Use Games to Spark Engagement in Learning – The Link to Common Core

By CUE Guest Blogger Andrew Gibas

The idea of using games in education stemmed from my interest in European-type board games (Settlers of Catan, Dominion, Small World, Ticket to Ride, etc.) combined with fun physics activities that I picked up from my mentor when I was a student teacher. It all began with the development of my first board game for education in collaboration with my mentor teacher called the “Shopping Cart Race.” We wanted to create a game where students had to collaborate and use their understanding of physics in order to make progress towards an objective.

In this instance, students play characters that push shopping carts on a race track board that have various areas with different coefficients of friction (such as asphalt, grass or sand). Throughout the game, students use their understanding of physics concepts and calculate their characters’ displacement. The game is turn-based, so students are able to collaborate by helping each other with the calculations while checking each others’ work for mistakes or cheating.

What Not To Do

Despite my ambition to create a fun game, I recollected on my past experiences and observations of games in education when I was a student. I wanted to make sure that my game didn’t have any pitfalls. I remembered how most games in education at that time generally rewarded the higher achieving students, such as a Jeopardy review game. Also, a lot of games were generally just that; a review game. To make progress you didn’t have to apply the concepts you learned, you just had to recite what you knew. So I avoided these types of obstacles by incorporating game mechanics that I picked up over a few years of playing European board games.

How to Make The Games Fair

CC Flckr James Bowe

CC Flckr James Bowe

There were two main game mechanics I included that made the game fair and more accessible to all students while keeping it fun. The first mechanic was a random element, which was including dice.  I wanted to make sure that no matter how far ahead someone was, there was always a small chance that players could catch up. The second mechanic was customization and choice.

Students got to choose different characters that had different strengths, weakness and abilities. In addition, students got to choose how hard they wanted to push the cart and which way they wanted to go when they reached a fork in the road. I wanted every game to tell a different and unique story every time it was played; a concept known by many people who play games as replayability.

How and When

So how and when can you use these types of games in education? You can use them as an inquiry activity, students can discover how different variables are related by playing the game. Depending on the variety and level of calculations, you can substitute the game in place of guided practice during class or augment it. You can use it as an extension activity to your lessons and you can present it as a reward. Some games can be developed to simulate real-world applications. You can even make games as an assessment.

Link to Common Core

How do games play a role in the transition to Common Core? Before you play the game, you can have students research and report on relating concepts and ideas. This pre-activity will provide students with context and strategies before they play the game, possibly providing an edge to those who really delved into the research. If the game is developed so that it simulates a real-world application, you can have students write a report on their findings through the game. You could even introduce a game with connections to the real world and transition students to research.

In collaboration with other teachers for the transition to Common Core, we’re currently developing a game that has a preliminary step where students apply their understanding towards the creation of a project such as a catapult. Students then research and draft a proposal as if they were an innovator seeking investors. They discuss and provide cited references that support their design. The more convincing the written proposal, the more “money” they get towards the creation of the project. This money is obviously not real, but it is used for students to purchase objects in a game or even better, for the actual materials that are used for creation of the project to be used in a game (rubber bands, popsicle sticks, etc).

Through my experiences and observations, games in education can make learning fun. Students learn concepts and ideas to do well in the game, and the side-effect of doing well in the game is doing well in the class. Then you have students that want to do well- not for the grade, but for the game. And what if that game… was similar to a career? What do you think? Feel free to comment below or tweet out your ideas to #cueblog #caedchat- let the conversation begin.

Andrew GibasMy name is Andrew Gibas and I’m a high school physics teacher. This is my second year teaching, and I still have a lot to learn. Over time, I hope to improve myself and education. Wouldn’t it be great if students couldn’t wait to get to school, because it was just that fun!

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  • Even adults enjoy educational games; students in my Adult Ed classes really get into team games. I use gamification for reinforcement and review .It’s an awesome closure activity – students leave class with a great spirit and attitude.Yesterday, I used Team tic-tac-toe for the closing activity.My cordinator was there for an observation and was impressed with the level of engagement.

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