn more lives. This is the game’s way of pacing me so that I don’t rush through everything. It forces me to take a break (or change the time on my iPad) and clear my head. It’s harder for me to get burned out this way. We should allow students the same opportunity to take breaks and come back to something when the going gets too frustrating. “A growing body of evidence shows that taking regular breaks from mental tasks improves productivity and creativity — and that skipping breaks can lead to stress and exhaustion” (New York Times, June 2012).

New episodes in Candy Crush introduce new challenges and objects. If I don’t know what a new piece is or how it will behave I have two options. I can experiment with it and see if I can figure it out on my own or I can visit the Candy Crush Wikia and learn more. The wikia is a collaborative site created by Candy Crushites (I just made that up) that shares tips and tricks to help you understand and master Candy Crush. I can choose to experiment or collaborate when I’m confronted with the unknown. These are both great strategies that may be underutilized in the classroom. In fact, collaboration and experimentation (problem-solving) are both recognized as important 21st century skills.

Candy Crush is a free download and while I’ve never personally paid for any extra lives or boosters, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution reports that Candy Crush Saga has made over $860,000 a day in revenue. This is a staggering amount of revenue and  indicates that there is a large population of folks who are willing to pay to continue on their journey. I think there is more to be learned about education from Candy Crush and am already drafting part two of this post. In the meantime, I’m going to continue my Candy Crush Saga adventure – level 263 is vexing me.