GameDesk Opens New PlayMaker School in Los Angeles
9.28.12 | Can you imagine being in middle school, waking up each morning knowing that it’s not classic arithmetic and social studies lessons that await, but rather a day of flight simulation and filmmaking?
This is the reality for 38 sixth graders attending the new PlayMaker School, a school within a school designed by the nonprofit organization GameDesk in Los Angeles. Learning is based around a gaming curriculum that includes adventure quests as well as the development of apps and other media.
“We call it play making research,” Lucien Vattel, CEO of GameDesk, told The Epoch Times’ Kelly Ni. By that he means, “one part core research institute one part game development company.”
GameDesk has been dedicated to reconfiguring traditional learning models through gamification, or the use of game design elements in non-game contexts. The nonprofit evolved out of seven years of research at the University of Southern California Integrated Media Systems Center. Though GameDesk has been testing game software and curriculums in area schools and community centers, PlayMaker is its first attempt at opening a new school.
The PlayMaker curriculum aligns with state and national standards in education and assessment. With a focus on closing the achievement gap and using innovative, interactive technology to engage students in STEM learning, the school encourages students to create meaningful relationships with various disciplines through creative, hands-on experiences. Its website states that all traditional subjects, grade levels, and classroom spaces have been modified to foster “immersive and play-oriented experiences resulting in tangible products and transferable knowledge.”
Activities at the PlayMaker school run the gamut, including everything from historical time travel, to creative spaces that feature science graffiti and a light convection sandbox. Each student is provided with a personalized curriculum, or “Adventure Map,” to help navigate through a sequence of PlayMaker modules. Once a module is completed, students can move on to a different section of their curriculum, and, in turn, see how each of the modules are thematically connected.
The map also acts as an assessment tool for teachers, parents and the students themselves. At the end of the school year, students should be able to see a visual path of where they’ve been, the choices they’ve made, and the competencies they’ve gained.
All of the activities at the PlayMaker School embody the school’s four main educational tenets:
Read more about games in the classroom:
- Learning through play: students interact in a challenging, playful environment while role-playing and furthering their knowledge of developing systems
- Learning through making: students engage in hands-on building, deconstructing, and tinkering to learn about systems, ecologies, and practical applications of their knowledge
- Learning through discovery and inquiry: students are asked to investigate and create meaning around unfamiliar concepts
- Learning through interest-driven curriculum: students are encouraged to pursue learning through their own interests and discover their unique talents
According to a recent paper [pdf] by researchers at MIT’s Education Arcade, games can be used as authoring platforms, models of points of view, and research assignments – just to name a few uses.
In addition, researchers at Columbia University Teachers College stated in a 2011 paper, “Gamification in Education: What, How, Why Bother?” that game-based learning can also help students develop cognitive, social, and emotional learning skills.
Given all we’re discovering about gaming, it’s no surprise that more “gamified” schools have been popping up across the country (see our previous coverage of Quest to Learn and Chicago Quest schools). According to Vattel, games are the “most engaging model that we have,” providing that their content is created to teach students and is not designed solely for entertainment.
“Games are highly visual, they are systematic, and they allow trial and error. They are a culturally engaging artifact for processing information and making decisions,” Vattel told The Epoch Times.
All educators have to do now is show how an eagerness for and engagement with gaming can change education in the long run.
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