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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Teaching Tools: Using Online Simulations and Games

Suzie Boss

Journalist and PBL advocate

Students who are passionate gamers can talk a blue streak about the virtual online worlds where they invest their free time and energy. Usually, of course, they get to play only when they're not at school. But why not bring gaming into the classroom? Could teachers tap that same passion to spark learning?

Gaming remains new territory for most schools. As the following examples show, educators on the frontiers are eager to share what they're learning. Here are just a few examples.

Evoke Social Change

This spring, several teachers introduced their high school students to an alternate reality game that challenges players to solve big global challenges. Evoke attracted nearly 20,000 players from around the world during its 10-week run. Game designer Jane McGonigal, who developed Evoke for the World Bank Institute, calls it "a crash course in changing the world."

Here's how it works: Each week, a new chapter from a graphic novel introduces players to a different challenge from the not-so-distant future. These "missions" range from food scarcity to human trafficking. Players respond -- and earn points -- by posting blogs, videos, or photos that convey their proposed solutions or reactions. They also comment on other players' postings, sparking dialogue, collaboration, and critical thinking.

Paul Allison, an English teacher at East-West School of International Studies in New York, has been playing Evoke right alongside his students. He's one of several teachers from the New York Writing Project who decided to experiment with the game as a springboard for digital literacy. These colleagues have been comparing teaching strategies and student responses. They have also taken their conversation to a larger audience by talking about gaming and learning during recent episodes of the weekly webcast, "Teachers Teaching Teachers," which Allison hosts.

Allison has seen a mix of reactions among students, who are also reflecting on their experience on a site called Youth Voices. Some say they enjoy the novelty of being virtual "agents" who tackle global crises with their own wits. Others are more critical, suggesting that Evoke lacks the excitement of commercial games. One student said being asked to write blog posts about global issues feels too much like regular homework.

Now that the game is nearly over, some students are taking their online creativity into the real world (which was exactly what game designer McGonigal had in mind). Allison's students, for instance, are using a local garden to investigate questions about culture and community.

As Allison explains in this recent blog post:

This work has become such a passion this spring. My colleagues have wondered why. And it has to do with how many of the missions in Evoke can be answered in our garden. It's about Social Innovation, Food Security, Water Crisis, Urban Resilience, and Indigenous Knowledge. Because of Evoke, these words have a resonance that bounces from Africa to India to China and Cuba and back to our wonderful community garden in Flushing, Queens."

WoW and Tech Standards?

World of Warcraft (WoW) is a commercial blockbuster, with millions of subscribers from around the world. Dean Groom, an Australian educator and advocate of the Web 2.0 classroom, suggests that teachers use a free, 10-day trial of WoW to meet standards, such as the Educational Technology Standards for Students.

In a post on his Design 4 Learning blog Groom explains how to use backward design to plan a robust, game-based project that meets important learning goals. The game is a hook to grab interest, but the real learning happens through inquiry. "It's not about what you learn by playing a game," Groom insists, "but how the game can be use to foster inquiry skills, critical thinking, and student learning."

SimCEO: Innovation Platform

When Derek Luebbe was a social studies teacher, he used to run a stock market simulation to teach students about finance. But in six weeks of picking stocks, he found that students didn't learn much more than the mechanics of the market. And they tended to pick companies with well-known names rather making critical judgments.

So Luebbe began imagining a better approach. What if students created their own companies, complete with business plans? What if they could also buy and sell stocks in classmates' companies? What if they could see how stock prices fluctuated over a 10-year period rather than just a few weeks?

The result of that brainstorming became an online simulation called SimCEO. Luebbe, principal of American International School of Budapest, has been fine-tuning his creation by sharing it with educators around the world. They have surprised him by taking projects in directions he never imagined.

He expected teachers to focus on financial literacy and entrepreneurship. But some have brought in different content. "They might set the simulation in Colonial America or New York in the 1920s," Luebbe says, then ask students to consider how historical factors would have affected market prices. Because teachers determine all the content, he adds, "they can bring in demographic data, real or fictional news, historical events -- whatever they want." The game becomes an open platform for teacher innovation.

For Earth Day, for instance, one teacher challenged students to propose ideas for reducing their school's carbon footprint. Using SimCEO, they bid on each other's proposals. Dynamic stock prices gave them immediate feedback for adjusting their plans.

If you're a teacher interested in bringing gaming into your classroom, there's no shortage of opportunities to get started. Luebbe invites teachers to set up a free SimCEO account (use the promotional code: edutopia), and see where your creativity takes you. Meanwhile, the first run of Evoke has just ended, but teachers are already brainstorming a future version customized for the classroom.

Have you used gaming in your classroom? Please tell us about your experience.

