Game-Based Learning: What is the right level to inspire creative learning?

No Games Allowed

I work in the middle school library and today I’m sitting here checking out these great games for module two.  The thing is that playing games on your computer is not allowed in the library for students.  I’m new here, so this is a rule that was established before me.  But, I understand the rationale.  At my old school, students were allowed to play games in the library during breaks and it became quite a popular place.  Here they want the middle schoolers to go outside during their free time instead of getting more screen time.

Not all Games are created Equally

Some of the middle schoolers in here are giving me confused looks as I attempt to play these games.  I wonder if we should re-evaluate the no gaming rule in here.  From what I am reading, research indicates that the way video games interact with the brain is actually making it stronger.  In Judy Willis’s Article, A Neurologist Makes the Case for the Video Game Model as a Learning Tool, she suggests that education should borrow the video game model for students to achieve “their highest academic, social, and emotional potentials.”  But Willis is also talking about Gamification of the classroom and not just kids playing random online games.  When we allow kids play online games, their pick of games is sometimes less than ideal.

not all students respond to game-based learning in the same way

In Kurt Squire’s article “Changing The Game: What Happens When Video Games Enter the Classroom?,” he talks about the complex game Civilization III that is used to teach history.  Though I’m sure it’s a wonderful game for some, he says it’s too complex for most students.  He says,  “The variance in players’ reactions suggests that games are not a silver bullet for education, in part because they will never appeal to all learners, but also because they alone will not likely change learners attitudes and values toward schooling.”  I think finding the right game with the appropriate challenge level for most student for the learning outcome you want is a challenging task.  And for teachers that may not be video game savvy, this might be an almost impossible.

what can education learn from the video game model

But even if you are not up to date with all the new games out there, you can still use the video game model to motivate your students to complete creative projects and reach individual learning goals.  Willis notes in her article that “Classroom instruction that provides opportunities for incremental progress feedback at students’ achievable challenge levels pays off with increased focus, resilience, and willingness to revise and persevere toward achievement of goals.”  By reading the Article Boss Level, this is apparent as you see students challenging themselves with a complex design task to take part in a Rube Goldberg competition.  Last year I helped out with a STEM Festival that required students to complete similar challenges.  I now I realize, because they had to reach certain goals, and they received almost constant feedback from their teachers while designing and building that this project would probably be considered gamification of instruction.
So back to my point about kids not selecting games that may be improving their brain function.  I don’t see kids getting in trouble in the library for playing games like Fantastic Contraption, a game that actually made me problem solve, but was well enough explained that I didn’t give up right away.

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Most of the games that I see kids playing in middle school are shooting games or minecraft.  Though I see little benefit from the shooting games, it always hurts me to fault students for playing minecraft because it’s such a creative game.  Maybe only certain games should be allowed in the library at certain times.  I do think the creativity, strategy and problem solving needed to play minecraft is beneficial for student’s brains.  It may even give students skills that are coveted by today’s business world.   Squire’s comment,  “Ironically, the skills required by the game curriculum—problem identification, hypothesis testing, analysis, interpretation, and strategic thinking more closely align with the new economy than does the “factory” model of curriculum, which privileges following directions, mastering pre-defined objectives, performance on highly structured tasks, and intellectual obedience (Gee, Hull, and Lankshear 1996).” really resounded with me.

As game-based learning and gamification becomes more commonplace in education, I think we will see teachers that actually specialize in this type of teaching.

Portal – an example of a game that just didn’t do it for me



2 Replies to “Game-Based Learning: What is the right level to inspire creative learning?”

  1. Hi Laura, I found Portal quite tricky! I had to ask my students for assistance and in the end, I had more fun figuring stuff out collectively and hearing them think aloud than actually playing the game by myself.

    I haven’t played Minecraft but I’ve provided opportunities for students to use Minecraft in their project design and present their learning. I was totally inspired by their work. A few students used Minecraft for digital storytelling, creating a scene from their narrative.

    Here’s one:

    1. Thanks for that students example. I’ve had a couple of students make awesome things with Minecraft, like a replica of the Colosseum and models of an animal cell. I’ve found you don’t necessarily have to know anything about Minecraft to get your students to make cool projects. Many teachers don’t like giving up that level of control though. Though I’ve only dabbled a bit, I really want to set Minecraft EDU up at my school this year. I’m the tech coach so I will need to convince another teacher to try it out in their classroom. I’m crossing my fingers that this happens.

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