Toe the Line or Ride the Line?

What is it that has my 14 year old son and his friends so addicted to a quirky little program called, Line Rider? It’s difficult to categorize Line Rider for it’s neither a game nor a toy. It is very simple. Draw a line, and when you press play, a tiny boy on a sled appears and begins to ride the line. That’s it. Now, leave a group of teenagers with these simple tools for a few hours and watch as they figure out how to push the limits. Long jumps off inclines? Loop de loops? Free falls that are saved at the last minute? Spins, changes of direction, and more. Sure, no problem. Check out this movie called Line Rider Extreme which is one of thousands of similar Line Rider creations posted to YouTube.

It strikes me that this simple little program reveals something that can help us transform teaching and learning. Kids love this program, like many technology applications, because they control their environment. Line Rider strips away the 3D graphics and stereo soundtracks, but keeps the essential element for engaging kids, user control.

A few years ago, Marc Prensky read the advertising for City of Hero’s to a group at the Technology Leadership Institute.

The Super Powered Massively Multiplayer RPG

Welcome to City of Heroes, the online world that’s home to an entire universe of heroes, where you and thousands of other players take on the roles of super powered heroes – in a stunning, 3D graphical world.

Super Powered Action and Adventure

Create Your Own Hero

Choose from hundreds of different powers and design your own unique costume.

Fight Evil!

Confront super villains, aliens, madmen, criminals, and other fearsome foes. Take on personalized missions and rid the city of several different evil organizations and hundreds of individual enemies.

Form Your Own Super-group of Heroes

Band together with other players to fight evil and become the premiere hero group in the city!

Explore the City

Explore the skyscrapers, slums, sewers and streets of Paragon City, a sprawling online metropolis that offers unlimited adventures and countless surprises.

Live the Story

Become an integral part of more than thirty different ongoing story arcs as the villain groups menace Paragon City and react to player victories and defeats.



So where in our schools and classrooms do our students get to be Hero’s? Where in school do they get some element of control? Outside of school they “ride the line” and “save the city”. They decide, they create, they act…


Inside the classroom, often, they are like fish out of water. I don’t know where I got the quote but this decription of school is sometimes all too accurate,

“School is the place where kids come to watch teachers work”.

Over a third of first year teachers leave the profession forever; to say nothing of a student dropout rate topping 33%. No wonder it is getting more difficult to teach. If we are to transform our classrooms, giving kids some element of control, is essential. There are times when traditional teaching is required and is most effective; but we must demolish the old, “Teaching is talking, learning is listening, knowledge is in textbooks” paradigm.

If we are to engage the Line Riders and Heros sitting in our classrooms, we need to ascribe to Gary Stager’s maxim,

“Less us, more them.”

In our hearts as educators, we know that the excitement of learning doesn’t lie in “toeing the line” but in “riding the line.”





7 thoughts on “Toe the Line or Ride the Line?

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  2. Now that I am an official “line queen” I began to think about what this tool can actually do. I thought more about the person that developed it than the actual tool. This person had an opportunity to just create and post a fun game without marketing, advertising, large development budget, etc. His ideas are being published and through just word of mouth he is becoming known. There were quite a few downloads this month. That is what I find compelling – the power that the Internet gives to all of us – Kids can create, dream, explore and be successful with most anything they want. Very admirable.

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