Page 26 - THE Journal, May/June 2018
P. 26

| MAY/JUNE 2018
understand how to create games with that “sweet spot,” said Schrader, where kids will continue playing through the confusion.” That’s not true for science labs, she added. “Sometimes when I was teaching, I’d give kids experiences. If they didn’t get it the first time, they’d go, ‘Mrs. Schrader I can’t do it.’ With games, they will try and try and try. They will stay with it long enough to figure it out. It’s amazing.”
Rami agrees. “Resilience, that ability to overcome a bump in the road to learning, that ability to start over, to try and try again, that is naturally cultivated in a platform like Minecraft.”
Playing educational games encourages col- laborative problem-solving. Crazy Plant Shop from Filament Learning, a game that allows students to “breed wacky plants” in order to learn about trait inheritance and plant genet- ics, demonstrated this point to Schrader. In the game, customers come into the shop to order different kinds of plants, and students need to cross-breed their specimens correctly to achieve the right results. “Kids are looking at each other, and they’re competing a little bit — and not in a bad way,” she observed. If one student had a cactus with a rainbow, oth- ers would try to emulate the effect and then turn to each other for help on how to do it. They all wanted the cactus with the rainbow
and would start working together around a common goal. “Not only are they talking across the classroom, they’re collaborating. They want to know how it works. They’re into their own thing, but they’re also wonder- ing what [other] people are doing.”
The importance of game-based col- laboration shouldn’t be minimized, Rami emphasized. “By working together in groups, students are not only mastering content and skills, like reading to understand, but they’re also learning how to talk to one another about their ideas, how to compromise, how to build a plan before starting to build something together, how to negotiate when there is a disagreement,” she said. “These so-called ‘soft skills’ or ‘future-ready skills’ of communication, creativity, problem solving and collaboration really come into play when students have a chance to make meaning with their peers.”
Even the most reticent students will participate. Schrader has seen proof among even the most traumatized students that games can engage on a level nothing else will. The experience of one student, in particular, stands out. He was severely autistic and couldn’t sit next to other children without disruption. “But he loved to game,” she said. And he was really good at it, which the
other kids noticed. When they sought his
help and it was something “that mattered
to him,” he’d work with others. When he’d get overwhelmed, he’d return to his gaming. “What I loved was [that] it was a way for him to collaborate authentically. This kid got to be a rock star.”
Games have built-in assessments. While “leveling up” may be the ultimate form of testing for gamers, practically speaking,
the best games also facilitate other more traditional forms of assessment. As an example, Minecraft’s education version allows students to export their construction results into a presentation or a report or even a 3D form. These props can serve as a backdrop for their self-reflections, explained Rami, “not just on the build, but on the process they went through — what decisions they made, what materials they chose, what specific systems make the homes sustainable or not, [and that’s] really where the learning comes in.” During her years as a teacher, she said, “The process in their thinking about the work they were doing was always more important to me than the shiny product at the end.”
Another Tool in the Toolbox
Schrader once heard a trainer in profes- sional development say something that
has always stuck with her: “You don’t get to choose what motivates the children in your classroom.” She has found that games provide a “key to unlock” what’s needed in order to help them learn.
Rami concurred. How games are used to create “a learning experience from begin- ning, middle, to the end is still in the hands of the teacher.” But where it makes sense, she added, educators “should consider its use because your students obviously love it and are engaged by it. The teacher remains the expert of pedagogy. This is just another tool in their toolbox.”
Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media’s education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at or on Twitter @schaffhauser.
Gaming to Fill in Gaps
Texas’ Ector County Independent School District is in its second year of using Stride, an adaptive learning tool that integrates games, from Fuel Education (owned by K12 Inc.). According to Lisa Wills, executive director of Curriculum & Instruction, the program in her district specifically addresses K-8 in math and English language arts and is used as a supplement for “tier two” individualized instruction — students who “need a little bit more intervention throughout the day.”
The kids work on problems assigned by teachers to address “gaps they might have.” After they’ve worked for a certain period, earning coins along the way, they’re given “brain breaks” to play games. If the program suspects they’re guessing just to get to the gaming, it warns them that they’ll lose coins. If they continue doing so, the points disappear (though they can be returned by the teacher if she believes they’ve learned a lesson).
Where the application is finding its biggest growth in the 32,000-student district is among its special education students. As Wills explained, the benefits are the same: keeping them motivated, helping them fill in learning gaps and, most importantly, allowing them to “feel like they’re like the other kids. They feel included — doing what the other students get to do.” Stride is available in English and Spanish and addresses learning standards for the Common Core, as well as multiple states.

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