The Play Attention video game looks decidedly primitive. There are no lifelike graphics, three-dimensional backdrops, or special effects—not even a game controller to guide the only action: an ordinary frog hopping across the screen. But that’s the point. This game isn’t about how fast players can move a joystick or thumb a button—it’s about how well they can concentrate. Wearing a helmet equipped with sensors that monitor their brainwaves, kids with ADHD, autism, and related conditions move the frog by focusing. When they become distracted, it freezes. The idea is that as students get better at the game, they also get better at paying attention.
Employing technology originally designed for NASA, Play Attention is now being used in more than 450 U.S. school systems to help students with attention problems, according to Unique Logic + Technology, the company that produces the system. “For the first time in a student’s life, he or she can see the one-to-one correlation between fidgeting and attention,” says Play Attention inventor Peter Freer, a former teacher.
In addition to the frog game, there are a handful of others, each aimed at boosting a different cognitive skill, such as short-term memory and attention stamina. Freer recommends that students “play” for 45 minutes twice a week and work with a coach to learn how to transfer skills from the game to the classroom.
Two versions of Play Attention are available: a professional package, with an unlimited user license, for $2,495, and a personal package for $1,795, limited to use by two people. Permanent improvement requires at least 40 to 60 hours of practice, Freer says. “It’s similar to learning to throw a free throw—the repetitive, deliberate type of training—so when the big game comes, you’re prepared.” More information is available at www.playattention.com.
A version of this article appeared in the October 01, 2006 edition of Teacher