Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Video Games in Teaching - Lessons Learned

Over the years, I’ve worked with a lot of teachers who have expressed interest in using video games in their teaching, but they are not sure how to start, and what their options are.
In this post I’d like to share some tips for success garnered from working with talented teachers who have successfully integrated video games into their teaching.

1) Know where to look, there is a lot of good free stuff out there, but it can be hard to find: iCivics, Playing History, BBC School Games (variety), The JASON Project (science), and PBS Kids (literacy and early math skills), are a few places that will list several games and interactives. These are great places to start to see what is out there. 

2) Know the value and drawback of games. If you want to hear what some academics have to say about it, there are some provocative video clips available from Frontline. Good video games encourage students to make mistakes,good video games give immediate feedback. On the other hand, they divorce kids from solving real world problems and tamper with realistic expectations about the nature of solving difficult problems.

3) You don’t have to jump in with both feet.  If you don’t have one computer per student, there are plenty of ways to integrate games in your classroom. Good games will involve a great deal of decision making on the part of the player. Thus, video games serve as amazing discussion prompts and get students to really open up. By playing with small or large groups of students, students will need to discuss their decision-making strategy with co-players. You can very successfully use games with one computer and a projector or in  small groups working together. If you aren’t ready for large group play, you can communicate availability of these games to parents via your school web page or newsletter. 

4) Kids love transgressive play. Students want to break the rules. They want to re-write history and push the boundaries. When you evaluate games for learning, look at how the game designers foster learning in transgressive circumstances like crashing a roller coaster, reflectively Jamestown to the ground, or legislating the U.S country according to their own values. It is the lack of these opportunities that often differentiate “edu-tainment” from games authentically designed to be true learning experiences. Beware games that enforce skilling and drilling. Plenty of resources already to that. 

5) Use a belt-and-suspenders approach to assessment.  I favor games websites that come with down-loadable curriculum and worksheets. You are still the teacher, not the game, and you need to make students accountable for learning. Create assessments that let students capture and make visible their thinking as they play the game. You’ll promote metacognition for your students and you’ll have evidence that playing the game was time well spent. 
What if Jamestown was settled inland, in the Virginia foothills? Students toy with historical facts and gain a deeper historical understanding in the process.

6) Work closely with your technology support person. Whether the game requires installation or is played online, there might be unforeseen technology barriers. Utilize any technology support available to you or recruit students to test-drive and, if needed,  trouble shoot with you. 

Games on iCivics come with worksheets and lesson plans, allow teachers to take a belt-and-suspenders approach when implementing games. From www.icivcs.org

If you’d like to read about this topic more deeply, I recommend the SIIA’s report on best practices in integrating games in education. Their findings mirror my experiences. All of the games and resources mentioned in this post are available for free. 

About the Guest Blogger
Marjee Chmiel is an instructional technology specialist at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, VA. She is a former chemistry and physics teacher.
She is currently a doctoral candidate at George Mason University and blogs about educational technology issues running the gamut from practical to research perspectives at www.marjee.org and you can find her on twitter @mchmiel