For example, “Lure of the Labyrinth” is currently being used in Maryland classrooms as a digital teaching option for middle-school pre-algebra students. “Lure” includes a wide array of highly engaging and discovery-based math puzzles skinned in a narrative, non-linear experience in which students work to find their lost pet—and save the world from monsters. Skills explored and mastered during game play are linked to both national and state mathematics standards, and the game helps students to think like mathematicians. “Lure” is replete with a full lesson plan, explanations of how the math in each and every puzzle works, graphic organizers, and teacher resources that meet expectations set by many basal programs.
There are other games that can be used in a more limited way, which can still introduce games into the classroom, such as the multi-awarded “DragonBox”—a game app designed to teach concepts of algebra that range from beginner to advanced, including the writing and solving of complex equations.
The challenge for many educators is where to find the right tools, and then what to do with them. First, it is extremely important for teachers to actually play these games (at least dip their toes in!) so they can find the pitfalls and support students when the technology simply isn’t enough. Indeed, games like “Lure of the Labyrinth” and “DragonBox” offer only pieces of the puzzle, and it is up to educators to employ them effectively in a learning curriculum. Children may solve puzzles and progress rapidly through a game, but they will still require restatement of the theories behind their successes, and this is where the teacher can bring focus and structure to what might seem like an activity with too few boundaries.
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Finding the right apps, and the right partners, is not an easy task, or even a comfortable prospect for many. The good news is that collaboration between app/game designers and ed-tech publishers is becoming extremely fervent, and there are products that exist (such as i-Ready) that incorporate elements of game mechanics, as well as strong diagnostic and instructional support for educators.
Tools like these can help educators take a small step into the game space, where they can meet young members of the iGeneration where they are. The shift to make learning through games work for students in a holistic, systematic way could be the key to widespread improvement in education and elimination of the gaps that currently exist between educators and students; or, in game space terms, between players and their ultimate goal—mastery.
Daniel J. Rabone is creative director of interactive media at Curriculum Associates and has a rich background in informational design as well as elementary and middle school academic product development. Daniel is a recovering game, cartoon, and kid-media addict who is frequently off the wagon, where it is much more fun.