When teachers consider bringing games into the classroom, digital or otherwise, it’s often for the cause of engagement. But with 75 percent of teachers reporting that they use games in their classroom, the benefits have to be more broad than just keeping kids busy.
Those who study the educational benefits of games, including James Paul Gee of Arizona State’s Literary Studies department with his seminal 2008 paper “Learning and Games”, can point to a list of positive outcomes for students.
Above all else, learning calls for recall of skills and information. Neuroscience is showing that experiences are the best vehicle for accomplishing those goals, over other strategies such as rote memorization. To paraphrase Dr. Gee, memory requires context and games can help provide that context.
The hidden ways games improve the learning experience
Let’s say a student sits down with a device to play a subject-aligned game. Through the game, the student is provided context for their learning (“I remember when that skill came up in the game”). A game played in person may even provide more context (“I played with Sam and Julia that day”).
Games provide set goals that must be met in order to progress. Problem solving and higher-order thinking skills naturally occur based on students’ successes and failures when accomplishing those goals. In a fast-paced game, students learn to think “on the fly” in order to progress along the correct path.
When students fall short of meeting goals, they receive immediate feedback in the form of not progressing through the game. The nature of game play motivates students to want to progress. In this way, the right game provides the scaffolding to facilitate “productive struggle”.
Additionally, assuming multiple students are playing the same game, they can collaborate or, at least, share their experiences – both of which are desired 21st century skills according to any standards. Teaching others is a higher-order skill on any taxonomy.
There is a distinction between providing opportunities for competition among students and using games in the classroom. Competition has its place, and usually can occur naturally among students. They can’t help sharing their data, scores, and grades. Successfully using games in the classroom though, requires intention. In order to make the most effective use, instructors must ensure that behaviors they would like students to use are modeled consistently. After all, only rarely can teachers resist joining in games with their students.
Interested in learning more about the benefits of incorporating games in your classroom curriculum? Check out this post for a deeper explanation of gamification, games, and edtech!