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Using the Video Game Model in the Classroom

Mary Beth Hertz

HS Art/Tech Teacher in Philadelphia, PA
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This post is cross-posted from my Philly Teacher blog, but I thought it fit this week's gaming theme and has a lot of applications for how we bring technology tools into our classrooms as well as for how we design tech-infused projects.

I have been thinking a lot recently about video gaming and what we can learn from it as educators. This is not a new concept or a new discussion. I've been seeing things happen in my classroom that really make me think there's something to this idea. My recent reflections and changes in classroom practice don't actually involve my students playing games to learn new skills or concepts (though there is research about the positive effects of this), but rather on the broader structure of games in relation to classroom practices. As I teach in a lab, this approach can definitely be applied to integrating technology in your classroom.

Mistakes as Part of Mastery

For one, while watching my students play games I notice that they easily just click 'retry' or 'new game' or 'start over' and keep trying until they master whatever skill that game's level requires. They don't worry about making mistakes because they know they will get another chance. They learn more and more each time they have to do a level or game task over. We should be building these kinds of experiences into our classrooms.

Immediate Feedback

In addition, games provide immediate feedback. Not just any feedback, but usually feedback that helps a student fix or improve on their previous performance. We should be giving students as many opportunities as possible for useful and timely feedback.

Manageable Goals

Games also have a purpose, an underlying goal. Sometimes there are mini-goals that help get you to the final goal, beating the game. Players can focus on the mini-goals rather than be overwhelmed by the ultimate goal of beating the game. There is usually something that indicates how far along they are toward their final goal, which makes them feel like they're getting somewhere. We should be setting manageable goals for our students that help them move toward mastery while providing timely feedback on their progress.

I have been giving my students chances to revise and revisit their work, and I find that they learn more from this experience than they do while creating the project the first time around. I have also been having them share their work with their peers to solicit feedback. From listening in on the sharing sessions, I also find that they have to explain their choices in their work, which means they are thinking about the choices they make. As for goals, I have been making a point of breaking projects down into manageable chunks and focusing on small goals for each class period so students are aware of what they are focusing on and so my assessments are focused on the mini-goals that will lead to mastery.

Don't think that things are as perfect as they sound. Adding these gaming-like aspects to my classroom is a new endeavor, which means I'm still figuring out the best way to implement the approach into my classroom. However, the immediate effects and results have been noticeable.

I am interested in reading more about the Quest to Learn school in New York City, which focuses on gaming concepts throughout their curriculum.

I would love to know your thoughts.

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Comments (13) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Clix's picture

My biggest caveat is that games are much more based on choice than education is - or, IMO, should be. The Sims, for example, is incredibly popular, yet there are plenty of people who don't play it. And there's no problem with that, of course, because it's "just" a game. But then that exact same attitude ("just a game") is a big part of why it's sold so many copies - try it out, the thinking goes. If you don't like it, you don't have to keep playing. At the entry level, there's NO pressure at ALL.

Play, or don't play; it doesn't really matter. Finish the game, or quit any time you like; it doesn't matter.

Yes, some people keep playing; some get REALLY REALLY into the game. Others quit. I'm not really comfortable with viewing education the same way, because it DOES matter.

Mary Beth Hertz's picture
Mary Beth Hertz
HS Art/Tech Teacher in Philadelphia, PA

I agree, Clix. I am not saying that we should turn education into one big game, I am rather musing about what we can learn about the aspects of gaming that makes kids spend hours in front of a video game, completely focused on the task at hand.

As for choice, I would argue that education should have more choice, like video games. You use the example of Sims. I, personally, have no desire to play Sims. However, I love Mortal Kombat, Mario Kart and RockBand, games that involve playing with other people. Many of my friends love RPGs, while others like first person shooters. Still others would rather play Words with Friends or Bejeweled. I would argue that part of the problem with education is its one-track mentality. You either fit into the system or you don't. There are, for example, fewer and fewer technical high schools, and, with the pressure to do well on tests, there is a smaller amount of wiggle room in what kinds of educational experiences we can offer elementary students so they can begin to figure out what kind of 'game' interests them. Instead, we assume that all kids like Sims and that they should excel at it, no matter what.

Thanks for your though-provoking comment. Feel free to rebut :)

Robert Saldana's picture


I found your idea to be very interesting. Would this type of teaching become very chaotic when having 20 or more kids at different levels asking different questions? Plus, how would to push those kids that don't really care to learn or that are not getting through the levels? Or are these levels extra work?

Dave Hinrichs's picture
Dave Hinrichs
Math Teacher - 7th Grade, Pre-Algebra, Algebra

I can tell you what I have planned and have got worked out so far. I am gearing up to implement this during the next school year so I am sure some if it will change as I learn more.

