Simulations and games have grown from rote drills using a computer to challenging learning experiences for students that hone problem-solving and critical thinking skills. They are fun for students, keep them engaged, and teach the foundational pieces of a lesson. I
I’ve talked about gamifying elements here and here (and under this tag). One of our Ask a Tech Teacher contributors goes into depth about simulations–what these are and how to use them. The article’s about 1000 words and well worth the read:
Simulations as a Teaching Strategy – Everything You Need to Know
In the diverse and ever-evolving world of simulation, there’s no doubt that tactics such as gamification continue to have a positive impact across a broad range of industries and activities. This is certainly prominent in the workplace, where some 90% of employees say that gamification makes them better at their job and more productive at work. What’s more, employees experience an average 48% engagement increase through gamification, highlighting its ability to impart potentially complex subject matter to individuals.
This is why gamification and wider simulation strategies hold huge value in educational facilities across the globe. But what are the key considerations when leveraging simulation as a viable teaching strategy?
A while ago, Scientific American declared “…“not only is Minecraft immersive and creative, but it is an excellent platform for making almost any subject area more engaging.” A nod from a top science magazine to the game many parents wish their kids had never heard of should catch the attention of teachers. This follows Common Sense Media’s seal of approval. On the surface, it’s not so surprising. Something like 80% of five-to-eight year-olds play games and 97% of teens. Early simulations like Reader Rabbit are still used in classrooms to drill reading and math skills.
But Minecraft, a blocky retro role-playing simulation that’s more Lego than svelte hi-tech wizardry, isn’t just the game du jour. Kids would skip dinner to play it if parents allowed. Minecraft is role playing and so much more.
Let me back up a moment. Most simulation games–where players role-play life in a pretend world–aren’t so much Make Your Own Adventure as See If You Survive Ours. Players are a passenger in a hero’s journey, solving riddles, advancing through levels and unlocking prizes. That’s not Minecraft. Here, they create the world. Nothing happens without their decision–not surroundings or characters or buildings rising or holes being dug. There isn’t a right or wrong answer. There’s merely what You decide and where those decisions land You. Players have one goal: To survive. Prevail. They solve problems or cease to exist. If the teacher wants to use games to learn history, Minecraft won’t throw students into a fully fleshed simulation of the American Revolution. It’ll start with a plot of land and students will write the story, cast the characters, create the entire 1776 world. Again, think Legos.
My students hang my picture in the Teacher Hall of Fame every time I let them play Minecraft–which I do regularly. Of course, I provide guidelines. Which they love. It’s fascinating that today’s game playing youth want a set of rules they must beat, parameters they must meet, levels (read: standards) they must achieve, and a Big Goal (think: graduation) they can only reach after a lot of hard work, intense thinking, and mountains of problems. Look into the eyes of a fifth grader who just solved the unsolvable–something most adults s/he knows can’t do. You’ll remember why you’re a teacher.
A note: Any time students use the internet, start with a discussion on how to use it safely. This is especially important with multi-player games like Minecraft (you will close the system at school, but that may not be the case in the student’s home). It is fairly easy for students to create their own servers (requires no hardware, just a bit of coding) and invite friends into their Minecraft world. Encourage this rather than entering an unknown server-world.
In case you must ‘sell’ this idea to your administration, here are three great reasons why students should use Minecraft in school: Reading, Writing, and Problem Solving.
Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are buzzwords that every educator wants to know more about. They are two distinct functions. Kathy Schrock, columnist for Discovery Education explains:
Augmented reality layers computer-generated enhancements on top of an existing reality to make it more meaningful through the ability to interact with it.
Virtual reality is a computer-generated simulation of real life… It immerses users by making them feel they are experiencing the simulated reality firsthand.
The differences are actually pretty simple. Virtual means experiencing a world that doesn’t exist. Augmented means adding something virtual to the physical world.
- 900 VR Expeditions — requires the Expeditions app
- Class VR
- InMind VR–a sicientific VR game
- Jurassic VR–Aptosaurus VR experience to experience a dinosaur up close
- NearPod VR
- Tour Creator–make a VR tour in Google
- Timelooper. This one will take you back to important moments in history from all around the world.
- Titans of Space app will take your students to the moon.
- Trench Experience VR will take you into the trenches in WWI.
