Students today are media savvy. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation*, daily use of media among children of all ages has increased dramatically over the past five years. In a typical day, kids now spend an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes using entertainment media—a 20 percent increase since 2005 that researchers attribute primarily to the increased availability and capability of cell phones. Today's multi-tasking young people spend more time texting, listening to music, watching videos, and playing video games on their cell phones than they do talking on them.
But among all these options, video games have emerged as the top interactive media choice for children and youth, accounting for an average 1 hour and 30 minutes of media use each day. And that has real implications for teachers.There's nothing new about using games in the classroom. Teachers have always used word games and matching games to build language, literacy, and counting skills; to improve small and large motor coordination skills; to reinforce critical thinking and problem-solving skills; and to teach children
about winning and
losing, working together, and taking turns. What is new is that,
in today's classrooms, more and more of those games are played on a console or computer.
Teachers in all grades in classrooms throughout the country have recognized the value of video games. They are using them to engage their students in creative approaches to an even wider range of subjects than they could with traditional games,
and with the added benefit of building technology skills
that will last a lifetime.
And because video games combine every kind of digital content—text, image, video, music, and software—they can also be used to teach many valuable lessons about copyright. The members of the ©Team—Rick the Writer, Alan the Artist, and Patty the Programmer—each contribute toward creating the digital content in video games. It's a collaborative effort that results in a unique kind of intellectual property shaped by creativity in many forms. By pointing out the copyright and terms-of-use information when a video game is used in the classroom, teachers can reinforce this connection between creativity and copyright, while building respect for intellectual property in all forms.
Teaching With Video Games
Using video games as a teaching tool can require considerable planning. Fortunately, there are many resources to help speed the planning process. For example:
- Talk with your district curriculum coordinator, media librarian, and other teachers to identify games that you can tailor to your curriculum needs. Ask about commercial games as well as games that have been developed specifically for educational use.
Tip: The George Lucas Educational Foundation's Edutopia website contains some helpful discussions about using video games for teaching. See, for example, Wii Love Learning: Using Gaming Technology to Engage Students, at
- Talk with your students about the games they like to play. Visit the game websites to learn more about those games.
Tip: In many cases you can download a demonstration version of the game so that you can try it for yourself.
- Consider ways you might incorporate age-appropriate games into classroom activities and homework assignments.
Tip: Just as with any situation where students are engaged in various activities at the same time, be sure to move around the classroom to answer questions, provide assistance when needed, and ensure that students are on task.
- Build small-group gaming into your differentiated instruction plan to provide your students with new ways of learning. For example, if your lesson plan focuses on various aspects of basic math skills (addition, subtraction, etc.), you might set up a video game that focuses on a specific one of those skills at one or more of your learning stations.
Tip: The Children's Video Game Guide on the EdutainingKids.com website (www.edutainingkids.com/videogames.html) contains reviews of a number of popular video games that consist of a strong educational component.
Video Game Research
Video games can motivate children and engage them in sustained learning. The evidence is obvious through their interest in video games. According to the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, three-quarters of American children play video games. So how can we combine the educational potential of video games with classroom instruction?
Games scholarship is growing within the academic community, but research in this field is still focused, for the most part, on specific cases and pilot studies. We offer here a sampling of recent findings that reflect the range of topics currently being investigated and the range of disciplines — cognitive science, behavioral science, social science — collaborating in this effort. We also provide links to some leading research centers, where you can find reports on more recent studies.
We will be updating this page as new research findings become available, so check back often. For more information, visit the Video Game Research page on the Entertainment Software Association website, www.theesa.com/facts/video-game-research.asp.
Video Games as Cognitive Training
Researchers at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, led by psychologist Susanne M. Jaeggi, discovered that video games can be an effective form of cognitive training for strengthening students’ problem-solving skills. Their study focused on “working memory,” the brain’s ability to hold information while solving a problem, by having students play a simple video game that challenged them to remember the location of frogs on a grid of lily pads. Students played the game 15 minutes each day for a month, while a control group worked at conventional knowledge and vocabulary exercises. Three months later, the game-players showed greater improvement in abstract reasoning and problem solving than their classmates, as measured by pre/post testing, indicating that properly designed video games can have a long-term benefit for at least one important component of IQ. For more information, see www.pnas.org/content/early/2011/06/03/1103228108.abstract.
Free Game-Making Resources
There are many online resources that provide teachers and students with free design tools for creating their own video games. These tools range from simple drag-and-drop game-making platforms to simplified versions of sophisticated programming languages, allowing students of all ages — and teachers with almost any level of video game experience — to share in the fun and discover the learning potential of video game design and development.
Listed below are links to some of the more popular online game-making resources you might want to explore with your students. To help you get started, included are some lesson plan ideas for using game-making in subjects across the curriculum.
NOTE: Game-making platforms are used by gamers of all ages. Preview the content on these sites before visiting them with your students.
Game-making from scratch. BYOND offers an easy-to-learn programming language called Dream Maker that was developed for creating multi-player games set in a virtual world. The site provides programming tutorials, templates, and online help, and features a library of games to give students ideas for making games of their own.
- Language Arts: Analyze character, setting, and plot by turning a story or novel into an interactive adventure.
- Social Studies: Bring historical research to life by reconstructing the Roman Forum, the Mayan city Tikal, or a journey along the Underground Railroad.
Features a user-friendly game-making interface that allows students to orchestrate onscreen events with a few clicks. Use Construct2 to create arcade-style action games and challenges. Download the free edition at www.scirra.com/construct2/free-edition.
- Science: Create an environmental science quest. See the game Ecomatrix (www.scirra.com/arcade/puzzle/909/ecomatrix-v20) for ideas.
- Math: Turn equivalent fractions into a matching game. See the game Who’s Knocking the Door? (www.scirra.com/arcade/addicting-puzzle-games/1194/whos-knocking-the-door) for ideas.