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Using games in education

When I first returned to education as a teacher rather than a learner, I was in Europe in a country still recovering from 50 years of communist rule. Technology was still overpriced, and internet access was limited and relatively slow. Strikingly, what I found when I entered a classroom of young elementary students was a driving desire for more technologically driven lessons, and vastly more access to technologically based content.

On returning to the US, I entered public education with a strong belief that education had changed dramatically since I was a student. I expected computer based learning, student research and discovery through the internet, and computer savvy instruction. Unfortunately, what I found, at least in the urban school district in which I work, was a drive to teach students how to pass tests, computers too old to function, and teachers with no understanding of how to integrate technology in their classrooms. As Prensky (2001) points out, today’s teachers and learners are from different worlds. Every day in my classroom, I struggle to engage students in paper and pencil, competing for their attention with the console games they have been playing at home. To today’s students, 3D virtual worlds with a constant level of excitement and activity are a minimum expectation for their attention.

As I have been playing games and trying to view them both as a gamer and as an educator, I have given extensive thought to how to capture that excitement. I have thought about using games at both extremes, from completely immersive classrooms to trying to build an environment without games that is somehow competitive. Obviously when looking at this question, the instinct is to push to the middle, and try to find a way to use games to capture attention, and then bring the students back to a more traditional form of learning. Since the ultimate goal of this course is to design instructions for teachers on how to use a particular game in the classroom, I starting thinking about how I would build a lesson plan. I began thinking back to a lesson I had taught this year, and about one of the games I have played for this course, Settlers 7. One lesson I taught in Social Studies this year was about community interdependence. My students, who are all from low-income families, have, in large part, never left their communities, and had difficulty comprehending this global subject. One of the most engaging aspects of this game to me was the need to manage the interdependence of the conquered communities in this game. Each community has specific resources that can only be properly utilized in combination with other resources. Communities must trade and share to survive. We worked on this concept for a week, with varying levels of success, and I wonder if I might have had better success with a day spent on this game. The game has a very effective tutorial that would have been sufficient for most students to gain a rudimentary understanding of the game details. As Carvin (2008) points out, games need to strike a balance between pushing the skill level of a student, without being too difficult. Given that new background knowledge, it might have been easier to scaffold the real world implications for the students to understand it more deeply.

References
Carvin, A. (2008, March). Should Video Games Replace Classroom Learning? Retrieved April 2011, from pbs.org: http://www.pbs.org/teachers/learning.now/2008/03/should_video_games_replace_cla.html
Prensky, M. (2001). The Digital Game-Based Learning Revolution. Retrieved April 2011, from discoveryproject.net: http://www.discoverproject.net/italy/images/the%20digital%20game-based%20learning%20revolution.pdf

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