- UnimersiveVR–learn with VR
- VR tours of museums
Ways to use VR
- VR field trips
- for students with Special Needs — The Jackson School in Victoria, Australia has been using the Oculus Rift to help students with special needs and the Silesian University of Technology in Silesia Poland is doing therapeutic exercises with autistic students using virtual reality technology.
- experience careers first hand
- time travel to historic events
- explore the human body
- feed curiosity
Watch this student exploring xxx with VR:
More on VR
Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 30 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-12 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, contributor to NEA Today, and author of the tech thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.
As is my habit, I spend a lot of time exploring new ways to teach old subjects. Lately, I’ve concentrated on social studies. I chatted with my PLN, browsed forums where I knew efriends hung out, and taught a slew of online grad school classes to teachers who always are willing the discuss their newest favorite social studies tech tool. I picked everyone’s brains and came up with a list of five webtools you definitely must look at:
Some call Classcraft a classroom management tool but really, it’s more about injecting excitement in your teaching and touching on the important social-emotional learning that sometimes gets forgotten. Here’s a great quote I heard in a sponsored video:
“It might sound crazy to you and me but the kids love it.” — Sarah Murphy
The more I dug into Classcraft, the more I understood why Sarah Murphy said what she did. It’s pretty simple. Kids have a passion for learning and playing games. You incorporate that into your passion for teaching by gamifying your middle- or high school classroom. When students and teachers work together, toward the same goals, everyone wins.
The free (fee for Premium) Classcraft doesn’t teach standards or curricula for academic subjects. Instead, it focuses on core SEL (social-emotional learning) skills fundamental to the fullness of the education journey. That means it’s easy to apply to your social studies class. It uses tools already popular in your school — Google Classroom or MS Office 365, a browser, and an app (iOS or Android). You set up different tasks and customize rules to fit class needs. Students work individually or in teams, becoming accountable for their behavior to themselves and their teams. When they achieve goals and/or abide by rules, they earn stuff they want (that you’ve organized beforehand). You can blend Classcraft activities into your existing lesson plans or use those available on the website. Robust analytics (included in the Premium package) allow you to track student behavior over time and compare it with the class average.
Also available: a timer, a class volume meter, and parent features — great basic tools for every class.
ClassroomScreen is probably one of the most robust, versatile, and useful classroom tools to cross education’s “free” landscape in a long time. It will make your social studies lessons run smoother, make them more responsive to needs, and keep students focused on the lesson. When you click on ClassroomScreen.com, it opens a blank screen that is a digital board ready to be displayed on your class smart screen. You personalize it with the most popular tools desired in classroom, all lined up at the bottom of the screen. These include preferred language (you pick from about a hundred languages), customized background, sound level, QR code (for the classroom screen; students scan it in and it displays on any mobile device — isn’t that cool?), a whiteboard, a text tool, a start-stop traffic light, a timer, a clock, a random name picker (for teams), an exit poll, Work Symbols (four options for collaborative student work — work together, ask a neighbor, whisper, and silence), and more. There’s no download, no login, no registration. Simply click the link and get started.
Commonsense Media calls it:
“…the Swiss Army Knife of the classroom…”
I agree. Here’s a video that decodes this already-simple class tool.
- Expii Solve–math word problems and puzzles, lots of them
- IXL Word Problems–by grade
- Math and Logic Problems
- Math Pickle–puzzles, games, and mini competitions
- Prodigy Math Word Problems–about 120
- Thinking Blocks–free (app)
- Word problems–type them in, Wolfram/Alpha provides the answer and the how-to. Amazing.
- Word Problems from Math Playground
- Would You Rather–more like a justification for decisions using math
Click for more online math resources.
I don’t know many kids who aren’t excited to play games. Savvy educators have built lesson plans based on this interest for years. Today, because of the changes in education, the use of games to reinforce learning, to teach, and to engage students in their own education has become one of the most effective tools to bridge the gap between school-based and remote learning. Here’s what a joint study from Legends of Learning and Vanderbilt University found:
“…students who played the games outperformed their peers on standardized tests. Additionally, teachers saw dramatic increases in engagement and performance. “
In fact, 92% of teachers indicated they would like to use curriculum-based games in the future.
What is GBL
What is this magic wand? It’s called Game Based Learning (GBL). It simply means teachers include games in their lesson plans to teach curricular concepts. By using the games kids already love–want to play–GBL has an opportunity to turn students into lifelong learners who enjoy learning.