Suzie Boss

Journalist and PBL advocate
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Comments (42)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

billlarry142's picture

The stock market
is one of the most important sources for companies to raise money. This allows businesses to be publicly traded, or raise additional capital for expansion by selling shares of ownership of the company in a public market.

April Whitstone's picture
April Whitstone
4th Grade ELA/SS Teacher

In a recent job interview I was asked, "Do you think that today's students want to learn, or are they lazy/unmotivated?" I responded that today's students absolutely want to learn! However, they have been raised in a society that strongly values entertainment. So, students come to school expecting to be entertained. When they are not, they quickly become bored with the day-to-day expectations of the classroom. I continued by pointing out that while we don't necessarily need to cater to that expectation, there are many valuable aspects of the industry which add to student interest and subsequently increase performance. The video you reference is a great example of this movement. Of course, we should always strive for a balanced approach to learning...and technology is one more excellent tool we can use to help drive assessment and instruction. Kudos to Tech Magnet!

Chris Taylor's picture
Chris Taylor
Middle School PE Teacher Southern CA

I read your comment on the THIINKFIT program for your school district it sounds great but where and how do you do it. I am at a middle school and have over 1000 students, is this a club that you run in a classroom or is it bigger. We have a zero period that could be used for this and I guess we could use the gym and the computer projector if that would work. please enlighten me on how your program is set up. Thank you, Chris Taylor

Henry Danielson's picture

We are purchasing a set of gaming consoles and flat panel monitors and games to have available at lunch and after school. I am so excited by this thread/article! I am going to use Trauma 2 a game that teaches virtual surgery and hopefully wow and some team player only games to develop logic,teamwork, and brain cognition! Thanks and GO GO Gaming!

Kirsten Tippets's picture

Thanks for posting this youtube video. It really helped me to visualize what you are talking about. I am completely new to the concept of using online gaming in the classroom, but I found it intriguing. Your article and all of the resources posted here have inspired me to give it a try next year! I know my students will be excited and engaged!

Kirsten Tippets's picture

Thanks for posting this youtube video. It really helped me to visualize what you are talking about. I am completely new to the concept of using online gaming in the classroom, but I found it intriguing. Your article and all of the resources posted here have inspired me to give it a try next year! I know my students will be excited and engaged!

guestgiving's picture

Thanks for showing how it can be done. My son needs to use gaming for education instead of its being a source of anger with his stepmom and sis.

guestgiving's picture

Hi, April. Could u describe Tech Magnet? I didn't see the video. Please send the link.

Bill Belsey's picture
Bill Belsey
Grade Five Teacher Calgary, Alberta Canada

Hello everyone,

My name is Bill Belsey, a Canadian educator.

As an early adopter and strong proponent of ICT in education, I have long believed that computer/video games can play an important role in supporting and enhancing teaching and learning.

For some time now, I have tried to walk the walk of this belief with my own students, see http://www.coolclass.ca. I also know that there are many other educators who may have an interest in using games with their own students, but are not sure where to start, or know what current research is telling us.

It is with the goal of encouraging and supporting fellow my educators around the world that I created a free Moodle-based online course, "Learning With Gaming for Educators" at http://www.wecanlearnonline.com.

You are most welcome to participate in my course and share this resource with your contacts and networks as you may deem appropriate.

Yours in friendship and learning,

Bill Belsey

Grade 5 Teacher
Calgary, Alberta
Canada

E-mail: mail@coolclass.ca
Skype ID: coolclass1
http://twitter.com/coolclass
http://www.coolclass.ca
"Canada's Coolest Class!"
*****************************

P.S. If you would like some further information about my background with respect to ICT and education, you would be most welcome to visit http://is.gd/chO0U.

Bill Belsey's picture
Bill Belsey
Grade Five Teacher Calgary, Alberta Canada

Hello everyone,

My name is Bill Belsey, a Canadian educator.

As an early adopter and strong proponent of ICT in education, I have long believed that computer/video games can play an important role in supporting and enhancing teaching and learning.

For some time now, I have tried to walk the walk of this belief with my own students, see http://www.coolclass.ca. I also know that there are many other educators who may have an interest in using games with their own students, but are not sure where to start, or know what current research is telling us.

It is with the goal of encouraging and supporting fellow my educators around the world that I created a free Moodle-based online course, "Learning With Gaming for Educators" at http://www.wecanlearnonline.com.

You are most welcome to participate in my course and share this resource with your contacts and networks as you may deem appropriate.

Yours in friendship and learning,

Bill Belsey

Grade 5 Teacher
Calgary, Alberta
Canada

E-mail: mail@coolclass.ca
Skype ID: coolclass1
http://twitter.com/coolclass
http://www.coolclass.ca
"Canada's Coolest Class!"
*****************************

P.S. If you would like some further information about my background with respect to ICT and education, you would be most welcome to visit http://is.gd/chO0U.

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