This game could improve behavior—and achievement

A 2011 study found that students who had taken part in an SEL program saw an average achievement gain of 11 percentage points, while incidents of misbehavior declined by 28 percent. Other studies have found that SEL can help boost students’ resilience, among other skills — which is particularly important for students with special needs.

“We are hearing a lot about resilience in education right now,” Toben said. “What we really mean is helping students deal with disappointments, whether it’s disappointment about how a test turned out, or disappointment in a relationship that is changing. Whatever it may be, social and emotional learning can go a long way in shifting a student’s perspective.”

During the webinar, Toben outlined the five key areas of social and emotional competency: self-awareness, or the ability to recognize feelings as they are occurring; self-management, which is the ability to manage emotions, such as calming down or delaying gratification; social awareness, or the ability to sense what others are feeling; relationship skills, such as cooperation and negotiation; and effective decision-making.

Finding a meaningful and effective way of teaching these skills is the focus of Hawkins’ new company, called If You Can, which hopes to bring a game-based approach to learning social and emotional skills.

“This is a very powerful form of attention, because there is an almost immediate feedback loop,” he said. “Any time you are playing a game, it’s a fundamentally interactive medium.”

The company’s first product is a game for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch called IF…The Emotional IQ Game.

Inspired by the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling, IF… is an adventure game for children ages 6-12. It takes students on a quest that promotes positive social behavior and helps them manage emotions such as stress, anxiety, anger, sadness, and frustration.

As students complete various missions, they are asked to think about and make choices related to SEL skills such as active listening, gratitude, compassion, forgiveness, and resilience. For each choice the student makes, the game assesses their SEL progress for parents and teachers to see.

“Science has found that when information is presented in the context of a narrative, [students] are more likely to remember it than if they are just given a list of facts,” Hawkins said. “So this is a very powerful medium, and of course anything you are doing in the game is self-paced. You can loop back and repeat things, or move forward if you want.”

Toben and other SEL experts consulted on the design the game. It includes 12 chapters that cover 20 teaching objectives spanning the five main areas of SEL.

The game is something that children with any kind of special needs “can manage and do independently, which is very empowering,” Hawkins said. “We went out of our way to make a game that is very easy to operate.” Because it is played in a safe, private environment, he said, it offers a “supportive way to help build confidence.”

Dennis Pierce is a freelance writer who has been reporting on education and technology. for more than 17 years. Dennis can be reached at

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