Teaching Tools Tagged Articles RSS Feed | GameSkinny.com Teaching Tools RSS Feed on GameSkinny.com https://www.gameskinny.com/ en Launch Media Network Video Games in the Classroom https://www.gameskinny.com/hb4n7/video-games-in-the-classroom https://www.gameskinny.com/hb4n7/video-games-in-the-classroom Fri, 27 Feb 2015 18:04:36 -0500 Pip Simon

Today, I want to write about my experiences using video games as an educational tool in my classroom. I'll start by giving you some background information, so you have a better understanding of where I am coming from. I work at the coolest private school in Washington DC, Emerson Preparatory School. I'm a third year teacher, teaching grades 9-12.

Emerson Prep is a unique learning environment, unlike any school I have encountered. The classes are very small, capping at 12 students per classroom. This is ideal for project-based learning and differentiated instruction. I teach a variety of subjects. Over the past three years I have taught Ancient Myth, Cultural Geography, Film Studies, Filmmaking, The Art and History of Graphic Novels, Psychology, and many more courses that have been absolutely amazing to teach.

Video games are a teaching tool that I feel are often overlooked by educators. I understand that in some schools it may be nearly impossible to incorporate video games in the classroom due to time constraints, standardized testing, class size, and possibly a limited budget, but I'd like to share my experiences and offer suggestions for how you might consider using games in your classroom.

The first time I tried using a video game in the classroom was when I was teaching Psychology. At the time the classroom had 9 students. Students were studying how fear effects the body physically and mentally, and they were questioning why humans are often attracted to media that is fear-inducing (horror movies, horror literature, etc.). After much deliberation I decided to conduct an experiment with them using Amnesia: The Dark Descent by Frictional Games. Amnesia has some graphic scenes, that being said the first part of the game is frightening, but ultimately mild and easily digested by high school juniors and seniors. 

Amnesia: The Dark Descent is a horror game, played for first-person perspective. You play as a man named, Daniel, who wakes up in a mansion with no memory, and just a note written to himself, instructing him to kill someone. As you navigate the mansion, you are not given any weapons. The lack of weapon makes you feel helpless; the only way to survive and keep your sanity is to hide from the misfigured monsters lurking in the dark. 

For the experiment we set up my computer at the front of the room and connected it to our TV using HDMI. To create an environment suitable for game play we covered the windows with poster board in an attempt to get the room as dark as possible. We decided that one at time for approximately 10 minutes the students would trade off playing the game.

While one student was playing, the other students would observe their peer's physical state as the game progressed. They would write down their observations and hypotheses in their journals, which we would later share in order to form useful data. We varied our experiment from time to time during the class period. Some students would use headphones while they played while others did not. Students were vocal about their video gaming experience; some students were veteran gamers, and for others this was the first time they had played a video game. We took all of this into consideration as we observed the player's reactions to the game.

Their journals were filled with notes about how some students were scared while playing, but pressed onward into the descent, while others were too frightened to move forward. They concluded that playing this particular game with headphones was much more immersing than playing without them. Students also recognized that non-gamers were at a significant disadvantage. Due to their lack of experience this would be a somewhat stressful activity even if it hadn't been a horror game. At the conclusion of the experiment students wrote about possible flaws in the experimentation process, and attempted to design a more effective way of measuring people's reactions to horror games.

This activity was an overwhelming success. Students learned how create an experiment, how to record data, analyze their findings, and how to pick out flaws in experimental design.

In later articles I want to provide lesson plans for other games that I have used in the classroom, and offer suggestions for how you might incorporate gaming in your lessons. The next article will feature Year Walk and Minecraft. If you have any questions or suggestions for possible games that could serve as educational tools, please share in the comment section below.

Building Blocks: Can popular games be used as teaching tools? https://www.gameskinny.com/jmvl7/building-blocks-can-popular-games-be-used-as-teaching-tools https://www.gameskinny.com/jmvl7/building-blocks-can-popular-games-be-used-as-teaching-tools Thu, 17 Apr 2014 05:01:33 -0400 RobS_451

The world of gaming is growing. It has stretched far beyond its roots as a fun distraction to permeate mainstream society, tackle complex social issues and assert a cultural identity all its own. The growing power of games to inspire and engage us has also begun to assert itself in a place that, traditionally, has been at odds with their allure: the classroom.

Games in the Classroom

Recently, in a tangent to typical holiday small-talk, I found myself discussing games with a relative who manages a small school district.  What started as a simple question, (he asked why he should care about Minecraft?) became a much longer discussion about the potential to engage students in practical subjects using games that they were probably already playing at home.  Growing up with a family of small-town educators, I have seen first-hand the challenges that smaller schools face when trying to reach students.  That discussion prompted me to look deeper into the potential that some popular titles might have to bridge the gap between recreation and learning, and help teachers get students excited about learning.


You’d have a hard time finding a recent game that resonates as well with so many as Minecraft. The game’s rampant popularity across demographics makes it uniquely positioned to be a fantastic bridge between teachers and their students. This idea is a driving force behind MinecraftEdu, an initiative released by TeacherGaming in 2013 to make the Minecraft universe more accessible to schools. 

By making the game more affordable for classroom use, and providing teachers with resources and ideas for integrating lessons into the game world, MinecraftEdu highlights the best aspects of Minecraft for use as teaching tools. The most prominent example of this is the history-spanning Wonderful World of Humanities interactive tour, which uses a blend of quests and the open Minecraft world to let students explore key historical events, visit landmarks and interact with famous figures throughout history.

