Game-based learning is far from being successfully implemented anywhere in the world. A recent article shows some of the main obstacles, but as we know from actual work inside the classroom, there are many more.
Here are 3 suggestions, based on years of professional experience and research, for teachers who believe and wish to use games in their teaching process.
1. Re-Target the Game
It is very hard to find good games, which are both entertaining and coincide with the curriculum. Most apps are just exercises with bells and whistles. The solution: re-target popular games.
Almost every game is based on math. Every action being taken by the player is defined by numbers, positions, and algebraic equations. Find good games, which are not too messy, not to fast, (sometimes only few parts from the game are relevant) and use it in class. For example, use Angry Birds for two elements inquisitions,Scorched Earth for angles, perfect balance for calculating territories, and 2048 for Exponentiation.
How? Isolate the part which requires math and show it on the screen. Let students make their own calculations and show their solutions and proposals for the next move. The effect is astonishing as they excitedly attach paper with pencil, behaving like real engineers.
Here’s an exercise you can try in class:
- Play Scorched Earth and divide the class into 3 groups.
- Let them play with exact weapons only.
- You decide the amount of power of each shot and they need to decide what the right trajectory/angle is to make the shot.
- For lower grades ask them only to use correct mathematical language,
for older grades- let them make the actual calculations.
(It takes a little practice but today, I can engage almost every game I like with what I teach).
2. Force the Math Out of Them/Separate the Head from the Hand Technique
Many games are fun to play and beautiful to look at, but can be played by intuition and not logical thinking, which generally make them not “good” for our goals.
Use the “Separate the Head from the Hand” technique.
Here’s how it works:
When lower grades play Angry Birds, one student (or you) control the game with their hand, letting another student give exact, “correct mathematical” directions, like “add 15 degrees”, etc and not “move it more to the right”. This, in effect, separates the head (giving the commands) from the hand (executing the commands).
The effect is magical, as they all start to use mathematical language in seconds, turning the entire class into one big active player. They either try to help, or they give feedback with sounds of pain and excitement. When they engage a store and suggest what the player should buy ( I use it to teach names of numbers for second and third graders ) they get very emotionally involved – “NO! SHOULD HAVE SPENT 1350 ON WATER AND ONLY 500 ON DIRT BOMBS!!!”
Bonus: you can “audition” students so that only those who can master the attributes of the square can play level 5 next class – this usually causes them to use their break before class to review the attributes like crazy.
This also answers the problem of high cost today of game based learning as governments do not yet support this as a public educational market.
You only need one version of a game to engage a whole class with game based learning.
While in class, manipulate the games and separate head from hand in order to work the logical part of their brain. It’s is no less important to have intuitive math for everyday needs. After becoming aware of the math behind popular games, give them a challenge to advance to new levels until next time.
You get better results. Seems like playing Angry Birds after class makes them more anxious to return to class and to show their knowledge to their friends (although different capabilities are being used at home than at class).
Yes, there is a problem.
Yes, we’ve always had this problem.
Yes, we can have game based learning in our class as a main learning pedagogy.
Yes, we teachers must design our own apps because others don’t understand our education systems.
No, there is no replacement for the teachers in the learning process. We will always have to choose the right tools, to fit it to class, and to escort the process of creating knowledge.