In Bill Gates’ vision of the classrooms of the future, students are grouped according to skill set. One cluster huddles around a computer terminal, playing an educational game or working on a simulator. Another works with a human teacher getting direct instruction, while another gets a digital lesson delivered from their teacher’s avatar.
This kind of “game-based” learning is one of the priorities of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a nonprofit founded by the Microsoft creator.
Last year, the foundation announced it would invest $20 million in a variety of teacher tools, including this and other technologies geared toward changing the way teachers teach and kids learn.
Gates sat down with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week while he was in Atlanta speaking at the Education Commission of the States’ national forum.
The billionaire philanthropist said there are lessons to be learned from the enthusiasm kids have when playing video games, including that winning can be a motivator and that students should be able to move to the next level when ready.
“We’re not saying the whole curriculum turns into this big game. We’re saying it’s an adjunct to a serious curriculum,” he said.
The introduction of the new Common Core standards initiative, a set of consistent standards that have been adopted by Georgia and 44 other states, provides an opportunity to spur the creation of these games. Enter the Gates Foundation.
Two years ago, the nonprofit brought together 20 of the country’s best assessment designers with 20 of the world’s best game designers to discuss creating games that engage kids more deeply, said Vicki Phillips, director of the college ready strategy for the Gates Foundation.
Now, the foundation is working with the Center for Game Science at the University of Washington on a free, online game called Refraction. The goal of the game is to rescue animals whose ships are stuck in outer space. The ships require different amounts of fuel, powered by lasers. So the players have to manipulate fractions to split the lasers into the right amount of fuel.
“Imagine if kids poured their time and passion into a video game that taught them math concepts while they barely noticed, because it was so enjoyable,” Gates said during his speech at the ECS national forum.
As students play, their progress is visible to the teacher on his or her computer, allowing the educator to see instantly what concepts students understand.