Beyond this is a growing network of simple builds and ideas that allow for new levels of student interaction with basic questions, as well as concepts for teaching science and mathematics. With MinecraftEDU’s lowered price point and the game’s inherent low system requirements, the project serves as an ideal opportunity for teachers to bring a new level of interactivity to their lessons.

Kerbal Space Program

Dig a little deeper, and you’ll start to see how other games can become powerful teaching tools.  TeacherGaming is also developing a project, similar to MinecraftEdu, for the popular Kerbal Space Program that aims to get students excited about aeronautics and space exploration.  Using Kerbal Space Program’s core mechanic, where you must build a rocket to get the minion-esque Kerbals to the moon and beyond, the game has great potential to engage students by presenting them with questions similar to those faced by real-world engineers and scientists.

Like Minecraft, the game’s cartoonish, lighthearted tone juxtaposes its complexity to allow for a wide appeal that could serve well with younger and older students easily. 


Another great example that has been popular with gamers for quite some time,  SimCity has a lot to teach students about the complexities of city management and planning, including the environmental, structural and social impact of their decisions.

SimCityEDU, from Institute of Play, aims to use the game to directly fulfill learning requirements for “common core and next generation science standards” while still providing a fun and engaging atmosphere for students, and more importantly, giving them a new level of control over their learning experience.

What Makes a Game Great for Teaching?

In using games to teach, especially games not necessarily designed for teaching, the most important factor teachers are likely to consider is the how accurately the game in question adheres to the subject at hand, which presents a unique problem. 

In order to remain engaging, most games have to cut corners on the rules of the real world. 

Many great games are designed to filter the real world through a lense that allows us to break free of its rules and explore the possibilities beyond them. This is likely the reason that games designed to teach are usually boring.  Many older gamers, myself included, remember Oregon Trail fondly.  After playing the game again recently,  I realized that the core mechanics were fairly simplistic, and it cut corners on most of the elements that made adventure games of the time so immersive.  It has it’s moments of tension and complexity, of course, but they pale in comparison to those offered by other games available in the 80’s and 90’s, when computers were beginning to become more common (especially in schools) and video games more popular.

The issue is not that Oregon Trail isn’t a good example of a teaching game, but that it’s arguably the best example of a teaching game we have to this day
nothing is worse than a boring game, except maybe one that’s trying to teach you math

That alone should point out the biggest flaw with learning-focused games: they often sacrifice creativity and depth for adherence to facts. While this approach ensures that what students take away from the experience is accurate, it can serve to alienate those students as well - nothing is worse than a boring game, except maybe one that’s trying to teach you math. 

Today, its likely that every student has a game in their pocket they would much rather play, and probably will as soon as class ends.  In a learning environment dominated by standardized testing and structured lessons, there is a powerful need for creativity in the way that students get the lessons most essential to their development.  Games are everywhere, and for teachers to break through the noise made by grumpy pixelated birds and flashing rows of candy, they may need to consider that bringing bigger, better games into the classroom may bring students back in, too. 

Ultimately, It's Up To Teachers

the vast majority of creative options for using games to enrich learning rest in the hands of teachers themselves

Even with the great examples that some developers are working to bring to the table, the vast majority of creative options for using games to enrich learning rest in the hands of teachers themselves.  By looking to mainstream games as a tool, rather than a distraction, teachers have an opportunity to bring their students closer to the lessons that will serve them in the future.  In addition, they stand to gain a better understanding themselves of how technology is shaping the way that younger generations see the world around them, and how they learn from it.

Pixel Press Is Pretty Much The Coolest Thing Since Gaming Itself https://www.gameskinny.com/9skw9/pixel-press-is-pretty-much-the-coolest-thing-since-gaming-itself https://www.gameskinny.com/9skw9/pixel-press-is-pretty-much-the-coolest-thing-since-gaming-itself Fri, 03 May 2013 19:55:17 -0400 HC Billings

Everyone and their mother has ideas for video games. It's the actual process of building that usually defeats your average gamer, since your typical game-making experience requires hours each of art design and programming.

But what if you didn't have to bother with the mechanics, and could just get down to work, creating all sorts of neat side-scrollers?

Pixel Press is an application designed for game developers, game enthusiasts, and people who couldn't distinguish a line of Python from ancient Gallifreyan. Here's how it works.

You print out some special graph paper, draw your side-scrolling level design, and scan it with your iPad or iPhone. Pixel Press works to digitize your drawing, and creates a fully playable game level out of what you've made. It works in the same manner that digital handwriting analysis does, evaluating symbols and lines to translate into things like water traps, platforms, portals, power-ups, and hazards. 

When you're finished and scanned your drawing (the videos on their website indicate that level-drawing takes about an hour) , Pixel Press works for a few minutes, then spits out a testable version of your level. As soon as you've gone through and ensured that you can, in fact, reach the goal at the top level, you're tasked with giving the level personality and artistic design. 

Pixel Press provides you with sample music, design themes and sprites, but it also gives each creator the opportunity to customize all of those individual parts to make something genuinely unique.

Pixel Press is obviously a great tool for game designers and artists, but part of the appeal is the possibility of using the application as a teaching tool. It's a no-brainer that Pixel Press can help bolster the attention span of students in an increasingly rapid-fire media age, but also presents problem-solving issues in a way that children can not only identify with, but enjoy.  

Like most game projects these days, Pixel Press is going to start peer-funding their project through Kickstarter on May 7th. It seems, however, that Pixel Press has already finished most of the development work on the game and is solely seeking funding to start producing the app on a large scale.