Classroom Gaming Should Be Engaging, Tied to Curriculum—and Not Require...

Game-Based Learning

Classroom Gaming Should Be Engaging, Tied to Curriculum—and Not Require Teachers to Code

from Legends of Learning

By Geoff Livingston     May 16, 2017

Classroom Gaming Should Be Engaging, Tied to Curriculum—and Not Require Teachers to Code

It’s one thing when master teachers successfully implement learning games in a carefully controlled research study. But engaging students through game-based learning (GBL) means little unless the games are easy to implement and effective where they matter most—in the classroom.

For district leaders, teachers, and edgame developers, this involves an ongoing balancing act of engagement, pragmatic learning and in-class application. “Without this efficacy, games in the classroom are just entertainment, a replacement for worksheets and reading,” says Richard White, Science Department Chair at Griffin Middle School in Smyrna, Georgia.

What Not To Do

To achieve efficacy, games should engage students and support the curriculum standards of any given school, district, and state—while also being easy to integrate into a classroom.

Many educational games, however, focus on game design and graphics first, or prioritize entertainment over content. The result may be a comprehensive game experience, but it may not be optimized for a classroom. For example, a single game—while awesome to play—may require several classes, if not weeks, to complete.

Other games only loosely connect to the curriculum, requiring extensive teacher design, lesson planning, and input. Specifically, they may not offer any instruction, relying on the teacher to create the content and design within its framework. In some cases, a teacher needs to learn how to code. These games play valuable roles in certain contexts, but may not be easy for most teachers to implement.

“Games, like any other tool, should be put into place to support the learning of curriculum and the mastery of standards by our students,” says White. “Many times we find stand-alone games and demos that are hard to link to the standards or to work into the general flow of the class.”

Making Games Relevant and Accessible

When we launched Legends of Learning in March 2017, we knew we had to balance ease of use and efficacy. This meant the games must easily integrate into existing lesson plans. As a result, all of the games on our platform are designed around existing state and national standards like the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) for middle school. Each game teaches a single standard, so a teacher knows what to launch for her class. Our 90 Earth and Space, Physical, and Life Science learning objectives cover core learning concepts to ensure a comprehensive curriculum. If individual states have their own unique standards, educators can map concepts against the statewide standards to determine the relevant learning games.

Making our games easy for teachers to use isn’t just about matching them to curriculum, it also means making sure the games can fit into class periods. Legends of Learning games are relatively short in length, averaging 5 to 15 minutes. In addition, they are accessible to students using laptops or tablets in 1:1 or shared device environments. Teachers are also given access to a dashboard with tools to launch, pause, and resume games—as well as view the progress of each student in real time.

Before launching Legends of Learning, company founder Dr. Vadim Polikov worked with Vanderbilt University’s Dr. Douglas Clark, Professor of the Learning Sciences and Science Education. The two researchers set out to determine whether typical short edgames could support actual learning in a classroom curriculum. The large sample, controlled Vanderbilt-Legends of Learning study covered three weeks of game play content. It demonstrated both ease of use and efficacy, and drove the creation of the platform and game designs to facilitate a more natural teacher experience.

Teacher Feedback

Last month, we launched 900 middle school science games. Since then, hundreds of science teachers have deployed the games in their classrooms. Whole schools have signed on to use the platform, too. Most teachers are using the games as part of their weekly plans, some are using them daily—and all are using them to supplement their existing lessons. Currently the games are only played in school.

The feedback to date has been largely inspiring. “The students are much more engaged in the games than traditional style teaching,” says Caitlin Unterman, a science teacher at Forest Middle School in Bedford, Virginia. “I would rather have students engaged and answering the questions, than bored and answering paper and pencil questions.”

Lisianna Wilson, 6th/7th Grade Science Teacher at Mississippi’s Gulfport Central Middle School concurs. “Since I've started using Legends of Learning to help teach my students science content,” she says, “I have had to spend much less time prompting them to do their work.”

Part of the success, believes Unterman, is due to the games’ emphasis on curriculum. “The fact that the games are aligned with a curriculum is imperative to teacher use,” she says. “I can rest assured that they have been critiqued by teachers and curriculum advisers so the games are educationally sound. Students are staying engaged if they finish class work early, and are remediating difficult concepts, which is invaluable!”

The feedback from Unterman and Wilson echoes that of the teachers who participated in the Vanderbilt research study. Ninety-two percent of them agreed or strongly agreed when asked if they would like to use similar games in the future. Sums up Vanderbilt’s Dr. Clark, “Typical educational games carefully coordinated with learning goals do support significant learning and increased engagement.”

As more data becomes available, Legends of Learning will make it available to researchers. And as new knowledge is implemented, we believe the efficacy of curriculum-specific games will continue to prove itself.

Staff Picks: Five Favorite Games from Legends of Learning

When you have 900 games to choose from, selecting the best can be an impossible task. Nevertheless, these five games have emerged as Legends of Learning staff favorites. All five are available to play for free.

Game Learning Objective Activity
EcoKingdoms: Growth of Populations Life Sciences: Factors Influencing Growth of Individuals and Populations As a park manager you will make choices that impact the number of visitors in the park, the plants, animals and park funds. Life Sciences: Reconstructing Evolutionary History Using Fossils Game players explore evolution firsthand.
Lightventure Physical Sciences: Wave Model of Light Features campers who change light beams from emitters to receivers.
Walter’s Travels Earth and Space Sciences: Eclipses and Seasons Takes you through a quest to gain knowledge about the solar system and eclipses. A longtime favorite of the Legends staff.
What’s Your Reaction Physical Sciences: Newton’s Third Law Players meet the historic scientist Isaac Newton and help him get to a party.
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