Getting students to learn outside of the classroom is integral to broadening their educational experience. Making education fun is one way to encourage students to learn at home, especially through their access to online information.

A great deal of research indicates that the more students “play,” the more they learn at the same time. It’s also understood that a child’s home environment—and the interaction between home and school—is correlated with academic success. Combine these two observations, and it can be anticipated that using computers to encourage certain types of play will result in improvements in student achievement.

The astounding success of the acclaimed computer game “Carmen San Diego” illustrates a successful marrying of fun and learning through an electronic format. Carmen San Diego was developed as a game, but teachers have been able to build lesson plans around the game that encourage children to brush up on their geography during off-school hours, too.

These kinds of projects support the types of goals for 21st century education: learner-centered instruction; multimedia and multi-sense learning; active, inquiry-based learning; and the use of critical thinking.

A pilot project in Adams County, Colo., illustrates what can be done, even inexpensively. In this project, interactive materials were developed for third-graders by the Lightspan Partnership, based on state curriculum standards. These materials could be played through Sony PlayStations and other computer game devices that hooked to televisions, thus avoiding the high costs of computers and internet links.

Students said they enjoyed the activities, and parents said it was easy to get their children started on the “games.” Each game had multiple levels of complexity, enabling students to stay challenged as they learned more.

The result: Students playing the games improved their test scores in comparison with a control group of students. Further anecdotal support came from parents who said their children were more interested in school and academic work after experiencing the games at home.