Play This Learn That

Chapter 4 focused on additional examples of teachers using games in their classes.  One game that caught my attention was Plague, Inc.  This game gives players a chance to see the world from a perspective of a virus with a goal to eliminate the human population.  It would be great fit for a biology class. The author also stated it would work well for social studies or human geography.  I think a teacher could show that the social organizations that humans forms and their transportation network provides the access points for a virus to proliferate.  A teacher might also examine a case study of a real virus outbreak and let players recreate or change the outcome of the virus. Players could then compare and analyse the results.  Examples could be the ebola virus in West Africa or from more a historical context the original plague of the middle ages.

For game to be successful in an educational context, it starts with the game. The game must be well thought of and designed so that it is fun.  It then requires a teacher to research the game so that he or she understands how it can be used to cover concepts, learning objectives, or standards.  The book emphasized that games are excellent for experiential learning meaning that playing helps students understand difficult concepts and the relationship between variables.  Teachers can then use the knowledge to formally describe what they learned or apply it into more complex or enriching activities.  Chapter 2 using Kerbal was a great example of this.

Chapter 3 examined Making History II.  Players take on the role as a leader of country prior to WWII.  In some ways the game is similar to the classic board games where players make take turns and make moves. Players must carefully analyze a number different variables and make effective decisions if they want to dominate the world.  The chapter showed that games provide learning in key ways.

  • Through play (driving theme ins this book) students get a richer understanding of history.  it provides an authentic context to manipulate real data.
  • Students have more freedom in what to study and and how to study.  They can look at conditions from specific or biased perspectives.  They can focus on particular things they deem to be important.
  • Multiple topics could be covered using this game: demographics, economics, diplomacy, government
  • Class or groups work collaboratively
  • Groups, classes, or even schools play against each other.
  • The game is a tool and teachers must research to see how in can be used for learning. Teachers can gain insight from others so they should invite students, other teachers, and parents to play.

The last bullet point is important for teachers who want to implement game based learning.  The best way to understand how a game can be used for learning is to play with an analytical eye.  A commercial game will likely require serious investment in time so ideally these games should be used to cover multiple topics or standards in a textbook or curriculum.

The second chapter focused on Kerbal Space Program.  In the game, players build rockets and complete missions.  It gives students an understanding of what it would be like to work in NASA.  The beauty of this game is that it provides a great learning environment.  Students can play the game and become aware of concepts related to physics and the teacher can provide the technical language and formulas to test and support their work.

How it supports learning: The game made science class more engaging by making the learning more authentic and inquiry based.  Students hypothesized, built, tested, analyzed, evaluated and retested while completing their missions.  The game is well suited to teach science but teachers brainstormed ways to teach writing. Ideas included: research with a report, recount, narrative, and creative writing.  You can make a game educational by analyzing the learning standards of an organization and then examining how the game can support these skills.

The rationale for using games for learning is that they allow students to develop skills in collaboration, motivation to achieve performance goals and mastery of a subject. In the book Play This, Learn That, the idea of learning from games is taken a step further. Its author, Dr. Chris Haskell, stated that any commercial game, which has been designed for entertainment purposes, can be redirected for learning. He called this contextual transposition. It’s when an educator changes or adds new rules to the game and creates a different goal.  It can be applied to ANY subject.  I was bit skeptical when first hearing about this, but it definitely caught my attention.  One example was using Minecraft. This game is designed for players to build things by collecting and managing materials to make tools, and there is a sense of realness through the challenges that players have to overcome.  Glen Irvin, a Spanish teacher, used Minecraft because it allows students learn through experiences and mastery learning principle.  He used it to teach a business unit of his Spanish textbook.  The goal was to have players/students take on a role as a tradesmen and interact with other players to trade and maintain their business and life.  Players were graded on how well they did with their business and also in communicating with other members in Spanish. Students developed a glossary of useful communication words and expressions to enhance interaction.  When I examined the lesson document, it was interesting to note that the vocabulary did not stress key words from the Spanish textbook. Instead it focused on key commodities within the game and questions and answers students could use to interact with other players in regard to trading. This example caught my attention because the teacher taught Spanish and it’s similar in that I teach English in South Korea.  I thought about contextual transposition using Stratego, the classic board game modified for a computer environment. After reading through Mr. Irvin’s lesson, I would also develop the vocabulary or phrases for beginners.  The class could collaborate together or in groups and think of useful expressions applicable for the game (move forward, left, right; move this piece here; it’s a scout, sergeant, etc.).  They could then use these expressions within teams to battle other teams in the class.  The activity could be supplemented by having students read about different positions in the military and read about particular battle strategies using varying levels. Similar to Mr. Irvin I would assess students on the communication while playing the game. But I would also include quizzes, and a writing reflection on the activity and strategies that worked or didn’t work.

minecraftTo make Minecraft work within an educational setting like that of Glenn Irvin and Jim Pike, one would have to identify and apply class concepts and create learning experiences using the game mechanics within Minecraft. Irvin used it to teach the concept of operating a business by having students buy and sell different commodities using a foreign language. Pike taught the concepts of addition, multiplication, perimeter, and area through the construction of houses.  His students used formulas to determine the number of blocks needed for floors, walls, and roofs.  One question that I have is the number of concepts that could be taught using this game. I’d be curious to see the textbook that Glen Irvin uses for his Spanish class to better understand how his game aligns with the unit on business but also with the other units.  Being able to apply other concepts within the textbook would make it more appealing for teachers who are considering investing the time to learn the program and plan lessons around it.


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