Why Teachers Use Digital Games and Why Schools Teach Gaming
5.14.12 | A national survey of teachers who use digital games in K-8 classrooms found that the majority—60 percent—report games foster student collaboration and help students to stay focused on specific tasks.
The survey of 505 teachers also found that half of those who identified as “very or moderately comfortable” with digital games in the classroom use games regularly: 32 percent use games two to four times per week, and 18 percent use games daily.
The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop released the findings, based on research from the Games and Learning Publishing Council initiative. Here’s a summary (pdf). The research includes five video case studies of teachers who have integrated digital games into their curriculums. The first three videos are now available online (see above).
When considering the needs of their lowest-performing students:
- 70 percent of teachers agree that using digital games increases motivation and engagement with content/curriculum.
- 62 percent report that games make it easier for them to level lessons and effectively teach the range of learners in their classroom.
- 60 percent say that using digital games helps personalize instruction, better assess knowledge, and collect helpful data.
As for the types of digital games teachers are using, 95 percent use games created specifically for educational use. Games are used most often in connection with literacy/reading programs (50 percent) and math content (35 percent).
Half of all respondents cited cost as the main barrier to using games in the classroom, followed by access to technology resources (46 percent) and emphasis on standardized tests (38 percent). Less than 5 percent of teachers said that parents/administrators are “not at all supportive” of digital game use.
Acceptance of Gaming and Learning
That last number might seem surprisingly low, but it makes sense when you consider the number of parents buying educational apps and games for their kids, often starting when their children are very young.
And think of all the ways digital games have permeated our lives. Almost three-quarters (72 percent) of U.S. households play computer and video games, according to the Entertainment Software Association, and 65 percent of gamers play with other gamers in person. That usage has led to a much greater understanding of the collaborative nature and potential of gaming. Games now influence everything from how news is created and distributed, to how teens manage depression and how people of all ages achieve better health. Even the future of testing might involve gaming.
In a recent New York Times profile of game designer Jane McGonigal, who drew attention for her 2010 TED talk urging gamers around the world to play more—lots more—if we want to get serious about tackling real world problems, Bruce Feiler opened with this deliberately understated assessment: “These days, games aren’t just for fun anymore.”
New Games, New Teaching Methods
Sixth graders at Nature Hill Intermediate School in Oconomowoc, Wis., are learning and having fun. They’re among the 70,000 students and teachers signed up for Quest Atlantis, a multi-user, 3-D interactive space that challenges students to advance their avatars through missions based on academic concepts and skills.
“The Oconomowoc Area School District, with about 5,200 students west of Milwaukee, has become a leader in trying out game-based learning models, which has included new classes for students to design games,” writes Erin Richards in the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel. “At the same time, it’s pushing teachers to adopt new instructional techniques that rely on new media and position students to take more ownership of their learning.”
The story, part of a series on “The Changing Classroom,” offers a good look at how gaming has made inroads with some school districts. Richards also talks with Brenden Sewell, Quest Atlantis Remixed executive producer, who notes that support for games as educational tools has grown in the past five years.
“There’s been a shift away from this idea that children are vessels who come to us to be filled up with knowledge, and a push to tap into their personalities and ambitions, to get them to recognize the potential for knowledge and how it can be applied to their lives,” he said.
The most common criticism?
That games lack immediacy and a single, direct path to a learning goal, Sewell said.
“We’re in this era of teaching to the test, with standards-based programs that teachers need to get through in a short amount of time,” he said. “So the idea of adopting something where a teacher loses some sense of control and pacing is a tough problem to tackle.”
Turning Players into Programmers
Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the fourth largest school district in the country, is getting ready to debut its first video game-themed magnet school this fall. The school, iTech Academy at Miami Springs Senior High, will offer game design and and programming courses focused on building STEM and technical skills employers are seeking.
“We’re going to be a school that produces not only games, but apps. It’s part of my vision,” Principal Anna Rodriguez told the Miami Herald. “I can see our students building holograms. I can really see it.”
The issue of convincing parents was raised by a teacher:
“When students say, ‘I’ve decided where I want to go to high school and it’s a computer-game design program,’ parents look at them like, ‘Yeah, right. I’m going to let you go to high school for gaming,’?” said Kathy Freriks, lead teacher for a fledgling academy for computer game design and animation in Hillsborough County.
“The parents don’t understand the high-tech level the kids get into. They hear the word ‘game’ and they get turned off.”
Her pitch: Students learn animation, programming, computer design and database skills.
Here’s the magnet school application (pdf). The iTech Academy will focus on “technical skill proficiency, through competency-based applied learning that contributes to the academic knowledge, higher-order reasoning and problem-solving skills, work attitudes, general employability skills, technical skills, and occupation-specific skills.” Students will be required to maintain a cumulative 2.5 GPA or higher in core subjects and not rack up more than 10 absences or tardies.
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