May 25, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Energize the Curriculum: Put game-based learning in the palm of your students’ hands | The Gaming Life

Mobile computing and game-based learning are two of the six major trends that will have a huge impact on K-12 learning in the next five years according to projections found in the New Media Corsortium’s 2011 K-12 Edition of the Horizon Report ( Mobile devices like Apple’s iPod Touch and iPad are already being used in classrooms around the world. In Pender County Schools in Burgaw, NC, we began placing iPod Touches into middle school classrooms about two years ago. Since then, administrators in our 16 schools, from elementary to secondary, are embracing mobiles.

Glance through Apple’s App Store and you’ll realize that these devices are capable of all sorts of functions, especially gaming. Why wait? Get the games into your learners’ hands now!

Mobile Games for Learning

One of my favorite pedagogical exercises is examining commercial, off-the-shelf video games that were not necessarily designed with the classroom in mind, and finding ways to apply them to the curriculum. With a little out-of-the-box thinking, there are many games that offer an abundance of learning opportunities. As educators, we simply need to apply our craft to designing the learning environment that fosters a connection between learners’ game-based experiences and our standards-based curriculum.

Here are some games paired with an instructional concept that we have used successfully with our students along with some additional mobile game ideas you might explore with your own learners. Whether used in an after-school game club in your media center or as part of regular classroom instruction, these games have powerful learning potential.

The SIMS 3: Fiction & Characterization

Will Wright is one of the world’s most talented game designers. His games, like Sim City and now The SIMS franchise, have long been staples in the gaming world. The SIMS it’s a simulation game in which you guide your character, or SIM, through day-to-day life. You’re faced with challenges ranging from house cleaning to climbing the corporate ladder, and you must attempt to ensure that your SIM has a healthy social life and enough material possessions to be happy.

A few years ago, I heard Henry Jenkins, well-known media scholar, discussing how the players in an online community for the game SIMS 2 regularly challenged each other with various scenarios to test their skill with the game. One such challenge was dubbed “Nickel and Dimed” after the title of a book by Barbara Ehrenreich. In this challenge, players purposely set limitations on their game play. Their SIM would be a single mother who has no marketable skills and is raising a child. The winning condition would be to keep the family together, raise the child, and make sure the child completed his education—no simple task in the real world or in the game.

When I discovered SIMS 3 in the App Store, I realized that it was the perfect opportunity to leverage this game in the classroom. I approached Craig Lawson, one of our middle school language arts teachers, and suggested that we give it a go. Craig designed a variety of lessons and challenges for his students around the app. One of the goals of his curriculum was for learners to have an understanding of the elements of fiction and characterization. Craig’s seventh graders created SIMS and began exploring their handheld virtual worlds. In the process, they were required to profile their SIM’s character traits, motivations, personalities, and draw parallels to characters they were learning about in their assigned reading. In conjunction with the comic creation app, Strip Designer, students captured screenshots and created comic panels to share digital stories about their SIM.


Civilization Revolution: World History

Ask computer gamers what the best turn-based strategy game is and most of them will tell you it’s Civilization. Sid Meier, like Wright, is one of the gaming industry’s legendary designers. His Civilization series not only invites gamers to play an incredibly challenging game of global domination, but along the way, the game does a masterful job of teaching players a wealth of world history concepts. While Civilization Revolution is a somewhat scaled down version of the flagship series, it retains much of the original game’s play elements and historical content. It’s also one of the best mobile games available in the App Store.

Civilization Revolution provides a laboratory-like environment to explore “what-if” scenarios with historical leaders. In addition to the vast social studies vocabulary that must be acquired to master the game, players also have an excellent opportunity to guide a fledgling culture from its infancy to world domination as a famous historical leader such as Cleopatra or Alexander the Great. This provides a great opportunity for students to compare the game’s mechanics for each leader to their real-world counterparts. Would Gandhi use nuclear weapons? What if Genghis Kahn always sought peace treaties? These sorts of questions, coupled with students’ game experiences, became the foundation for some exciting discussion, research, and writing by our middle school boys and girls.

SLJ1111w_Gaming_MaddenMadden NFL 2011: Statistics

Some gamers aren’t motivated by simulations and puzzles, but ask them about their favorite professional athletic team or player and watch their passion switch into overdrive. There’s no shortage of sports games available in the App Store. These games are more than just scoring a touchdown or making a three-pointer—there’s lots of behind-the-scenes number crunching to be done. Why not use these games to spark student interest in game statistics?

Have students play a game of Madden NFL 2011 and then do research comparing the team’s performance against their statistics in the current season. You might also encourage students to compete against each other over several sessions, manually calculating each player’s seasonal averages and comparing those figures to what the game reports. For a more challenging cognitive exercise, have students argue whether or not the game’s programming correctly models a player’s actual abilities.

Osmos: Newtonian Physics

Apple’s 2010 Game of the Year for iPad was awarded to Osmos (Hemisphere Games), a puzzle game. In this simple yet elegant game, you control a single-celled organism called a mote. The premise of game play is simple: absorb smaller motes until you are the largest. Seems easy, right? Believe me, it’s surprisingly challenging. Your basic means of locomotion is by ejecting fluid which propels you with an action-reaction mechanic. This loss of mass, however, also makes you vulnerable to larger motes, so navigation becomes tricky. As you advance in the game, specialized motes which exert a sort of gravitational pull on you make play even more challenging.

Besides the challenges inherent in the game, Osmos provides a very hands-on opportunity to explore some basic Newtonian physics. Students could easily use the game to compare the results of large versus small mass ejections, the effects of gravitation pulling on a body. A few levels even place your mote in orbit around a much larger object, providing a highly visual way of exploring the impact of changes in acceleration on altitude. While the game doesn’t provide numerical data for analysis, but it does offer a highly visual and engaging way for learners to develop some rudimentary conceptual framework of basic physics concepts.

Mobile Gaming in Your Media Center

If your media center is strapped for funding, as most educational institutions are these days, mobile labs are a more cost-effective way of placing technology into students’ hands than outfitting or updating an entire computer lab. The iPad and iPod Touch are perfect examples of devices that can be used effectively to engage student learning. Purchasing software for these devices can be less expensive. Apple offers educational institutions their Volume Purchase Program (VPP) where many apps are available for half price when purchasing 20 or more copies.

Security and maintenance of your mobile devices is always a concern, so check out the locking carts for iPads and iPod Touches that allow for easy storage and charging of your mobiles. Spend some time trying the latest games and look for curricular connections as you play. Partner with classroom teachers or start up a game club for students.

Lucas Gillispie is instructional technology coordinator at Pender County Schools, Burgaw, NC.