What Can We Learn from Gaming?

photo courtesy of Clover_1 on Flickr

I have been thinking a lot recently about video gaming and what we can learn from it as educators. This is not a new concept or a new discussion. I've been seeing things happen in my classroom that really make me think there's something to this idea.  My recent reflections and changes in classroom practice don't actually involve my students playing games to learn new skills or concepts (though there is research about the positive effects of this), but rather on the broader structure of games in relation to classroom practices.

For one, while watching my students play games I notice that they easily just click 'retry' or 'new game' or 'start over' and keep trying until they master whatever skill that game's level requires. They don't worry about making mistakes because they know they will get another chance. They learn more and more each time they have to do a level or game task over. We should be building these kinds of experiences into our classrooms.

In addition, games provide immediate feedback. Not just any feedback, but usually feedback that helps a student fix or improve on their previous performance. We should be giving students as many opportunities as possible for useful and timely feedback.

Games also have a purpose, an underlying goal.  Sometimes there are mini-goals that help get you to the final goal, beating the game.  Players can focus on the mini-goals rather than be overwhelmed by the ultimate goal of beating the game. There is usually something that indicates how far along they are toward their final goal, which makes them feel like they're getting somewhere.  We should be setting manageable goals for our students that help them move toward mastery while providing timely feedback on their progress.

I have been giving my students chances to revise and revisit their work, and I find that they learn more from this experience than they do while creating the project the first time around. I have also been having them share their work with their peers to solicit feedback.  From listening in on the sharing sessions, I also find that they have to explain their choices in their work, which means they are thinking about the choices they make.  As for goals, I have been making a point of breaking projects down into manageable chunks and focusing on small goals for each class period so students are aware of what they are focusing on and so my assessments are focused on the mini-goals that will lead to mastery.

Don't think that things are as perfect as they sound. Adding these gaming-like aspects to my classroom is a new endeavor, which means I'm still figuring out the best way to implement the approach into my classroom. However, the immediate effects and results have been noticeable.

I am interested in reading more about the Quest to Learn school in  New York City, which focuses on gaming concepts throughout their curriculum.

I would love to know your thoughts.


  • Great post Mary Beth!
    If you're interested in this topic, check out http://www.esparklearning.com. eSpark is a new company in Chicago dedicated to increasing achievement for elementary students using iPads and video game apps to provide instruction in math and reading.

    Also, check out eSpark's Blog http://esparklearning.com/blog

    If you or your colleagues are interested in actually testing out our services in your classroom, we'd be happy to do a demo!

    All the best, Renee

  • Great post Mary Beth!

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