I can still remember the exact time and place when I first realized the power of video games in education.
1986. Derby, Kansas school district. Educational Support Center. History / Social Studies stacks.
It was my first year as a teacher. School was scheduled to start in less than a week and I was looking for anything, absolutely anything, that I could use to start the year. Think back to your first year – clueless, stressed, unsure, and in my case, unplanned.
I wanted to start the semester with some sort of activity that helped kids understand not just why we studied history but how we know what we know, the process that historians use to find out what really happened. I couldn’t have articulated it at the time but I was looking for a way to teach kids historical thinking skills.
I wasn’t having much luck. Pre-world wide web and without any of my own resources, I was at the mercy of the stuff stored on Derby’s ESC history stacks. And the stacks did finally come through. I ran across a simple computer simulation simply called Archeology. Designed to run on Apple’s IIE computer, it was a turn-based game that included teacher materials, handouts, and suggestions for integrating the simulation into history instruction.
It was perfect.
Of course, I still had to find an Apple IIE computer that I could use (there were three in the entire building of 1200 students), order copies, plan lessons – you know, actually figure out how to make it work.
Basically, the game asked kids to “dig up” a square of dirt, make sense of what they dug up, and apply that information to figure out what used to be on that particular piece of land. It was a great exercise – for both kids and teacher. I begin to understand, even without knowing it at the time, that kids need to solve problems, not be given answers.
I used that game / simulation for years in a variety of ways and every time, kids were engaged, asked great questions, collaborated with others, and became better problem solvers.
Over the last five years or so, more and more research is proving what I discovered back in Derby – video games are good for kids and excellent learning tools.
I love the idea of using video games as part of education. And I’ve always said that we need to use the theory behind video game development as a way to create lesson and unit plan design.
Game developers are great believers in learning theories and brain research. They know that unless the brain is engaged in lots of different ways, people won’t play the game. If people won’t play the game, the game developers lose money. Educational game researcher James Gee in his book What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Literacy & Learning says it this way:
Better theories of learning are embedded in the video games many children play than in the schools they attend.
The idea of using game theory as a way to create lessons or to use actual games as learning tools can sometimes be a bit confusing. So an infographic from the Edudemic people that came out over the weekend is incredibly useful. I love it.
Ya got 100 seconds? Check this out:
(Need even more? Browse through some of my video game stuff right here on History Tech and over at Social Studies Central.)