Good example of GBL: SplashLearn
A good example of game based learning is the free-to-teachers program called SplashLearn. SplashLearn is an easy-to-use COPA-compliant, Common Core-aligned math curriculum for grades Kindergarten-5th that uses game-based learning to teach mathematical concepts. Students learn specific skills assigned by the teacher (to a group or individual) by playing age-appropriate, intuitive games based on appealing characters and fun interactions. These are welcome alternatives to the rote drill that many of us grew up on.
It’s discouraging to all stakeholders that annually, about 1.2 million students fail to graduate from high school. And “Pathways to Prosperity” reports that just 56% of college attendees complete a degree. Fingers point all directions but nothing changes the stark truth: Something causes kids to hate learning so much that they’d rather face their future without the knowledge or skills to do so successfully.
Solutions to this problem abound but one of the most popular with K-16 educators — because it works — is to gamify learning. Wikipedia defines “gamification” as:
“an educational approach to motivate students to learn by using video game design and game elements in learning environments. The goal is to maximize enjoyment and engagement through capturing the interest of learners and inspiring them to continue learning.”
Games remind kids of days when they chose their own seats, worked at their own pace, and responded to their own interests. Through childhood games, they learned social skills, problem-solving, sequencing, and a whole bunch more while they thought they were doing a puzzle, building blocks, or playing dodgeball.
Fast forward to formal schooling. As early as Kindergarten, kids are stuck into classrooms where play is replaced with rote drills, repetition, and growing boredom. It’s taken the experts decades but finally, the value of applying gameplaying characteristics to learning is being recognized as a formidable approach. I’ve written much about the use of games and simulations but today, I want to focus on the student as maker, where they create the game, troubleshoot problems, and refine the end result — exactly the traits valued by coding and programming.
Here are some of my favorite game creation tools for students:
Ask a Tech Teacher contributor, James Lovelock, has been thinking about the nexus of student engagement, online games, and learning. Here are his thoughts:
Student engagement has long been a point of conversation for educators, the concept that students must have an active interest in order to get the best benefit from instruction is hardly a new thought. Having said that, the ways in which that engagement is best achieved is a source of dispute, particularly depending on which philosophy on learning is held. Competition is definitely one of the more disputed forms.
Usually criticism of the idea of competition as a tool is that where some people win, other people must lose and that can serve to disengage them from learning. This sort of criticism is particular of classrooms where a couple of students may be seen to be dominant in certain areas and every other student conceivably looks at them and thinks inwardly “what is the point?” and proceeds to tap out, achieving the opposite of the intended engagement. To be fair, when competition is implemented without consideration to purpose or outcome for an entire class, this can happen.
Having said that, competition when used in a considered manner can be a highly effective tool for engagement in learning. A common example is that of a spelling test where rather than students competing individually they compete in groups, mixing together students who are stronger and weaker in the challenge so that those who would otherwise disengage are able to participate.
The first thing most teachers think about when discussing gamified learning is the online math games kids play. Maybe Vocabulary.com and its spelling games come to mind next. But those webtools exemplify where the gamification of education started. Their approach is good but way down the SAMR pyramid to what can be done today, easily, in classrooms.
Let me step back a moment to explain the SAMR Model as it applies to the use of technology in education. It is used to discuss the implementation of technology in the classroom by organizing tech-in-education tools into four categories or types of usage:
- Substitution: Technology is a direct replacement for something, e.g. ebooks in place of print books or online math drills in place of worksheets.
- Augmentation: Technology not only replaces a traditional tool but adds functionality, e.g. using Google Earth to explore the setting of a story rather than a map
- Modification: Technology allows for a significant change, e.g. using screencasts to explain a process.
- Redefinition: Technology allows for the creation of completely new ways of learning that were previously not possible. e.g. using virtual meeting tools (like Google Hangouts) to include housebound students in a class.
The SAMR Model directly relates to the evolution of games in education, from simply substituting online drills for worksheets to creating new ways to learn that students love. The gamification of learning became popular at first because students exhibited great aptitude and tolerance for learning new material when gameplaying, but the reason that popularity lasted is even more simple: Applying the characteristics of gameplaying to learning works! The most well-known example is the viral popularity of Minecraft and the way it has been applied to every academic corner of learning.
Here are some general ideas of how you can gamify learning in your class, on a budget and without extensive retraining: