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Gaming the Past: Using Video Games to Teach Secondary History

It’s one of my favorite times of the year. I mean, it’s not Christmas or the first four days of the NCAA basketball tournament or the magical three consecutive days in Kansas when it’s 75 degrees and there’s no wind. But it’s pretty close.

It’s MACE. I really enjoy this annual Kansas tech conference ritual. Great sessions. Great people. Great venue. And the best part of MACE 2014 last week? I got the chance to lead a conversation with a full room of folks about using video games to teach social studies. We spent 45 minutes talking about reasons to use games, ways to use games, and different kinds of games – including the potential of MineCraftEDU, SimCityEDU, and serious games.

And no, 45 minutes is not enough time. It was definitely a tip of the iceberg sort of the thing.

But still a great time. My hope was that people would walk away open to the idea of looking into the idea of using video games and sims as part of their social studies instruction. In Kansas, we continue to push the idea of historical thinking skills and video games can be a huge part of that process.

My sticky idea for the presentation? Rewiring brains is a good thing. It’s how kids learn. And video games can help you rewire the brains of your kids.

Get a sense of our conversation by clicking through my short preso:

I also wanted people to know about the vast amount of resources available to help make sense of all of this. Get a bit of what I shared here. But there are a few resources that I really think can be incredibly useful for social studies teachers serious about gaming. And they all revolve around history gaming guru Jeremiah McCall, high school teacher at Cincinnati Country Day School.

About three years ago, Jeremiah published the awesome book titled Gaming the Past: Using Video Games to Teach Secondary History. If you are serious about using games as a part of the learning in your classroom (and you should), this is a no-brainer resource. It packs gaming research, suggestions for matching games with specific content, specific examples of how to use games as part of instruction, assessments of learning, rubrics, an extensive list of games you should be using, lesson plans, and specific things to plan for while using games and sims.

Seriously. You need this book on your desk. Yes, it’s a bit expensive . . . so start with Jeremiah’s six part series of gaming at TeachingHistory. Then head over to his Gaming the Past website with articles, more research, even more lesson ideas, and recent game suggestions. Once you get a chance to see all of his online goodness, you’ll see the value of the full meal deal you’ll get by purchasing his book. Heck, split the cost with some of the teachers down the hall.

And start rewiring some brains.

Check the comments for update from Jeremiah about what looks like a cool free resource that will be coming out soon!

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Thanks for the kind words, Glen; much appreciated! I just wanted to add that the book PastPlay has just come out with UMich press and I have a chapter in it on how to use games that focuses on CivCity Rome and Rome:Total War. UMich will be releasing a free digital copy of the book soon, so that’s another low cost option.

    Keep up the great work.

    March 12, 2014
    • glennw #


      PastPlay looks sweet. Definitely looks like a great option to help teachers wrap their heads around the concept and implementation of social studies gaming. Thanks for sharing the link – will bookmark and keep checking back for release.

      Appreciate all your work and willingness to share ideas and resources.

      And am totally serious. Your book should be on the desk of every social studies teacher!

      Have a great week!


      March 12, 2014

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. The Game Believes in You – Using video games as instructional tools | History Tech
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