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Posts tagged ‘video games in education’

Fellowship of the Brick – Using Minecraft to recreate history

The more I talk with elementary and middle school social studies teachers, the more I realize that a ton of their kids are playing Minecraft. My question to the teachers is pretty simple. How can you leverage the interest in this tool and begin to incorporate Minecraft into the learning that happens in your classroom?

And the response has been fairly positive. A number of teachers are working to find ways to use Minecraft as part of their instruction. Yesterday, I wrote a quick post about my own experience of being the type of teacher that focused instruction around the memorization of content knowledge, rather than the authentic use of that knowledge.

It was Trivia Crack instruction – random facts that mean nothing without context.

Over time, I moved away from that and begin to realize that there are a ton of ways for kids to learn and for me to teach. One of those methods is to integrate the use of games and simulations into the learning process. The cool thing about games and sims is that to be successful while playing often requires “non-traditional” types of classroom learning: non-fiction and technical reading / writing, research, teamwork, cross-curricular content, emotional connections to content, cause and effect, and the use of lots and lots of evidence.

Another cool thing about the use of Minecraft is the fairly easy ability to mod – modify – the game. Many current games have this feature built in but Minecraft software is basic enough so that even elementary kids are doing it.

And several weeks ago, Read more

Tip of the Week: SimCityEDU

Yesterday I talked a bit about the pedagogy of video game theory – a little of the hows and whys of how game design can be used to help teachers develop high quality instructional units.

And I promised a practical example of how video games can be embedded into lesson design.

There’s been some buzz from the SimCity people over the last few months about a possible online video game tool. The promise has been that this tool would include an educational-based version of the game and a collaborative network designed just for teachers.

Read more

Gamification in education: Ya got 100 seconds?

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.)

Gaming the Past: How to Teach with Video Games

Back in the day, I always felt that I needed to justify the use of video games as part of instruction. Principals, teachers, sometimes parents, would suggest that playing video games is not learning. I stopped using the words “video game” and started talking about “simulations” or “historical recreations.”

People seemed more comfortable with my kids “simulating” the past than with them “gaming” the past. It’s not like that anymore. Brain research and lots of classroom anecdotal evidence has convinced most people. Games are good.

The question often asked now is

What’s the best way to integrate games? How can I best use them to their fullest potential?

TeachingHistory’s got you covered. The site is in the middle of a great five part series by Jeremiah McCall that details how to incorporate video games and simulations into your class.

McCall, from Cincinnati Country Day School, is also the author of Gaming the Past: Using Video Games to Teach Secondary History  and maintains the site, a resource for historical simulation games in the classroom.

The TeachingHistory series lists a variety of different games and useful sites but I also like this one. It lists 26 serious games, many perfect and ready-made for classroom use.

So play some games. It’s okay. The kids will do more work. They’ll learn more. And you’ll have more fun.

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Gamification in the Social Studies

What are the characteristics of a highly effective learning environment?

Yeah, I know. It sounds like the sort of question you’d find on your last college ed final. But it’s still something that’s good to think about, no matter how long we’ve been teaching.

And here’s the answer:

The characteristics of a highly effective learning environment are very much like the characteristics of a highly successful video game.

I started messing around with video games as teaching tools way back when. During my very first month teaching 8th graders in Derby Middle School in Fall 1986, I used a turn by turn game called Archeology.

Catchy title.

We played it on an Apple IIE desktop, with groups of 4-5 taking turns to “dig up” artifacts that eventually revealed a 18th century New England farmhouse.  The game ran on a 5 1/4 floppy disc that I protected with my life because we couldn’t find a way to create a useable backup. But it worked.

Kids were engaged. Conversation was happening. Stuff was being learned. Of course, I didn’t know why. I just knew something good was taking place. It wasn’t till much later that I started connecting brain research to what happened back at Derby.

What exactly was going on? Today I can think back and describe what happened as a result of playing Archeology:

  • increased literacy skills
  • improved problem solving skills
  • simulated authentic situations
  • encouraged collaboration
  • engaged students in content
  • lead to sophisticated research

There was a merging of brain research and effective learning environments.

I didn’t call it “Gamification” back in 1986. (If you would have asked me then, I would have called it “They’re so busy learning that they’re not setting stuff on fire and that’s a good thing-ification.”)

But we’re calling it Gamification now. It’s the idea that we can take video game concepts and apply them to our classroom instruction. This could mean we actually use games and simulations or it could mean we begin to re-structure our lesson and unit designs using gaming concepts.

What exactly are those gaming concepts?

  • Players get to modify the game environment and make individual choices.
  • Players become the experts.
  • Creativity and problem solving skills are encouraged.
  • Players receive immediate feedback.
  • There’s always an answer / always a way to “win.”
  • “Cheating” is supported.
  • Trial and error works best.
  • Game play is almost always better in groups.

Okay . . . now start thinking about these concepts in a social studies unit design. Let’s say we’re designing a unit on the causes of the Civil War.

  • Students get to modify the learning environment and make individual choices.
    Differentiated Instruction allow for students to research using a variety of tools and develop a variety of final products.
  • Students become the experts.
    We provide an engaging problem or over-arching question and allow students to find the answer on their own. This is instead of  just giving kids the answers and asking them to memorize them.
  • Creativity and problem solving skills are encouraged.
    The unit problem or question is the key. It has to be hard enough but not too hard. Challenging but doable. For example – ” Using primary documents as your main source of information, prove the following statement true or false: States Rights was not the cause of the Civil War.”
  • Students receive immediate feedback.
    You will need to constantly monitor progress. This doesn’t mean grading. This means providing information in a way so that leads to the desired end result.
  • There’s always an answer / always a way to “win.”
    This relates back to the idea of differentiating the learning. Game designers call it “flow” and most current games will automatically adjust the difficulty level based on how the player is doing. If a player is struggling, the game will make the current task easier. If a player is having lots of success, the game will make the task more difficult. We need to do the same thing with students.
  • “Cheating” is supported.
    Almost all games provide cheat codes, walkthroughs and in-game help. This is not seen as cheating by players in the same way that we define academic cheating. So during learning, you need to provide scaffolding – this might be giving more time to finish things, suggesting different tools or web sites and even designing activities that encourage student / groups to share information.
  • Trial and error works best.
    We know how powerful mistakes can be in the learning process. So we need to provide opportunities for failure. Never grade first attempts, require 1st and 2nd drafts of work and design problems and questions that can’t be Googled.
  • Learning is almost always better in groups.
    We need to connect kids with other kids and adults. This could be permanent groups throughout the life of the unit, temporary teams to solve problems, hooking kids up with adult experts, using technology to join your kids with someone else’s kids or simply asking kids to reflect with a partner after an interactive lecture.

Games and simulations can and should be part of our instructional tool kit. But the brain-based research that is the basis for their design should be part of our kit as well.


Get on it. I’ll be here when you’re done. Let me know how it goes.

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Gamification – Game theory in lesson plan design

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.

So when I found out about the site Gamification, I was pumped. Gamification is described as

the concept that you can apply the basic elements that make games fun and engaging to things that typically aren’t considered a game.

Gamification has a nice page that focuses just on the use of game theory on education. From that list I found a great article from the online journal Currents in Electronic Literacy titled Game Design as a Model for Course and Curricular Development. The article is a part of an issue that focuses on gaming in education. Useful stuff!

I also really like an article cited that talks about “gamifying” homework.

The idea that we can use game design ideas to create high-quality lesson plans and units can be a bit uncomfortable. But check out my earlier post as well as some of the artices listed and let me know what you think.

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