This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


Some educators are nervous about using games in the classroom or fully implementing all aspects of game-based learning (GBL). However, there are a few small, safe steps that all educators can and should consider to leverage the power of engagement that games can bring. Finding games isn’t as difficult as it used to be. Sites like Educade provide game ideas, links, resources, and even lesson ideas. This is a great start, but educators should take some of the following next steps to feel even more confident and safe about using games in the classroom.

Play the Games
When educators want to know if a game is appropriate for the classroom, they shouldn’t just rely on someone telling them it’s great, whether that someone is a company or even a colleague. To truly understand if the game will work with your curriculum or your intended goals for learning, you need to sit down and actually play the game. Spend the time to explore this software, app, or board game to your satisfaction. As you play, you can experience what students will experience and learn how to support them when they play. You’ll develop an understanding of what can be learned from this game, whether it’s content, thinking skills, or both. One of the best professional development experiences on games and GBL is to play a digital game like Civilization solo or a board game like Settlers of Catan with a group of friends.

A Game Is Voluntary
You want to know what makes games the most effective? They are voluntary. If you make students play the game, you are missing the entire point of games and GBL. Jane McGonigal, author of Reality is Broken, states:

When you strip away the genre differences and the technological complexities, all games share four defining traits: a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation.

Voluntary participation means that players actively agree to the rules and procedures of the game, rather than having those forced upon them. When we are forced to do something, the work we do in games actually becomes less safe and less enjoyable. Consider offering games as a voluntary activity for true engagement.

Games as Differentiation
Not every student in your class needs to be playing the same game at the same time. In fact, games can be used as just another tool to differentiate. As teachers formatively assess their students, they may find that some students didn’t quite get either the content knowledge or 21st century skill they were focusing on. Also, educators might find that some students are ready for a greater challenge. Educators can use games as a tool to support either revisiting the material or pushing students farther on new material. Not only do games help differentiate for students, but they also free up the teacher to meet the needs of more students.

Team Games
Even though many games are played individually, playing games together can be a great way to build classroom culture. When paired with other culture-building activities, games can provide low-stakes, competitive ways to build collaboration skills. In fact, games that involve teams can help support the principles of “helping each other out” and sharing. Some games, like Pandemic, require that all players work together toward the same goal instead of working competitively. Collaboration is key in that game, so consider games like it for building classroom culture, and pair them with reflections and discussion to assess the learning.

Remember, depending on the access to technology, teachers can pick both high-tech and low-tech games, or offer both. Educators can try all or some of these steps to use games in the classroom. It’s important that we start small with implementation, and that we continually reflect on the learning and push ourselves to try new things for the sake of our students, their engagement, and their achievement.

What games have you introduced in your classroom, and how did you make it happen? Please share in the comments below.

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This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


I had a great time at this year’s ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference, as both a presenter and participant. Of course I was excited to hear Jane McGonigal again as she engaged us in thinking about games for learning and other amazing purposes. As ISTE closes, there are many free resources that I saw either introduced or highlighted around game-based learning (GBL), from educational games to gamification in the classroom. I’m always looking for free! (Aren’t we all?) Some of these tools and concepts have already been featured in news reports about education, but following are a few ideas as you consider using them.

SimCity Edu
We have all been awaiting the release of SimCity Edu, and you can now pilot it this summer in anticipation for use in the classroom this fall. Although applications for this pilot closed on June 28, I’m sure there will be more to release soon. In the meantime, you can still log in and create your own lesson and ideas as well as browse other sample units and lessons. One sample unit has students focus on creating civic engagement in SimCity, aligned to civics learning objectives and essential questions. Many of the other lessons are aligned to common core standards and other content standards like business, math and science.

Newly announced from GameDesk is, a huge database of games and game lessons that teachers can use in the classroom. It’s free, and you can even create your own lessons to share with the PLN they’ve created. It’s a great way to get your own GBL ideas out there for feedback and collaboration. The lessons are aligned to content, grade level, and even 21st century skills like critical thinking and collaboration. You can also add lessons to your “backpack,” “like” and comment on lessons, and share them on social media. I especially liked the lesson idea of using statistics to predict and plan outcomes for the board game Settlers of Catan (one of my favorites). Educade’s mission is to “zap” boredom, so if you’re using the tools, consider joining the Twitter hastag PLN #EducadeZAP.

