If everyone who grew up with an Atari, Nintendo or a PlayStation had a dollar for the number of times they were told, “Video games rot your brain!” my guess would be that they could retire a few years earlier. The truth, however, is just the opposite.

Today, adults make up just as large a proportion of gamers as students. Furthermore, with more and more employers hiring independent game companies to build video games to train staff, the video game industry isn’t just for playtime anymore.

The Army, Navy, Air Force and NASA have been using video game design for years to strengthen the skills of their soldiers, troops and astronauts. So why aren’t video games accepted as a tool in our educational toolboxes?

For the past five years, I have had the honor of working with teachers from across the country who feel that video games are a tool they need in their instructional toolboxes. As technology continues to advance, educators need to offer students cutting-edge ways to explore and expand their technological savvy.

You don’t have to be a highly skilled gamer yourself to begin exploring video game design instruction. The range of technology skills in teachers with whom I’ve worked has spanned from advanced to beginners, yet they choose video games as their starting point. Video games accommodate a wide variety of student and teacher skill levels. Everyone is welcome to play and learn.

Enhancement of instructional strategy

Toolbox1 Jan2017Every teacher I speak with wishes for two things: a tool to make his or her life easier and resources to help students be more engaged in their lessons. Look no further than video game design in the classroom. Students cannot wait to build their games. They talk about their games both in and out of the classroom, and they are usually daydreaming about how to make them better. The real power up is that their games are centered on your curriculum. All of this engagement brings students closer to a deeper mastery of content.

The video game design process lends itself well to the goal of engaging students in real-world situations. It also better prepares them for the jobs that await them as adults. Allowing students complete autonomy over the design of their gaming projects is like giving them real jobs. Much like a company employee, students must solve the problems assigned to them and meet appropriate expectations. Students must analyze and synthesize classroom content and curriculum into something new and creative.

Students take the lead

Toolbox3 Jan2017Students are very comfortable in the medium of video games, which makes the learning process more natural and allows students to combine a strength they already have with something new. In addition, this takes a great deal off the teacher’s plate, because the students usually need little to no instruction on how to build the games, allowing the teacher to focus more attention on the curriculum and content that will be integrated into the students’ design.

It has been my experience that in every class there is one student who is able to become a leader in helping other students. Students who may sometimes seem hard to engage in standard curriculum seem to light up at the challenge of gaming in class. Video game design is something at which many students are already successful. In the special education arena where my journey with video games in the classroom began five years ago, I found that designing video games can bring a new confidence into the classroom for children who may otherwise struggle. To see my students engaged, challenged and inspired was amazing.

As teachers, we are inundated with testing. Students and teachers consider this invasion of norm-based testing intrusive and disconnected from increased student performance. The video game design process, however, offers multiple opportunities for formative assessment, and packs a serious summative assessment punch.

The process of designing a game offers ways to assess student mastery without any tests to design, administer or grade. That’s a win for everyone! Game design documents allow you to monitor students’ levels of mastery formatively. Later, assessing their projects via a rubric for a summative evaluation allows for the reflective assessment we all seek for students. It even allows for students to gauge their own accuracy—transforming us as educators from the “sage on the stage,” to “guide on the side.”

Have Fun

Toolbox2 Jan2017With the competing demands that we face each day in the classroom, I understand how challenging adding video game design to your instructional strategies can seem. That is why I will sum it up with the easiest place to start: have fun. The more enjoyable the lesson is to plan, the more engaged students will be in class.

A great place to start is with simple tools, such as Kahoot (getkahoot.com), to add some gamification to your instructional design. But don’t just build it for your students, let them build it for each other. Another great resource is The GRiD (blackrocket.com), which allows for building video games in the classroom without heavy coding. When the time is right for you there are many options to bring game design into your classroom, creating less work and more play.

Future editions of Toolbox will explore specific tools to gamify your instruction.

Deana Baumert is a special education and ELA teacher at Matawan-Aberdeen Middle School in Monmouth County, as well as an educational consultant/coach for Black Rocket LLC. She can be reached at dbaumert@blackrocket.com for further information.

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