How to Get Started with Education Games and Gamification

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Guest Post by Stephanie Carmichael, Classcraft

By the time the average child turns 21, they’ve played 10,000 hours of games—around the same amount of time they’ve spent in school.

That’s a hard fact to ignore. The question becomes, how can we leverage the power, influence, and engagement of games in our culture to make education better?

Let’s say you’re a teacher with zero experience with video games. Maybe you remember Tetris or The Oregon Trail, but that’s about it. Chances are you know more than you realize—board games and sports operate very similarly to video games. All three involve a set of rules, a sense of challenge and progression, oftentimes teamwork, and of course, specific terms you need to learn.

Know What You’re Looking For

Primarily, most education games can be divided into two types: game-based learning and gamification.

Game-based learning (GBL) refers to content- or curriculum-based games. Often (but not always), these are video games you play on computers or mobile devices—think Number Munchers or the Bookworm series, which focus on math and vocabulary skills, respectively. 

Gamification, on the other hand, is about taking the foundation of games—the principles and aspects that make games fun and engaging—and applying them to non-game contexts, such as the classroom or workplace. (Gamification is what we at Classcraft do best.)

To figure out which is right is right for you, you’ll need to determine your goals. Are you looking to deepen your students’ understanding of lessons or concepts? Then GBL is probably what you need.

On the other hand, if you’re trying to make class as a whole more interactive and interesting to students, or you want to improve behavior or develop non-cognitive skills, then gamification is a surer bet.

One limitation of GBL is that no one game will cover everything. Let’s say you teach science. If you want to help students learn about atoms and molecules (eg., Happy Atoms), that’s going to be a different game than one that teaches evolutionary trees (eg., Nova’s Evolution Lab or Go Extinct!).

Do Your Research

Before you sacrifice your time and money into a game for your classroom, you need to assess whether 1) it will accomplish the goal you want to achieve, as mentioned above, 2) whether it’s a good game that will give you a return on your investment, and 3) whether you can adapt your lesson plan to include the game.

One of the quickest ways to do this is to research what other people are saying about the game. Chances are you can find written reviews online (at Classcraft, we love reviewing educational games)—or even find video reviews and playthroughs online (YouTube is a great place to start).

Social media is another resource to leverage since it enlarges the size of your personalized learning network (PLN). Hashtags like #GBL, #gamification, #games4ed, and #edchat are useful for finding recommendations and asking other educators their thoughts on a game. If you put your ask out there and at-mention the gamemakers themselves, many companies will retweet the question to their community, giving you better reach at connecting with others who can provide answers for you.

This kind of research will help you determine whether the game is a right fit for your needs and whether it’s effective and of high quality. You’ll want to consider other factors such as cost and whether educator discounts are available, time requirements (to plan lessons), platforms (PC? iOS? Android?), and supporting materials and resources to make your implementation successful.

Go Hands On and Learn Together

All games involve a learning curve. Some are greater than others. If you’re just trying to understand the lingo, search for guides that explain basic gaming terms. (Classcraft offers one for role-playing games here.)

Then, just start playing. The best way to learn is to be brave and dive in, right alongside your students. It’s okay if you don’t know all the answers. Kids today play thousands of hours of games, remember? In the classroom, they’re your best resource, and figuring out how things work together is a great way to model collaboration and build trust. Don’t be afraid to course-correct. Believe me, your students are going to love that you’re playing games with them.

Remember, too, that while games are fun, it’s important to make room for metacognition. Have students take the time to reflect on what they’re doing and learning, especially for GBL.

With gamification, start small. Don’t try to do too much at once. Ask for your students’ feedback on the experience, and then incorporate their input and suggestions. Check in with your PLN, online or offline. Determine whether you’re meeting your learning objectives, and tweak as you go.

Education games may take a little time, but once you really dig in, chances are you’ll find they come with big rewards.

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Classcraft helps teachers manage, motivate and engage their students by transforming their classroom into a role-playing game. Click on the webmix below to add it to your account for more Classcraft resources:

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