Is it a Good Game? 3 Tips for Evaluating Great Educational Games


This post originally appeared on the BrainPop Community, an organization that creates animated, curricular content that engages students, supports educators, and bolsters achievement. BrainPOP is also home to GameUp™, a free educational games portal for the classroom.View Original >



I love using games in the classroom, and I love supporting teachers in their implementation. As I continue this work, both in terms of advocacy and implementation, there remains a critical question that will either support games for learning, or undermine it. Is it a good game? I constantly watch the twittersphere and get emails from colleagues, game companies, and the like about “games.” Whether it’s “20 Games to Support ELL Students,” or “The 5 New Best Games for the iPad,” it can be daunting to even know where to start using games in the classroom.

I’ve got news for you. What people claim to be games, may in fact not be games at all. Or, even worse, they may bad games! Perhaps they are just digital activities or apps, and that is fine, but let’s not claim one to be a game when it is not. While there are many ways to distinguish a good game from an activity, consider these three to start:

Is it Edutainment? – Jeopardy is a prime example. Jeopardy is a fun activity, where you are almost fooled into learning because the game is fun. In general, “Edutainment” is based on this idea of “fooling,” in that we learn or must know something, but the learning isn’t really connected to a real engaging purpose. Furthermore, is recalling the answer to a question “learning?” Seems to me more like testing.

Does it have an engaging story? – A good game has a story that we immerse ourselves in. While this story might be epic like Final Fantasy, it can also be short and sweet. Within this story is an engaging character or role that we invest in as a player. We take on the role of an engineer, an adventurer, a virus, a shop owner, and many more in games. These authentic roles coupled with a purposeful story or scenario creates the engagement to play.

Is there application of knowledge? – If the game is simply asking you to recall facts and figures, they it may not be the best game. There is a time and place for this this type of learning, but good games require us to do more with the facts and skills we learn. The game helps us learn these ideas, but requires deeper thinking and learning! Just as we demand deeper thinking and learning in our curriculum and instruction at school, a good game should do the same.

Three Ways Game-Based Learning can be a Helpful Tool


This post originally appeared on InService, the ASCD community blog. ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) is an educational leadership organization with 160,000 members in 148 countries, including professional educators from all levels and subject areas––superintendents, supervisors, principals, teachers, professors of education, and school board members. View Original >

“A game is an opportunity to focus our energy, with relentless optimism, at something we’re good at (or getting better at) and enjoy. In other words, gameplay is the direct emotional opposite of depression.”
Jane McGonigal, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World

Game-based learning is fast becoming a trend in education. Teachers across the globe are experimenting with not only using games, but also game mechanics in the classroom. Games engage us. Our students are playing games whether we approve or not. Whether spending hours at home in the evening playing Call of Duty or more casually playing Angry Birds, students are spending time relentless trying to achieve. We can use games in the classroom to not only leverage engagement but also to align games to instructional principles.

Games as Assessment: As students play games they are being assessed on their progress, provided feedback, and allowed to try again without fear of failure. Our education system does not always align to that principle. Often we punish children with “points” as they practice with the content. Games do not do this. Players are given the freedom to fail and given specific feedback through formative assessment on how to improve. In fact, when players win the level or game (the summative assessment), they are rewarded with a true sense of accomplishment as the assessment is meaningful. Games are excellent models for assessment best practices.

Games as Engagement: Games are carefully and intentionally designed environments that create flow—the balance between challenge and progress. Great games are challenging but not too difficult and thus not boring. On the contrary, they have specific mechanics to create this game flow. It’s not necessary about winning—in games like Tetris you are destined to lose—but rather a game gives us multiple victories on rigorous challenges. The rigor engages us, and a game scaffolds that rigor intentionally and in an exemplary manner.

Authentic Learning Experiences: James Paul Gee, game-based learning advocate and guru refers to this as “situated learning.” We know that students must construct and apply knowledge for deeper learning. In great games, students are both learning content and applying in complex problems to solve. Take Portal for example. In this game, the player must create portals between two flat planes. The player not only experiences principles of physics, but must use this knowledge to solve related puzzles. In addition, the player takes on an authentic role. Although based in a fantasy world, the player becomes one with the playable character of the game and invests in the growth and story of that character. When playing in this authentic story and learning environment,the player sees the relevance in learning the content for the purposes of playing.

