It is vital that we teach our students the digital skills they need to survive in the modern job marketplaces. One of the best ways to do so is through digital games, with numerous studies demonstrating that well-made games can teach a whole host of skills.
For example, games have been shown to:
- Increase a child’s memory capacity
- Give them computer & simulation fluency
- Help with strategic thinking and problem solving
- Develop hand eye coordination
- Lead to skill learning
For that reason, if you’re not yet using digital games in your classroom, or are only dabbling in the process, it’s probably a good idea that you join the 74% of teachers who do. After all, nearly everything can be taught using games. For example, you can teach storytelling through text-based adventures, mathematics and physics through puzzle-based games, and even creativity through game design.
All you need to do is think outside of the box (or be willing to do a bit of research) and a way to use gaming to teach your subject will present itself – that is why in New York there is now a school where everything is taught through games.
Trust and diligence
The first thing you need in your classroom is a situation where students feel free to experiment and to fail and then try again. It’s vital to continue to offer encouragement so that keep on attempting what they’re doing and developing the persistence necessary to learn in this type of an environment.
For this reason, it’s probably best not to actually grade children on their play, as this will make them feel watched and judged. It’s a much better idea to take what they’ve learned in the game and test it separately afterward. In this way the game and the testing are separate, leaving the game to be intrinsically interesting, while the grading is separate and outside.
In order to be truly effective, the learning content and the gameplay have to be able to mesh well, otherwise, though your students might enjoy the game, they won’t actually learn anything. This is especially true in children, who can figure out what is what and will often enjoy the fun aspects of the game without necessarily absorbing the lessons underneath.
So, for example, if the puzzles do not integrate the lessons, but the latter is presented separately, then they’ll simply ignore them. One good way is to present children with a problem to solve within a game that is beyond their capacity. Let them try for a while and then when they have decided the problem is beyond them, then you can step in and teach the necessary skills.
For example, you could present children who are learning French with a French game, then when they cannot figure their way through a dialogue or can’t understand the clues they’re being presented with, you can step in and teach them what the words mean. In this way, you still retain a role as a teacher to educate, but you won’t have to fight as hard for their engagement, as the game has already done that.
Keep the conversation going
Remember, the point here is not to have yourself be replaced by technological tools. Yes, though the focus might have shifted from yourself to the tools, that doesn’t mean you can just sit back. The point is to constantly be there to offer advice, ask questions and make certain the kids are engaging with the games and are learning the lessons there.
For that reason, be certain to interact both with the students as they will give you valuable feedback. In fact, playing innocent and ignorant and letting the children show you what they are going through can give you valuable insights into how they are experiencing the game and what they are learning.
The task should be hard but engaging
The sweet spot of a game is where the task is hard but not impossible so that the children are in fact progressing, but without it being so easy that they could do it with their eyes closed. If you can hit that sweet spot of where it is hard to beat but even harder to put down, then you’re golden. For example, you can include writing games in your teaching process. Writing not only beneficial for a mental health but also involves progress of creativity and fantasy.
Of course, this is not something you’ll do immediately. It will take time and practice to figure out what games are suitable for your students and will engage them the most. For this reason, when you’re first starting out don’t expect them to be completely taken with whatever you’re presenting them with. And so, it’s a good idea to also have alternative material available just in case whatever you chose turns out not to be as engaging as you were hoping for it to be.
Contrary to what you may think, the introduction of digital games into your classroom is above all a conversation – one that your students might not even be aware they’re having with you. It isn’t always had in words, but it can be read off the children’s faces and body language. Here you will find out if they’re trying to solve the problems being presented or are just going through the motions.
From there you can then work out what game and associated lessons you will then continue the conversation with. In this way, the games can become a powerful teaching tool in your repertoire, to both build understanding and engagement, as well as a useful reward for when the children have been well behaved or have done especially well on whatever assignment they were expected to do. In this way, learning can become a reward for learning. Now, what other tool allows you to do that?