Game-Play Leads to Learning Benefits
Choose the best answer to the following question:
On a Wednesday afternoon, a math teacher asks his class of 6th graders, “Who wants to play a game?” What is the most likely response from the class of students?
- A few students raise their hands while the rest of the class shrugs their shoulders with indifference.
- About half the class raise their hands enthusiastically, and the other half of the class nod their heads in resignation.
- About half the class raise their hands straight up, a fourth of the class raise their hands with some enthusiasm, and the rest of the class shrug with indifference.
- The entire class raise their hands so high that their bodies are practically ejected from their chairs, all while yelling, “Me! Me!”
- None of the above. You teach a classroom of robots.
Playing games in the classroom has often been seen as a reward for great behavior or completing classwork on time, a keep-‘em-busy activity for rainy days inside, or as a time-filler on a Friday afternoon when the weekend is this close. How do you use games in the classroom? Do you use games?
Incorporating games in an educational context can be tricky, especially when considering video games. How will the game work with a class of 30 students? Will the younger students understand how to play? What is the time investment in using video games to learn a new concept or skill? Is it even necessary to do so?
There are the adventurous few who use video games as an integral part of their teaching day and have found success in doing so. These educators find that there are incredible benefits to incorporating game play, such as:
- Increased student motivation and engagement
- Greater variety of active learning opportunities
- Immediate feedback reinforces learning
- Repeated practice with new skills for mastery
But, are all video games conducive to learning? Besides research (search “What games do 5th grade math teachers use?”) and reading through user reviews, it is important that you play the video games yourself. As you do, reflect on the following questions:
- What is the goal of the game?
- Is the game simple to understand?
- What is the purpose of the game?
- Are there different levels to the game?
- Which students would benefit from the game?
- Will students get feedback on their game play?
- Is this a game my students would want to play?
You may have other questions depending on the makeup of your class, such as language and maturity level of the game, game support that students can independently access (i.e. a Help link or FAQs page for general game play information), and student accessibility during the school day (i.e. Can the video game only be played as a whole class? Can it be played in small groups on one device?). It is clear that the use of a game played on an interactive board, laptop, or tablet needs more research than simply, “What looks fun and is free?”
There are features of a video game that can answer many of the questions you may have about a game, especially its relationship to effective learning:*
- Motivation: Does the game motivate students because they are able to work through and solve a problem? Once the problem is solved, are there more to solve so that they feel a level of mastery? Playing a game that motivates a student to continue through learning and advancement is certainly a plus.
- Competition: Is there a degree of healthy competition involved? Gamers tend to enjoy the competitive piece of video games and this can be appealing in the classroom setting.
While, yes, there are many aspects of a video game to consider before including it as a learning resource, it could ultimately be the change needed to engage even the most reticent learner. Again, a simple search of the internet can lead you to research articles and white papers on the benefits of game play for learning, including those that explain how this can be done successfully.
Read more about how games can be incorporated into a traditional multi-step lesson plan in the blog Learn Using Games for Interactive Whiteboards. If you’re still unsure, a number of education-focused companies offer free trials of software that include learning games, such as Qwizdom OKTOPUS. OKTOPUS has Math and Language Arts games as a collaboration feature of their software. Watch this video to learn more:
OKTOPUS also has the GameZones app for interactive boards, with subject-specific games for practicing concepts and skills learned in the classroom. To learn more, watch this video to learn more:
The next time you ask your class, “Who wants to play a game?” do so with the assurance that the games you’ve chosen are the ones they need to boost their confidence, increase active learning, support collaboration with peers, and motivate them to keep trying. Who knows? You just might see 100% hands up in the air.
*Gee, James Paul (August, 2006). Are video games good for learning? [article]. Retrieved from http://cmslive.curriculum.edu.au/leader/default.asp?id=16866&issueID=10696