Games can be another tool for engaging in rigorous and authentic learning. There are many games available to classrooms, from educational games at iCivics, to educational versions of games, like Minecraft. There are even noneducational games that are being paired with instruction to make the game educational, such as Sid Meier’s Civilization or World of Warcraft. Explore what other teachers have done and start engaging students in meaningful play.

Should Kids Play Games in the Classroom?


This post originally appeared on Education Nation’s blog, The Learning Curve, which has many blogs both opinion-based and informational. Education Nation is NBC News’ year-round initiative to engage the country in a solutions-focused conversation about the state of education in America. View Original >


Our students are playing video games, whether we like it or not. In the United States, there are 183 million active gamers – people who play games for an average of 13 hours a week, according to Jane McGonigal in her book “Reality Is Broken.” Rather than viewing this as a waste of time, some educators are seeing this as an opportunity and are using games in the classroom.

There is something about games that engages us, but how can teachers use them to teach important concepts? The answer is game based learning.

Why Games? – Games provide a learning environment that is often starkly different than the traditional learning environment. When you play a game, you have the opportunity to try and fail. In the classroom, students are often punished for practice, as it affects their grade. If you lose a game, you have the opportunity to try again.

Games also provide a “situated learning” environment. In the classroom, content is often disconnected from a relevant context. In a game, you learn content to perform tasks. Whether the game demands learning math content or social studies content, you are engaged because you are invested in winning.

Games also focus on critical thinking and solving complex problems. Instead of “drill and practice,” a good game demands that you use factual information to solve a complex problem.

Here are two examples of how teachers are implementing game based learning:

Games as Direct Lessons – iCivics uses educational games to teach a civics curriculum. Teachers are also using it to teach reading and argumentative writing, crucial foci in the Common Core Standards. In the game “Argument Wars,” players must evaluate arguments and evidence from a variety of court cases such as Brown v. Board of Education and Miranda v. Arizona. Each case is a separate game, and the player takes on the role of a lawyer representing one side of the case. Students must identify the main idea of the argument they represent and choose the best supporting statements to satisfy the judge. They must also fend off the arguments of their opponent to win the case. The game is designed to be educational as well as fun. Teachers assess students through a written component, such as a traditional essay or persuasive letter to the Supreme Court. “Argument Wars” also tracks students’ answers and scores to give teachers more information on their progress.

Games as Secondary Lessons – Another popular game in the classroom is the puzzle game Portal, in which players have to create portals between two flat planes. The game was not designed to be educational, but teachers are creating contexts for students to learn science content while playing. For example, they can use Portal to help teach concepts like mass and velocity. After a traditional lesson on the topic, students are instructed to send cubes colliding in midair within the game environment. They can experiment with different speeds and collect data on the results. Teachers have students collaborate on different scenarios in the game to predict what will happen. The game provides an engaging and safe space to experiment and learn before applying the knowledge in an exam.

These are just two samples of how teachers are implementing game based learning. Some teachers are using more low-tech games, and some teachers are even turning their classrooms into games where students play every day. We have a unique opportunity now to use game based learning in the classroom as a way to encourage students to learn AND play.

4 Ways To Use Massively Multiplayer Online Games In The Classroom


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Recently, MIT Education Arcade announced commission of a Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMORPG) that would teach students content aligned to Common Core Math Standards and Next Generation Science Standards. In addition, World of Warcraft in the Classroom is a popular curriculum that teachers have used to engage students in learning critical, standards-based content.

There is a trend in education to utilize games for learning, whether pairing a game with classroom instruction or creating a whole new “serious game.” As a regular MMORPG player myself, I have found myself spell-bounded by story lines, incessantly questing to improve my character. In full the spirit of full disclosure, I have a Jedi Shadow currently on Star Wars the Old Republic, but have played numerous MMORPGs in my life as a gamer.

While MMOs are being created to demand learning of content within the game, teachers can still strategize the use of MMOs in pairing with classroom instruction and assessment. Here are some strategies and considerations to consider if you decide to venture into the game-based learning approach.

1) Pair the Game with English/ Language Arts content

In MMOs, students write. Yes, headsets are employed, but often the primary mode of communication within the game is through written conversations in the chat channel. Practice problem solving in game elements with students using expository and persuasive writing. In addition, MMOs have rich story lines. Pair the MMOs avatar/character the student is playing with character in the novel. Focus on story elements and the higher order thinking skill of compare contract. Look at these types of ELA standards and find the right in game fit.

