If you read my other blog posts, you may notice that I write about the importance of play a lot. I have to be honest, I didn’t always recognize or value how important play was for learning. Then I had kids.
I am the mother of two young boys, both under four. When they hit about two, they started to engage in unstructured play. I watched them negotiate the rules of play, solve puzzles or create – as they did today- a boat with blankets, pillows, one of my shirts, a chair, some canned goods and a rope.
As an educator, I was struck by all the learning I was witnessing and knew that I didn’t always see this in my classroom. Or if I am being honest, I rarely saw this same type of engagement in my classrooms. As such, I became very interested in the power of play and its impact on learning.
Gamification employs characteristics typically affiliated with video games and uses them to engage people in different learning activities.
Five things happen in play that educators often seek, but struggle to achieve, in their own classrooms: motivation, collaboration, higher order thinking skills, improved problem solving skills and perspective taking.
Games tap into both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Most games involve a community of players that work together to achieve a particular goal. This type of collaboration facilitates a student’s sense of belonging and safety. In game play, students are faced with complex tasks that are divided into smaller, more manageable challenges and as they achieve success at different complex levels they develop feelings of esteem that motivates them to take on more challenging learning tasks. Finally, gaming is fun. The 61 billion dollars recorded in digital gaming sales illustrates that people enjoy playing games. This is because games make otherwise tedious exercises engaging and enjoyable.
Collaborative learning occurs when students work together interdependently to achieve a common goal. Digital game players are heavily reliant on one another as they need each other’s strengths and expertise to achieve a certain level or meet a particular goal. Minecraft is extremely popular with more than 100 million users. It has often been referred to as virtual lego – you work with others to build amazing things. The creators of Minecraft have also released Minecraftedu. A version of Minecraft specifically designed to be used by classroom teachers. Minecraftedu allows teachers to create and manage classes inside Minecraft for a variety of different subject areas. Teachers are given access to templates created by teachers for teachers specifically designed to facilitate collaboration, design and decision-making skills.
Higher Order Thinking Skills
Gamification is linked to improved critical thinking skills. A study conducted by Steinkuehler (2011) looked at the reading abilities of teenage boys and found that they were able to read above reading level during game play while scoring two years below grade level on traditional standardized tests. These findings point not to an issue with literacy, but to an issue with student engagement and the impact that disengagement can have on a student’s academic achievement. Similarly, the Computer Science Department at North Carolina State University created a digital game called Crystal Island to look at gaming and learning. This game requires students to work together to stop a disease from spreading by using investigation skills, making reasoned hypotheses and applying deductive reasoning skills. The study revealed that students who played Crystal Island increased their scientific content knowledge far more than those who learned the same material traditionally. The study also found that low achievers were more comfortable and persistent in using trial and error to achieve their aims then they were in traditional assessments.
Improved Problem Solving Skills
Regular digital game play has been linked to increased brain matter, excellent multitasking skills, fluid intelligence required for problem solving and the ability to work together collaboratively. Video games have also been shown to improve spatial awareness and/or map reading. In some games, students achieve flow. This is a psychological state where the individual is completely immersed in the task at hand and this focus contributes to improved performance.
In the Peacemaker game students make real life decisions as either Israel or Palestine to respond to real world events. Cuhadar and Kampf (2014) conducted a cross-national experiment looking at the use of Peacemaker among Turkish, American, Israeli-Jewish and Israeli-Palestinian University students. All groups were required to play the game from both Israel’s and Palestine’s perspective. 147 students participated in the study. The study was used to assess how games like Peacemaker can influence perspective taking. Both American and Turkish students entered the game with a particular bias. In general American students were pro-Israel and Turkish students were pro-Palestine. This noticeably shifted after their participation in Peacemaker, as both American and Turkish students recognized the legitimacy of arguments raised by both Israel and Palestine after playing Peacemaker. Conversely, Israeli-Jewish and Israeli-Palestinian participants did not change their perspective after game-play. The study also revealed that all participants gained deeper knowledge of the conflict. Although, this simulation was not transformative for all participants it does provide positive insights into how these types of simulations can be used to educate and help students engage in peaceful conflict resolution. Similarly, having third parties gain a more impartial attitude, by breaking down misinformation is important. Overall, these types of simulations engage students in investigation, problem solving and decision making skills.
Gamification motivates students, encourages critical thinking, resilience and collaboration. As Chatfield (2010) argues, gamers build worlds that tick the evolutionary boxes that our brains need to engage in learning. The principles that guide gaming and have led to the popularity of games, like Minecraft, can help to improve our teaching practices. We can look at these principles to create simulations and play-based activities in our classrooms that engage and support student learning.
Interested in starting Gamification in your classroom check out these great tools/blogs below:
Also check out this video that looks at the brain science behind gaming:
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