Over this past year, I have started managing my class using learning contracts. This was done so that I could have the students using the technology in my class. For example, I was fortunate enough to have a Smart Board installed in my class. Something that has always bothered me about IWB's is that the students usually watch the teacher use it. I was determined to find a way to have the students use it more than me. I also restored a bunch of old computers (Windows 2000) and was able to create lessons in Moodle. Without getting into too many details, I found that by using learning contracts, I could have different groups of students working on different things around the room on different days. I could teach small groups at the Smart Board and since there weren't that many, I could have them using it quite a bit.

The video game idea is sort of the next step. I am able to individualize instruction a lot by combining the learning contracts with the technology. However, I want to make it so that students can go fast or slow down as necessary.

Here is may plan so far. I am going to finish writing out lessons and activities in Moodle for the entire year. I am going to write out versions of contracts that have learning options with benchmarks for each unit. Students need to pass each benchmark with an 80% to move on to the next "level" as they say in video games. I honestly don't care if they do all the activities or not if they can pass the benchmarks. They will have options to learn on the computer, at small group lessons at the tables and I can set up lessons on the Smart Board too. I am going to have to work out a scheduling method to provide access to all the resources. Right now the plan is have them in teams that work together through units. Each team will have two days a week at the computer and two for small groups during which I can walk around and coach them. This will require that I used the flipped teaching model in which the basics of each problem are taught on the video and I can work on helping them. Using the method, I should be able to have four groups at the computer and four working in groups and that is an easily manageable number. I am reserving Fridays for whole group activities such as Socratic Seminars.

To end each unit students have to beat the "Boss" (as in a video game) which is the final benchmark test or activity. My tests are already written so that the basic problems total up to a C, add the intermediate problems for a B and the advanced problems add enough points for an A and I plan to continue with this. I also want to write Pre-Tests so they can check themselves before the actually test. I really want to add projects for many of the units rather than tests.

I'm considering making a game board on the back wall and the students characters can progress through the game throughout the year.

As far as unmotivated students or those having difficulty - I don't see this method hurting them. Many sit in classes right now and have the same issues. This type of setting may motivate them. If nothing else, I can have small group time with them several times a week. In a traditional, teacher up front type class, these students would have little individual attention so I believe they will have more attention.

I may not have covered everything but that's mostly what I'm working on now. To some it may seem chaotic. My class now seems that way to some people but when you watch, you can see it's busy noise. The good kind.

I know there are some things that may not work perfect and I can see areas were there is room for criticism but I'm excited about giving this a try. I think it will be a whole lot more effective, individualized and just plain fun than a traditional classroom.

I've been asked several times to explain how my class is currently running so I started a blog recently. I'll be posting updates about successes and failures as I head down this road. If you want to check it out it's:

There's not much there yet but that's where I'll be adding things I figure out. Let me know if you are trying something similar. I'd like to have others to bounce ideas off of.

Catrin Barber's picture

I go back and forth constantly about how to grade when "playing games" in class. I generally have anecdotal notes that I take for observations of the students in the class and I try to steer towards games that have some sort of teacher controls. I have successfully used the math game Labyrinth in my 5th grade class, the high levels got very hard and the critical and logical thinking were great. I even had compliments from some reluctant parents who did not want their children "gaming" for school. But I still find the assessment the tricky part...

Danielle King's picture

I think using the video game model is a great idea for the classroom. So many of my students are in constant virtual mode related to video games, such as making the video game noises or moving their hands like they would on a video game. It would be interesting to take the model to the next level and tell the student that in order to beat the "game" or lesson, that they have to pass each level, just like in a video game. You could still give the immediate feedback after each time the student attempts a level and let them know that they can use as many chances as they need to complete each level.

Randy's picture

I have been teaching for over 20 years.. and I have been studying a different form of assessment for my classes.. and trying to tinker with grading.. I have changes the A, B, C method, to PR for proficient NW for "needs work" and F for failing. This is really helps students make the connection of what I am trying to do.

Patty Buononato's picture

In the 6th grade math class I teach, we use computers and games to learn. I use my google bookmark and arrange the lessons for the students in folders. Independently, they enter class and start the class with an online math facts do now. It is auto-corrected for them and they record their scores. Then we proceed to the lesson folder. Depending on the topic I fill the folder with videos, songs, tutorials, power points and educational games on the topic. I teach the mini-lesson on my smart board using the resources and then the kids can play the games supporting the topic. They do really well using this format. And love it!

Dayna's picture
6th Grade Teacher from Bismarck, ND

I definitely see the benefits of changing our language in our classrooms so that it appeals to students. Students are living in a virtual world and speaking their language helps form more connections for them. I think that breaking down our assignment and telling students they have to pass this level to continue on to the next step is a great idea!

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