In today’s blog post, I am sharing some tips and strategies for boosting student engagement using game-based learning. I’ll cover:
- Differences between gamification and game-based learning
- Benefits of game-based learning
- Examples from K-12 classrooms
- Recommendations on getting started
Please Note: This blog post is not a one-size-fits-all model. Game-based learning is really best when it is customized to your specific class, to your specific group of students, and to your subject area.
The Differences between Gamification and Game-Based Learning
Game-based learning is an educational theory – much like project-based learning, inquiry-based learning, and play-based learning – that posits that students learn best when they play and have fun.
Beyond just the “fun” elements of game-based learning, high-quality game-based learning consists of a very clear structure with goals, targets, and achievements.
In addition to game-based learning, there is also the idea of gamification in education. There are some key differences between game-based learning and gamification.
Game-based learning is an active learning experience that occurs within the context of a game framework, whereas gamification consists of adding game-like elements to an existing learning experience (Mind Research Institute).
Gamification often looks like your typical review game, whereas game-based learning takes it to the next level.
The Benefits of Game-Based Learning
What interests me the most about game-based learning is that instead of playing a game after the learning has occurred, game-based learning allows students to learn while they are actually playing the game. In that same vein, there are a number of benefits to game-based learning.
- Students develop a growth mindset: The inherent design of games lends itself nicely to helping students develop a growth mindset. In games, students are motivated by both intrinsic and extrinsic factors. For example, students might be motivated to reach certain goals if those goals are rewarded with things like power-ups. Students also might find themselves failing safely while playing a game, which can lead to the development of a growth mindset.
- Students build problem-solving skills: In most games, students will encounter some sort of problem or struggle. This is true even in open-ended games that are exploratory (rather than competitive) like Minecraft. Because of this, students will have to practice their problem-solving skills to come up with a solution.
- Students develop independence and agency: Games require players to make decisions, reach certain goals, and even track their own progress. In doing so, students will develop independence and agency while learning. These skills can then be translated into the classroom and into their lives.
- Game-based learning boosts student engagement: Students love games. People love games. When students have fun, they are engaged. It’s really that simple.
Examples of Game-Based Learning and Gamification in K-12 Classrooms
There are so many great examples of how games are used in K-12 classrooms. Some of these ideas were inspired by the Game-Based Learning section on Edutopia.
- Use Blooket for review games: Blooket is an exciting new take on the modern classroom review game. Unlike your typical review game, Blooket has tons of different game boards to choose from, so students can have a completely different experience every time they play a game. The teacher can create their own question list, or they can search for a pre-made list instead. Teachers add the curriculum, and Blooket turns it into a fun game for the whole class.
- Math Snacks for middle school math: Funded by the National Science Foundation, Math Snacks is a set of games and educational animations for middle school students. Math Snacks helps students better understand math concepts in a game-style environment.
- Using Minecraft to teach writing: Minecraft is a great tool for world-building and storytelling. Students can use Minecraft to tell stories, using elements like characters, locations, and plot. Students can write and create stories about their character and about the world they create.
- Teaching empathy with video games: In my research, I discovered many video games that teach students about empathy. I’ll share one example here. myPeekaville is a game for early elementary students that consists of mini-games in an immersive setting. First, students create avatars, and then they go on quests to help characters overcome challenges and manage emotions. Each mini-game helps students practice their SEL skills.
Recommendations for Getting Started
I have three main recommendations on how to implement game-based learning in your classroom.
Recommendation #1: Create student-centered spaces
Students might not be used to playing games in your classroom, especially video games, and a traditional classroom setup might not work well for this type of learning. Consider making adjustments to your classroom to meet the needs of students and to better accommodate a game-based learning environment. Consider using flexible seating and making sure you have the proper tech ready to go.
Recommendation #2: Incorporate multiplayer elements
In competitive and non-competitive games alike, multiplayer action can level up engagement. Students can collaborate, brainstorm solutions as a group, or even play against each other in healthy and age-appropriate ways.
Recommendation #3: Use games that focus on creation rather than consumption
There are plenty of video games out there, but my favorites are the ones that get students to create and build, rather than strictly consume content. If you are having students build their own games on Minecraft or using a tool like Bloxels, for example, it can be helpful to establish a clear theme. As a history teacher, you might want your students to build games tied to an ancient history lesson. When you give students a clear theme, they can keep in mind the end goal as they create their own games or worlds.
If you end up trying game-based learning, I’d love to hear from you. I’d love to hear how it goes, what worked well, what didn’t. And if you are particularly interested in this topic and want to learn more, reach out to me on Instagram @edtechclass or firstname.lastname@example.org.