June 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

The Competitive Edge: Online gaming can motivate students and make learning more fun

The word competitiveness often conjures up a negative image. Maybe it’s an athlete willing to do anything to be the best. Or perhaps it’s a corporate shark climbing up the workplace ladder by backstabbing co-workers. But being competitive doesn’t have to have a negative connotation. I’m a very competitive gamer and believe in giving my all to anything—especially a good game. But I always play by the rules. And if I win, that’s certainly a plus.

Playing competitive games can engage students far more than class lectures. Competition in an educational setting can motivate and teach students how to socialize in a competitive setting. Those familiar with online gaming have experienced the extreme hazing and bullying that can accompany these matches. You can use these experiences to create teachable moments that will provide youth with the tools they need to deal with stressful situations both online and in their daily lives.

The Charlotte Mecklenburg Library in Charlotte, NC, currently holds online gaming tournaments with teens at libraries in Madison, WI, and Detroit, MI. By playing with teens in other locales, students have the opportunity to learn about other cities, and these interactions are a great way to combine online gaming with informational units. Racing and strategy games can connect youth and allow them to practice their planning skills in real time. These games can also show them the importance of learning to think on their feet and adapt their plans. Gaming has always been a great tool for learning about action and reaction.

Online gaming doesn’t always have to be competitive. It’s also a great way to expose students to literature and educational concepts in fun and flashy ways. There are many online games that can expand learning by connecting the subjects you teach to real-world situations that will be familiar to students. Puzzle and role-playing games create an alternate reality where students can freely explore new things in a contained environment.

To ensure a safe gaming environment, utilize the friend options on gaming consoles. For Wii, exchange friend codes with other classes or libraries. This will allow you to set up private matches with known opponents supervised by staff. Both the PS3 and Xbox360 consoles allow you to compile friend lists by username (PS3) or usertag (Xbox 360), which permits you to play with multiple locations at one time. Even mobile devices like the iPod Touch, tablets, and smartphones offer apps that will let you play with friends. Using Steam (store.steampowered.com), an online gaming platform, you can connect on your computer with your friends’ myriad collection of online games. Steam is also available on the Xbox 360 and PS3 gaming consoles. More and more schools and libraries are investing in hand-held technologies, and making friends online with other institutions will help you engage teens.

So, get ready to dive into the world of online gaming. Here are some great choices to get your feet wet!

LittleBigPlanet 2, developed by Media Molecule Studios and produced by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, is a game to create games. Science concepts have never been more fun than when you demonstrate them through the board creation area of LittleBigPlanet 2. You can teach about physics, circuits, and electronics. Students can make boards to play through or create simple games to be played with the adorable sack people. Once they have created a board, you can post it online or invite friends to try it out. Creation can be simple and take as little as ten minutes. The tutorials, while a bit lengthy, are well worth the time investment. There is a thriving online community of board creators available through the PlayStation Network with many wonderful varieties of boards and games to play. The game is available on the Playstation 3 and is rated E for everyone.

More Games

Draw Something (OMGPOP/Zynga): Pictionary has reached a whole new level (iPhone, PC, Mac) Unrated.

Minecraft (Markus Persson): Mine for blocks to use as building materials and create beyond your wildest dreams (PC, Mac) Unrated.

Settlers of Cataan (Mayfair Games): Strategize your resources and take over the world (Xbox, PS3, PC, iPhone) Rated E.

Tidalis (Arcene Games): Fast-paced cooperative puzzling at its finest (PC and Mac) Rated E.

A Valley without Wind (Arcene Games): Work together to build a livable world from the frozen wasteland of the future (PC) Rated E.

Mario Kart Wii and Super Smash Bros. Brawl, available for the Nintendo Wii, are competitive games to play online with other teams. The matches are quick and fun and can easily engage up to four players. Mario Kart is a lively racing game with creative course options and surprise items that keep everyone in the game. Super Smash Bros. Brawl is an action game that pits favorite Nintendo characters against each other in fantastical locations with a variety of weapons and items. It takes little time to get these games up and running. Unreliable wifi Internet connections can make it difficult to meet up with other groups online, so consider purchasing the specialized USB network adapter through the Nintendo website. If you want to run a tournament-style program, a great way to keep up with the score is to use the online bracket system, Challonge (www.chal longe.com). The games are rated E for everyone and T for teen respectively.

Peggle (pictured), developed by PopGames, is an addictive game where players try to clear away pegs by bouncing a small silver ball down the screen. This game could be a great tie-in for math lessons about lines, rays, and angles. The game makes use of usernames, so you could challenge your favorite group to a duel online, or play with three other players. The game, rated E, is available on both Mac and PC computers and also on Xbox 360 and PS3 through the Steam game platform.

Portal 2 is a puzzle game developed and produced by Valve Corporation. Players become test subjects in an abandoned science warehouse where they have to use portals to complete increasingly involved tasks. Critical thinking and science skills like thrust, angles, and velocity all come into play as you navigate your way through the test chambers. In the online co-op mode, new to this installment of the game, you and your partner play as robots on puzzles specifically designed to test your cooperation and team skills. Downloadable custom content, scheduled to be released soon, will add the ability for users to create their own test chambers for single and co-op playing friends online. Portal, rated E 10+, is available on PCs and Macs through the Steam engine, and also on discs for Playstation 3 and Xbox 360.

Words with Friends is a two-player scrabble-like game developed by Zynga. A teacher friend of mine currently challenges her students to matches to help build their vocabulary skills. You could have the whole class participate by letting each student come up with as many words as they can create from the available tiles, then flex their math skills to see which world would result in the highest score. The game is available for Androids, iOS devices, through Facebook, and on both the Kindle Fire and Nook tablets. As interaction is player initiated, the game isn’t officially rated.

Once you get the online gaming experience down to an art, you can continue to enhance the fun by using a webcam to film the participants and view and be viewed by your online friends through a live streaming channel at www.ustream.tv. More and more educational settings are embracing technology as a way to expand and enhance teaching. Online gaming can be a great way to connect with the youth you serve. Don’t let this opportunity pass you by just because you may not be familiar with it. Take the time to get some hands-on experience with online gaming and blend it with your current education offerings.

Christen Higgins (storyowl@gmail.com) is teen services specialist, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, Charlotte, NC.