Meshing GBL With PBL: Can It Work?


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 >


Project-based learning has essential components that make it unique to other models of instruction, such as public audience, voice and choice, driving questions, and teaching and assessing 21st-century skills. PBL requires that all of these components be present in a truly great “main-course project.”

Similarly, game-based learning has elements that make it unique, even in its many implementation methods. GBL can look like gamification, where game elements such as quests and incentives are used to make the unit of instruction into a game of sorts. GBL can also look like using games for instructional purposes, such as the popular Minecraft or even Angry Birds, to support student learning. Many educators may wonder how they can leverage GBL practices within a PBL project and combine them to form a powerful learning experience. It is possible, but only with careful combination and intentional implementation.

GBL to Teach 21st-Century Skills
An important component of a PBL project is teaching and assessing a 21st-century skill (or skills) within the project. This is frequently an area of growth for new PBL teachers, because it’s not often that we’re asked to do this in the classroom. GBL leverages using games in the classroom, and these games can be targeted to help scaffold collaboration, critical thinking, communication, and creativity. We all want our students to be risk takers, so introducing games that create a safe space to take those risks can support student learning a PBL project. While many games are individual in nature, many are also collaborative. Some games like Pandemic even require collaboration to solve problems together, rather than being competitive. Educators can select games aligned to one of the 4Cs to create low-stakes, fun opportunities to practice working together, communicating effectively, solving problems, and being innovative.

GBL as Content Lessons
You might use a game to teach students content, or have them practice with the content. Perhaps students are making recommendations to a senator about policies surrounding a local or national issue. In order to do that, they might play a specific iCivics game to support them in learning that content. There are already great games out there that can help students practice with the content or learn to apply it in a new situation. As educators plan a project and backwards-design the content and skills they want to teach, they can identify appropriate games that will scaffold the content. Remember, these games can be digital, board, or card games. If you, as an educator, want to make sure that the game will support learning, the best way to see for yourself is by playing it.

Games as Products of Learning
Many educators are leveraging games as products of student learning, whether as the content itself or as a demonstration of coding and programming skills. A game product can be a great choice as a demonstration of student knowledge. It’s important, though, that this choice fits the purpose of the project. Voice and choice aren’t arbitrary elements of a project — they align to the “why” captured in the project’s driving question. If making a game that wrestles with the content aligns to the purpose of the project, then it can be a great choice! In addition, a game could be a collaborative, team product, or an individual product. Paired with an excellent rubric, a game can align content and skills to learning outcomes and standards.

Games and Quests for Differentiation
Often in a gamified unit, students are given quests to accomplish that will help them learn content and skills. A PBL project might have some similar quests or mini games, and students may even have voice and choice regarding which ones they can or need to do. Through effective formative assessment practices, educators can help students select the most effective quests and games within a PBL project. Not every child may need to do the quest or game that you think he or she needs. Differentiation through quests and games is hinged on effective formative assessment.

Badges for Formative Assessment and Feedback
Badges alone will not create sustained engagement. However, there are some students who love to “collect,” and many of our students play games that support the gamer mindset. I know students who love to get the best armor on World of Warcraft or collect every single Pokémon possible. Badges can support this engagement. We also need to remember that not all of our students are collector types, so badges may not be the best tools for them.

If you do intend to use badges and incentives, ensure that the badges align to meaningful rewards, not just completion. Have badges that specifically address a 21st-century skill, giving or receiving feedback, or presenting to a public audience. These are all important aspects of project-based learning. Create badges that align to PBL best practices so that they support a better PBL culture and aren’t simply a way of saying, “Good job!”

Remember, there may be some elements of GBL that might take away from a PBL project. For instance, completely gamifying a unit could make it just a gamified unit and not PBL. Educators should use their professional judgment about when and where to leverage GBL elements in a PBL project, and they should be perfectly fine saying, “No, it doesn’t fit right now,” or “Yes, this can work!” Instead of trying to squeeze all aspects of GBL into PBL, find the right fit that will make your PBL project more engaging.

Have you blended game-based learning with project-based learning? What was your experience?

Small, Safe Steps for Introducing Games to the Classroom


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.

Game-Based Learning Ideas from ISTE


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.

Games: A Model of Effective Assessment


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.

