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11 Games to Enhance Learning (and why you should play them)

To educators and parents alike, hearing the phrase “video game” in connection with education can instill some nerves.  However, more and more research is telling us as educators and parents that we shouldn’t be concerned. According to an article published by the APA (American Psychological Association), “The Benefits of Playing Video Games,” Granic, Lobel, & Engels found that there are four positive impacts that gaming can have on the development and learning of children: cognitive, motivational, emotional, and social.  Their research shows that the benefits of gaming in the classroom outweigh the cons (Granic, Lobel & Engels, 2014).

As Jordan Shapiro phrases it, the research shows that “[g]ameplay has cognitive benefit because games have been shown to improve attention, focus, and reaction time. Games have motivational benefit because they encourage an incremental, rather than an entity theory of intelligence. Games have emotional benefit because they induce positive mood states; in addition, there is speculative evidence that games may help kids develop adaptive emotion regulation. Games have social benefit because gamers are able to translate the prosocial skills that they learn from co-playing or multiplayer gameplay to ‘peer and family relations outside the gaming environment’” (Shapiro, 2014).

Before we talk about what games you should start your learning journey with, however, you should know that there is a big difference between gamification and game-based learning.  While gamification takes principles and ideas behind the structure of a game (like assigning experience points instead of grade points, or acknowledging that failure is acceptable (and not punitive) until ultimate mastery, etc.) and embeds them in the classroom to create a game-like learning experience, game-based learning immerses students into virtual worlds through first-hand gaming experiences.  For more information, check out my friend Lucas Gillispie’s site EduRealms

If you’re interested in finding a way to integrate game-based learning into your curriculum, but you’re not sure where to start, here are eleven options I’ve curated for you try in your classroom:

Elementary School:

Pora Ora — This is a game targeted at elementary students of all ages.  It runs in your Internet browser as well as through apps. Pora Pal HQ is the hub of all these games, and is a Massively Multiplayer Online realm where students and teachers can interact and collaborate to explore the world and solve real-world problems.  Pora Pal HQ is currently priced at a one-time fee of $12.45.

JumpStart — This is another interactive game aimed at elementary-aged students. It is browser-based and will run within the browser (though it says Chrome has stopped supporting Unity3D — what the game is built on — there is a workaround to use it in Chrome).

Ayiti The Cost of a Life — “Ayiti challenges its players to manage a rural family of five in Haiti over four years.”  This is a game you will enjoy exploring and using to teach many different life skills — and it plays in your browser!

School of Dragons — School of Dragons® is an epic, 3D multiplayer online world based on DreamWorks Animation’s How to Train Your Dragon franchise. Created by JumpStart — the leader in epically fun learning-based games — School of Dragons takes players of all ages through an immersive, adventurous gaming journey unlike any other. With this game, players will dive straight into challenging quests, raise and train their very own dragons, and play alongside fellow Viking trainers aiming to be the Ultimate Dragon Trainer. (schoolofdragons.com)

Middle and High School:

The Radix Endeavor — In this STEM-based, standards-aligned game, You arrive on the island of Ysola in an area dubbed Bladed Plains. Ysola is an earth-like world populated with human-like people. Speak to the girl with the exclamation point over her head; she’ll start you in your adventure. Using your mouse, left-click and hold to travel, or you can use WASD keys on your keyboard.

We begin with a tutorial questline to help get you oriented as a player. Following that, you will receive curriculum topic questlines. A few notes on what to expect as you play:

  • Game progress is saved. Once you have completed a quest using a particular character, you won’t be able to play that quest again. You can, however, create a new character within your account.
  • If you’d like start a quest from the beginning, you do have the option of dropping a quest, using your Quest Log. Completed quests cannot be restarted.
  • The game work is full of creatures and plants. As you enter/exist various zones, it is populated with creatures and plants that may look similar but in fact exhibit a variety of traits. Experiment! (radixendeavor.org).

Moonbase Alpha — In Moonbase Alpha, you assume the exciting role of an astronaut working to further human expansion and research. Returning from a research expedition, you witness a meteorite impact that cripples the life support capability of the settlement. With precious minutes ticking away, you and your team must repair and replace equipment in order to restore the oxygen production to the settlement (nasa.gov).

World of Warcraft (WoW) — World of Warcraft (WoW) is a Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game (MMORPG).  It has a high fantasy theme borrowing from the traditions of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.  Launched on November 23rd, 2004, the game is based on Blizzard Entertainment’s Warcraft Universe which began in 1994 with Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, a real-time strategy game. (edurealms.com)  Check out this information on putting this MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) to use in your classroom today!

Glass Labs: These games are immersive, browser-based games led by an effort from the Institute of Play to align pre-existing video games and their engines to academic learning standards and objectives.  The games are built with the following tenets: Deep Learning Matters, Fail Forward, Immediate Feedback to Learners, Not-so-standardized Assessment, and Transformative Learning.  If you are looking for variety, look no further than here!

Cell Craft — CellCraft is a state of the art game that invites students to delve into the world of the cell, learning about how a cell functions while helping it survive in hostile environments. The student will gain an understanding of important molecules such as glucose and ATP, as well as a variety of cellular organelles, while going through an entertaining story guided by Platypus scientists in need of help. The game encourages students to balance resources and grow a robust cell in order to fight off cold, starvation, and viruses. Can you use your cellular knowledge to grow a super cell and save the Platypus species? Find out by mastering the art of CellCraft! (carolina.com)

Pandemic IIThis is an in-browser flash game that simulates a world-wide pandemic.

ChemGame Tutor — A comprehensive, browser-based game reinforcing chemistry knowledge through play!

One final note: some of these games which run in your browser and don’t require a download operate on the Unity 3D Engine.  The Unity 3D Engine has recently stopped being supported by the Chrome Browser due to some browser updates. However, there is a way that you can re-enable Unity support to play in your browser:

  1. In chrome url bar type: chrome://flags/
  2. Go down to Enable NPAPI Mac, Windows and select Enable
  3. Scroll down to Restart Chrome
  4. Come back to game and play

If not on a Chromebook, you can play the game on another browser — Download Firefox Here

If you have any questions about gamification or game-based learning, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me via Twitter @mrjamesfrye, or by e-mail (click for contact info).

Resources

http://classroom-aid.com/2012/11/28/10-cases-mmos-are-used-for-learning/

http://gamingandeducationengagementinlearning.com/category/games-for-the-classroom/

About James Frye

James Frye (@mrjamesfrye) serves as Instructional Technology Facilitator and Public Information Officer for Newton-Conover City Schools. Formerly, he was an English and Journalism Teacher at Newton-Conover High School and a Blended/Virtual English Teacher. He is a NC Teaching Fellow and studied education abroad at the Hochschule Magdeburg-Stendal in Germany. James holds a Post-Masters Certificate in Educational Leadership & Cultural Foundations from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, a M.A. in Curriculum & Instruction with a Graduate Certificate in Educational Technology from Michigan State University, and a B.A. in English/Education from Lenoir-Rhyne University, where he serves as an Adjunct Professor. He is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Educational Leadership, Policy, and Law with The University of Kentucky. In addition to modeling technological and leadership innovation and leading various professional learning, Jamie also serves statewide on the NC Digital Learning Initiative Advisory Board/Home Base Design Team, the NC Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development’s Board of Directors, the #NCed Leadership Team, and is co-founder of Edcamp WNC. He is a member of the NC Digital Leadership Coaches’ Network, and was named an international Emerging Leader by ASCD in 2015. He resides in Hickory with his wife and their baby girl.

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