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More educators turning to educational gaming

Engaging forms of educational gaming offer real-time data, individualized learning opportunities

ed-gamingEducational gaming has been present in classrooms and schools for more than a few years, but is gaining more recognition as school leaders search for ways to engage students and gather data that offers meaningful insight on student learning.

Educators often have different definitions for educational gaming, ranging from a gaming-focused educational software to an immersive, multi-player environment. And while gaming isn’t the only way educators can reach students and tailor instruction accordingly, it can be an engaging and unique option for school leaders to explore, some experts say.

“Educational gaming is good for most kids, for some things, some of the time,” said Dan White, CEO at Filament Games. “It’s not going to be a silver bullet, but [can be beneficial] used in conjunction with other things.”

(Next page: What are some gaming options?)

Gaming is gaining more recognition, but has been slower to develop and take root in classrooms, White said, in part because it takes good game developers time to create an educational game that is not only interactive, but that delivers the “extra” educational components and data in an impactful way.

Another reason for educational gaming’s slow adoption rate? There are not a large number of great examples of games being used in incredibly effective ways, and thus school administrators are less likely to implement a gaming initiative if they don’t have enough clear examples of that game’s effectiveness or the data they’ll receive from it.

When it comes to gaming, what’s out there?

Gaming options vary widely, from elementary school games to advanced, immersive games designed to engage middle and high school students in complete alternate worlds. Some educational gaming options include Minecraft, SimCity, Surge EpiGame, and Satisfraction.

Dig-It! Games offers games about ancient civilizations, including Mayan Mysteries and Roman Town.

MIT researchers have been developing the Radix Endeavor, a multiplayer online game designed to reinforce science, technology, engineering, and math learning for high school students, since 2011.

The game covers biology, algebra, geometry, probability, and statistics, and also is aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards.

Students are players on an island with unknown plant and animal species and must solve various problems as they explore the island. The game’s multiplayer component, MIT researchers said, helps students call on shared knowledge and collaboration as they develop problem-solving skills.

Task-based assessments, sorted by topic, are embedded throughout the game, and the game uses data to offer players feedback about their strategies and progress. That data also appears in an educator portal so that teachers can monitor student progress and adjust instruction accordingly.

Radix Endeavor is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and is being developed at the MIT Education Arcade in collaboration with Filament Games.

Many educators are turning to Educade, a free site that pairs standards-aligned lesson plans with interactive teaching tools, including educational gaming. Teachers share their best and favorite content and resources with one another.

The site highlights different teachers and their games or tools.

Resources and lesson plans include Mathbreakers, a virtual math toy box; Rough Science, an iPad app that teaches users how to create science experiences out of regular household items; and Dragonbox Algebra 5+, a puzzle game that teaches algebra skills. Topics include electrical engineering, algebra, life skills, literary analysis, and more.

Gaming in practice

Joli Barker, a third grade teacher at Earl H. Slaughter Elementary School in McKinney, Texas, TCEA 2013 Classroom Teacher of the Year, and author of The Fearless Classroom, turned her classroom into a “living video game,” and is using gaming for student engagement and assessments.

Student-centered, multi-dimensional learning environments are essential for today’s students, Barker said, and students who interact and collaborate in engaging environments are better-equipped to meet global demands.

The freedom to fail without fear is a key part of Barker’s classroom today.

“I don’t want them to feel that failure is an endpoint, but rather a new beginning,” Barker said, adding that she had to become comfortable with giving up classroom control and letting students take more ownership of their learning. “Ninety percent of the time, the kids are learning on their own, with me as their safety net or guide.”

This is where educational gaming enters Barker’s classroom.

“Gaming is challenging, engaging, discovery-based, and student-focused,” Barker said.

In Barker’s classroom, students are active game players. They create their own avatars and receive digital badges that they earn as they achieve different levels that are aligned to state standards.

“The whole idea of game-based learning is that they are walking through different activities to get to the assessment level,” Barker said. “It is so engaging. Kids never know what’s coming next.”

Barker’s second-grade students’ reading comprehension, reading fluency, and math scores last year far surpassed district scores.

Barker’s students use a variety of games, including:
BrainPOP’s MasterMines: Barker’s students used this game to learn how to define attributes of rocks.
BrainPOP’s Coaster Creator: Students were challenged to get a marble to roll the distance of a foam runway. They digitally created their own roller coasters to find out if a blueprint would work, and then applied it using physical materials.
Filament Games Backyard Engineers: Simple machines and puzzle-based scenarios. Barker used this for assessment, and her students discussed how simple machines can be used to solve problems. This math-based website uses real-world data points with word problems. Teachers and students can submit their own word problems, or can submit student-created projects and work.
Mathpickle: Students choose from games about measurement, fractions, multiplication, and more.

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Laura Ascione

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