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If games are the answer, what is the question? Sylvia Martinez

If games are the answer…Sylvia Martinez

Generation YES? Youth Educators Support

Students have to be more involved in their own education

Games seem to be a great metaphor for education, starts simple moved to more advanced.

Unfortunately, worlds are finite.

Students are mesmerized, but WHAT are they learning? Are they learning what we want them to learn? (does that matter? Is it about what WE want them to learn?)

Games have been used for ages, but the idea that schools can use games to educate?

If we look at the non-computer based games, you can easily see that there are connections between the broader ideas like logical thinking in chess and maths. You need to be able to make these arguments about games, if you are going to use them in the classroom.

Games are not socially isolating. PEW studies.

Chris Crawford, on games ‘It is not games, but schools that are the newfangled notion, the untested fad, the violator of tradition.’

Not the same questions:

Are games useful for learning?

Are games useful in schools?

Ask yourself what do you believe? What do believe about learning?

And does the game present the same ideas that you believe in?

Do not be fooled by whistles and bells? Is the game giving rewards for speed? Or time spent on problem? Or memorizing? Etc.

Game genres – there are a variety. Kids don’t love ‘games’; they love CERTAIN games. Knowing which one(s) are appealing is important?

There is something soothing about games, and we shouldn’t mistake that for engagement or learning. Repetitive actions.

Ask the question, what is this game asking me to do? What is it rewarding?

Types of games used in schools:

edutainment – mostly emphasize right answers, speed memorization

Serious games- (seriousgames.org) games built to teach a specific skill, coping with various things. Eg: Ayiti, the cost of life. Purpose is to teach the value of education.  Lots of time needed in classroom, therefore this become problematic.

Virtual worlds

Alternate reality games


Tabula digita? DimensionM 

Alfie Kohn, on schools

‘In reality, it’s the children who don’t understand the underlying concepts who most need an approach to teaching that’s geared to deep understanding. The more they’re given algorithms and told exactly what to do, the farther behind they fall behind in terms of grasping these concepts.’

The logical journey of the Zoombinis is a good example of a good game. To encourage problem solving. Based on set theory. Problems need to be discussed.  Really important to design the context in the classroom that is around the game, not just play the game.

Alternate reality games,

Ghosts attack – overlay on Google maps (actually an IKEA catalogue!)

Uses big B&W squares to let you see your ‘new’ layout before you buy.

Could use Google Sketchup to put items in a Google model and then see what it looks like? Could put game parameters around the task to make it more fun.


Kurt Squire on Civilization, lots of research on games, in particular Civilization

Some kids felt it was too hard

25% of students said they loved playing it, thought it was a perfect way to learn history

Students played the game in different ways, leading to different understanding

Students played differently based on gender

Sim city vs Sims, is better for classroom because ‘bad things’ happen

sometimes the answer is to change the game

Sometimes the answers adapt the context to highlight certain things that you are trying to teach

What video games can teach us about reality -James Gee for a list of things that games cam bring to the classroom.

What goes wrong?

Lack of fun

Has competing design goals

SPORE – uses language of evolution without any of the major principles

Wishful thinking about games- that education can be put into a game, you sit your kids in front of it and learning happens. AND that you can get money out of it.

Three rules that you must follow:

Wear your skeptic hat

Play it

Adapt it

Play them – are they games or game-like?

Ask toguh questions. Is it better than a worksheet?

What do you believe about learning?


Kids love this

Content, deliver, mini games, correlated to state standards

So much fun the kids won’t know they’re learning – kids play games becaus they’re challenging

Educational software

Look for

Games you okay and discuss


Supports big ideas

Offers multiple ways to ‘win’


GOOD BOOKS to help

How computer games help chidren learn James Pau Gee

Everything bad is good for you

What works – taking games to the next level

Students designing and programming own games

Students learn the how and why behind the simulation

Scaffolded learning, mediated by the computer

Student programs the computer, not the other way around

Risk-free risks

Don’t separate the so-called ‘boring’ stuff from the game play.

Have kids share what they are learning

Ask the questions: Is it too hard? Pretty? Dumb? Exciting? Fun? Etc?

Examples of games to teach programing

Floor turtles


Star logo TNG

Micro worlds LCSI


Teaching programing

It’s not that hard

There are many teachers doing it in many different ways

Gives Students agency over the computer

Games in education

Joy in learning

Need adequate time

Crucial teacher role

Authentic assessment

Reflective activities

Kick it up – let kids design their own games


February 23, 2011 Posted by | games, Learning@schools, pedagogy, technology | Leave a comment