2) Feasible Time and Structures

Let’s face it, you may or may have technology, space or instructional time to devote to this approach, as it demands not only formal instruction, but time in the game to play and experience. However, if you know students are playing in their free time, it is a great opportunity to differentiate instruction to engage your “gamer” kids. In addition, if you have a blended learning model, time becomes less of an obstacle, and the focus is more on competency. If students can find time to play the game and meet the milestones for learning, then it is completely feasible and worthy to use this approach. Perhaps the In Game activities are extra practice or extensions to enrich learning.

3) Meet In the Game Itself

Related to the previous point around time and structure, you can leverage the game itself to meet with students and discuss learnings at actual in-game points, whether that is the local tavern in WOW, or the Cantina in SWTOR. Perhaps you utilize the Literature Circle instructional strategies to build reading skills of the novel, but have the actual Literatures Circles in the game. Or, you hold office hours to help students with their classwork.

4) Teach and Assess Collaboration

21st Century Skills are being leveraged in schools internationally as just as critical to content knowledge. Collaboration is no exception. Perhaps one of the most striking and exciting learnings that occur in MMOs is collaboration. Whether teaming for an instance, fighting a boss, chatting on public channels for help, or utilizing in game crafting, students on constantly collaborating to solve problems. Have students record evidence or reflect on game play to properly assess them in collaboration. Model collaboration in the game using your character. Translate these in-game experiences to the real world through discussion and reflection.

These are just some strategies to use as you consider how you might pair an MMO with classroom learning. Rather than look at the obstacles and barriers, look for the opportunities. Just because we as teachers might not be able to create a full scale classroom implementation doesn’t mean I can’t leverage a MMO to engage a student in meeting learning targets. In addition, as conversations around time, competency and structures for school move forward, some of these walls will become more flexible allowing for further implementation of MMOs in the classroom. You may a “noob” and not get MMOs, but you can learn about them from your students and utilize their resiliencies and knowledge to create a personalized learning environment.

Active Game-Based Learning


This post originally appeared on The Whole Child blog, an ASCD initiative to call on educators, policymakers, business leaders, families, and community members to work together on a whole child approach to education. View Original >


OK, so I am a gamer. Not that I have the time anymore, but I do venture now and again into a game, whether a first-person shooter (FPS) or role-playing video game (RPG). I am also a big promoter of Game-Based Learning (GBL) and Gamification. To clarify, GBL is when games are used to balance the learning of subject matter through gameplay with specific learning outcomes in mind. Gamification is applying the concepts of game design to learning to engage in problem solving. Again both are geared toward building student engagement and learning important content. GBL is one method that creates not only a great opportunity to engage students in content, but also keep them active.

Brain-based learning research tells us that being active in and around rigorous learning can help keep students energized in the learning. During the activity, oxygen-rich blood flows to the brain which increases the ability to concentrate. John Medina, published a great book about how movement can increase learning. PBS did a story about a school where students took active “brain breaks” that kept students moving around the classroom. There are many ways to integrate activate movement on a regular basis for students, and using video games is another opportunity.

Microsoft’s Kinect is the key to using games for learning that require movement. Kinect demands students physically interact with the content in front of them. Whether it’s jumping in an obstacle course or moving hands to push buttons, the body is not only engaged in a game, but also in movement. Although it may seem like a far cry to link these games to authentic learning outcomes, the idea is to balance the gaming with the learning; increasing blood flow and engagement while gaming increases concentration for learning content. The other good news is that there are a plethora of resources in this area, some from Microsoft itself. They have a library, some with specific targets toward physical education, which has activities and lessons for students. These classroom activities align the video games to the Common Core State Standards (although they could be a bit more specific), and indicate which video games are necessary. I highly recommend going to to create a funding opportunity for a Kinect in your classroom.

In addition, a Twitter friend of mine, Johnny Kissko, has dedicated much of his work to using Kinect in the classroom with his website KinectEDucation. His site is complete with not only lessons that are tied to specific games, but also applications that can be downloaded and purchased. Because there are so many resources out there, there is no reason for a teacher to not give it a shot. Using video games, and specifically the Kinect, can allow us to harness the power of brain-based learning and the engagement of video games to create student concentration and engagement.

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