Quest Designing Tools
Dr. Chris Haskell of 3D Game Lab has put together some great resources on designing effective gamification environments for learning. One of the best articles I’ve seen on this site — and on this subject — is “Understanding Quest-Based Learning,” which goes over effective usage of game mechanics in the classroom, as well as quest design, incentives and assessment components. 3D Game Lab also has paid Teacher Camps that allow participants to use their learning management system. However, the resources on the site also provide a great framework for ensuring quality gamification in the classroom.

It’s clear that there are more and more tools and resources out there to help support implementation of GBL in the classroom. As you consider some of these resources, don’t go crazy! Make sure to start small. Along with that, be intentional in terms of student learning outcomes. Build or use assessments appropriately, and give feedback to the organizations creating and providing the lessons, resources and tools — because we’re all in this together! I would love to hear how you are using these in your classroom and more.

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This post originally appeared on ASCD Express, a regular ASCD Publication focused on critical topics in education. This article appeared in Vol 8. Issue 12, the focus topic being assessment that makes sense. View Original >


People play games for many reasons, but a major reason is that games are designed in specific ways to ensure that you keep playing. You are challenged at just the right level while being given enough scaffolding to continue trying. This creates the “flow” where engagement is maximized. We take these, as well as other game mechanics, for granted, when in fact we should look to them as models of instruction and assessment. Here are three big lessons we can take from games to improve our classroom assessment practices.

1. Mastery and Freedom to Fail
Allowing yourself to fail is probably one of the most important and best things games do in terms of effective assessment. When you make mistakes in a game, you are given as many opportunities as you need to successfully complete the level. If your player dies in Super Mario Brothers, you simply start over at the level at which you left off. In other words, you are given freedom to fail until you are successful. Many of our antiquated assessment practices in education do not do this. We rely on points and weights to try to create an elaborate grade book that seems balanced. But in fact, it still punishes students for making mistakes in the learning process. Just like in games, we need to reward our students for their best work and give them multiple formative assessments that allow them to try and fail in a safe space, where mastery is truly valued.

2. “Just In Time” Feedback
Games give you feedback immediately. For those of us who play Angry Birds, we often fail a level, but we know why we failed—the game lets us know our mistakes up front. Although we’re informed of our failure by a crass “You Lose!” phrase that appears across the screen, we know that we have failed and can reflect on how we need to make adjustments in our game play in order to be successful. You don’t find out three hours later that you lost; you know immediately. Although it often takes time to give high-quality, lengthy feedback, we can prioritize feedback on a targeted instruction area to be given immediately. Technology can be a useful aid in sending or noting a quick response to an assignment. Formative assessments also allow for quick check-ins to note progress or needed adjustments.

3. Assessment of 21st Century Skills
Although many games do not assess the formal content in our classroom, such as world history, writing skills, or physics, they do assess crucial 21st century skills that can go overlooked in traditional classroom assessments. For example, Halo involves players both playing solo and working in pairs or teams to defeat enemies and conquer stages. Defeating these enemies requires not only strategic thinking and problem solving, but also creativity, collaboration, and communication. If you play a multiplayer contest and win, you have shown that you can collaborate and strategize in teams, and the game play is designed to assess these skills. In our classrooms, we can create rubrics and align student products to assess the same skills that games do, thereby valuing not only content, but also 21st century skills.

To really push the envelope of games as assessment tools, consider using them as a formative or summative assessment. It might make educators uncomfortable to trust games as rigorous assessments, but in fact, we often trust games as the best assessment tools. Stanford professor James Paul Gee captures this concept best: “If a student plays Halo on hard … and beats it, would you be tempted to give that student a Halo test?” The answer, of course, is no. The game was designed to demand that the player met specific, rigorous goals. We trust the game to accurately assess those goals. Well-designed educational games can be great assessment tools, or more generally, we can borrow from game design to improve classroom assessment practices.

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