Learning about the game: designing science games for a generation of gamers

I’m excited to announce that a new essay I wrote, Learning about the game: designing science games for a generation of gamers, is up in Online First for the Journal Cultural Studies of Science Education. I wrote the essay as a response to the article,  Challenges and Opportunities: Using a science-based video game in secondary school settings. I’ve included the abstract at the bottom of this post, but I thought I would also include an excerpt that get’s at some of how my thinking about educational games has developed and changed through my work on several game projects.

Image from Glittarazzi.com

Here is a little teaser:

“This is what happens when we bring ‘‘video games’’ into the classroom: youth insist on playing them like video games. Those same video games they have at home, where players bulldoze right through our carefully crafted instructions, try to find cheats and work arounds, and wrack up points for bragging rights. As the authors articulated in their conclusion, since ‘‘most of the students were versed in some kind of game play and were
familiar with the mechanics of computers and computer games, they did not always
experience the game in the way it was intended, or necessarily follow the path the game
prescribed. What are educational game designers to do?”

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Why I love teaching but can’t go back

A few weeks ago I completed a week-long summer school class for rising 8th and 9th graders in video game design. I hadn’t taught that age group for nearly ten years but it was an incredibly enjoyable experience. I love working with that age group, but the ability to teach a course like game design this summer re-affirms the fact that I wouldn’t want to be a classroom teacher right now. Overly-rigorous standards mean I’d never be able to teach a course like this as part of the regular school year, which is too bad.  Talking about game design allowed the kids to really shine in ways that reflected true STEAM thinking. They conducted in-depth discussions with one and another about mechanics and genre. They provided insightful critique regarding the projects of their classmates. They de-bugged and trouble-shot problems for hours. They figured out how to innovate their ways around design problems. They also spent a lot of time playing games and having a blast while analyzing them. My teaching certification means that I’d be expected to make sure kids can correctly identify F=ma as Newton’s second law and getting into a conversation with parents every year regarding cosmology, the age of the Earth, and whether or not I’m telling their kids that they “came from monkeys”.

If we really wanted to provide developmentally appropriate content that engaged kids and allowed them to learn to be innovators and problem solvers, we’d open options like game design to all middle schoolers as full-year or semester-long courses. I’m not saying game design courses are a panacea, they aren’t. But they are pretty interesting and pretty relevant to a lot of kids and they provide the added bonus of providing opportunities to learn inter-disciplinary, real world skills.  Isn’t that what everyone claims they want for kids?

But that isn’t what policy makers and business leaders actually want. It’s so much easier to pay for more tests and fire more teachers and call that “reform”. Happy back to school.

Gaming across the curriculum: Finding and evaluating educational games.

This post shares resources from Trevor and my games workshop at ISTE 2010.

We kicked the workshop off with a brief talk. Here are the slides for that short presentation.

Integrating Games in Instruction

•    Remember there are a lot of ways to introduce games in your classroom, you can start by simply recommending them to families, media resource leaders, or special educators
•    Make sure learning objectives can be met within the amount of time you have dedicated in the classroom period
•    When evaluating a game, consider how the game helps you meet learning objectives more effectively (more engaging? Better visual explanation? More efficient?)
•    Have a student volunteer help you evaluate games you consider.
•    Make sure you know the source of the game. Games on dedicated educational website from a familiar place are less likely to have unwelcome pop-ups or comments.

Learning Games Directories

Playing History:      Open directory of history and civics games
Playing Science:     Open directory of science games
Games for Change:     Directory of social issue games
Super Smart Games Wide range of free and commercial
PBS Kids Games:     Great  set of early childhood k-6 games
**NOTE: Many of these directories link out to external sites. Over time links may break and we have no control over the content of external sites.

Game Recommendations

Marjee Recommends
Coaster Creator
Students learn about potential and kinetic energy in order to build a successful roller coaster that provides riders with lots of thrills, but brings them to the end platform safely!

Gravitee 2
A “casual game” meant for entertainment but is an “addictive” and fun way to examine satellite/ falling body behavior.

Trevor Recommends
Do I Have A Right
From Justice Sandra Day O’Conner’s iCivics project, Do I Have A Right, does a great job helping students explore and understand the Bill of Rights.

The Jamestown Online Adventure Game
In this alternative history game students chose different strategies for the Jamestown pioneers. The Jamestown Online Adventure Game does a nice job helping students develop a sense of both what happened and why it happened.

We won CODIEs!

We submitted our 3 energy unit games as one packet of games to the Software and Information Industry Association’s award for Best Educational Game.

This is very much an “its just nice to be nominated” situation. Winning was highly unexpected and a huge honor. I’m really proud of our energy suite of games as it highlights the most important learning objectives in a middle school energy unit using a variety of game mechanics that are all engage and all privilege engagement, learning, and classroom usability.

Check them out!

Best Educational Game 2010
Best Educational Game 2010