Game Jam Your Classroom


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 >


Just what is a game jam? It is a short event, usually only a day or two, where game developers plan, design and create a short game. Similar to a music jam session, game jams don’t involve much pre-planning and rely on immediate idea generation and improvisation. Game design companies have these jam sessions regularly, and while many of the games that happen here are digital, some are paper-based. They usually occur in one physical location to allow for immediate, organic collaboration. While there is an element of competition, most of the work is focused on collaboration towards a common goal.

I have witnessed some of these game jams, and have talked with many gaming experts to learn more about it. I wanted to learn more about game jams to help me come up with ideas for how we might include an activity like this in classroom instruction.

The following video will help you visualize how the process works:

I see a lot of great opportunity to teach and assess 21st century skills, focus on deeper learning, and present content. Here are steps and tips to get you started:

1. Create a Flexible Space
If you watch the video above, you will see the room change — literally. The room is set up in a way that allows for presentation, small group work, space for making and more. Make sure you have the space or can create a space that is fluid and can easy be transformed to meet the needs of the teams and the steps in the game jam process.

2. Provide Digital or Physical Tools
As teams create and decide upon their games, they will need materials to do so. However, don’t assume that a game jam is only about creating digital games. While jammers might use a digital tool like Gamestar Mechanic to create their game, they might also use physical materials like paper, glue, magazines and scissors. Have these materials available, and provide voice and choice for students to pick what materials will best meet their needs. At a GameDesk game jam, a team developed a pizza game that was aligned to math content about fractions. This game was created with physical, not digital, materials.

3. Embrace Principles of Games Design
A game jam is a great opportunity to teach fundamentals of game design, from story line and narrative to the actual mechanics. Normally, participants in game jams come to it with a lot of prior knowledge, although many game jam teams have members with very little knowledge of these mechanics. The extent to which you teach this might depend on the level of students or time constraints in the classroom. However, since the game jam is in essence a design challenge, you can align to principles of STEM or STEAM education. Make sure to give students designated time before the game jam to learn these principles.

4. Domain Analysis
This is probably one of the most interesting steps of the game jam. Here, the teams investigate specific content areas (or domains) and uncover how the content is both taught and represented. For example, teams can find specific learning targets in their game content, and also note how those targets are represented visually or digitally. They research how the content is traditionally taught and also assessed. Teams craft specific learning targets from this exploration and research to ensure that, when they get to the idea phase, they can create a focused game targeting very specific learning objectives.

5. Team Building
Game jams always start with team builders. In a real game jam, the team members have often never worked together before; therefore, it’s crucial to set a tone for collaboration and problem solving. It’s the same for our students. In order to set them up for success, icebreakers and other team builders need to occur.

6. Ideation
After bonding as a team and analyzing content domains, the ideation phase begins. This is where teams brainstorm and collaborate on ideas for the game itself. Relying on its collective knowledge of game design and content, the team starts to craft ideas for a game that will target a specific learning objective. These objectives are tight, and there are often not too many of them. They are created in the Domain Analysis component (step 4 above), but here the team gets to start narrowing and picking these targets as well as decide on the mechanics.

7. Deadlines and Benchmarks
The game jam itself has a very specific deadline, usually a full day (eight hours) of work, including the presentations and pitches. However within the game jam day, there are further benchmarks. For example, at some point during the day, teams are no longer allowed to generate game ideas and are forced to work or “make.” This helps create the urgency for the deadline and also helps to move along the process. Consider setting specific time limits for some of the steps in the game jam.

8. Presentation, Playing and Judging
The culminating event for the game jam is presenting the game product and having all participants play the game. Not only is this an important assessment, but it is also an important way to celebrate the jammers’ hard work. Judges need to have specific criteria for evaluating the games. These criteria might be different for every game jam. They might include relevance to content or curriculum, marketability, player interest, ability to collaborate, and more.

As you consider a game jam for your classroom, you might focus the assessment on the content area, or simply on 21st century skills like creativity and collaboration. I know many of us have more freedom after “testing season,” so that also might be a great time to give this idea a shot. Just make sure you’re clear on the learning objectives and project outcomes that you expect from your students. Don’t forget to watch the game jammers in action in the time-lapse video above to give you a full picture of what it would look like!

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