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Educational Games' How To

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MarkKreitler
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Didn't know where to put this, as it's both a niche topic and an overarching one, so I'm dropping it here. Apologies to all if that's out of line.

Neljer01 posted the following in another thread (apologies to Jeremy as I have massively edited the first paragraph):


My name is Jeremy Nelson and...I have begun creating [games that are] are educational based. There are a handful of difficulties I am facing moving down this road:

1. I want these games to be educational, so I have to continually remind myself of that fact; there are a ridiculous amount of really good, really fun ideas, but I cannot stray so far into 'fun' and lose sight of the curriculum requirements that shape what I teach my students.

2. Thus, my administration casts a leery eye my way when I bring up gaming in my classroom. They think along the lines of Chutes and Ladders, or Risk, or Monopoly, not a game that is driven by content. I have essentially gone 'off the radar' and not really discussed my gaming endeavor with the curriculum so as to operate unencumbered. Despite their skepticism, they have been supportive.

So, this brings up a few issues I'd like to float to the forum.

First, how many of us out there are working on games for teaching?

Second, how do you work within the constraints of teaching requirements to deliver a fun product?

Finally, how do you deal with the educational establishment's general misunderstanding regarding what constitutes a game and how how games can promote learning?

akanucho
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All games are educational...

... if you look at them the right way. If nothing else, you can either learn how to improve at a game or you can learn that you cannot improve at a game (a perfectly skilled opponent or a completely random game). Since a lot of games are abstractions of real life (to some extent), lessons learned in one apply to the other; the important thing to pay attention to is exactly what each game can teach. Many classic board games are perfect examples of chance/random behaviour (Chutes and Ladders), logic (Cluedo), or strategy/risk management (Checkers, Chess, etc). Card games, too (Poker is a classic example of both psychology and probability theory). When you step into the realm of having "games" teach principles normally covered in mandatory formal education (Maths, Economics, History, Geography), however, a lot of educators seem to forget that lessons don't have to come from a textbook in order to provide accurate information and stimulate critical thinking. I'm not sure why, but I'd wager it has to do with liability concerns, and that only certain works are "proven" to provide the material intended to be taught. As if the most important part of school was memorization.

I have not yet attempted to deal directly with the establishment and their misconceptions, and I expect I never will. My opinion on this is to show the people (parents and children alike) what the schools are lacking and let them argue for you. They're the ones who really have something to lose, after all. Their futures are at stake, if they can but see it; the most I have to lose is not selling a game.

I am working on designing a game based around the fundamental concepts of economics. I may never use the terms of Supply and Demand, Specialization, Efficiency, and Opportunity Cost, but as long as the mechanics are in place, I believe that the game can be used as an effective teaching tool for economics. However, my intended goal for this game is not to teach economics at all, but to show the benefits of teamwork and the setbacks when teamwork doesn't occur. I chose economics merely because it is an arena that shows the benefits of teamwork clearly and in a quantifiable way.

I cannot really comment on the "constraints of teaching requirements" because I do not know what you mean by that. It may be obvious to official educators, but I am not one. I have merely become frustrated with the current state of formal education methods. My family is hosting an exchange student that is attending a local high school, and this is actually my first real experience with public schooling (I was homeschooled until I went off to a private college). The textbooks are horrid, and it's no wonder that the kids are doing poorly if this is an accurate example of the norm. Students are learning that the material is obtuse, awkward, and useless. This is patently not so, but the delivery of the material is exactly so. If I can show that the same kind of lessons are present in the games and activities that our exchange student already enjoys, I might be able to prevent an undeserved lifelong distaste for learning. Children really only have two reasons to learn, for their pleasure or for their parents', and for their own pleasure is the stronger reason. Children (all people, really) are naturally learners; we do it instinctively when the subject matter is either interesting or necessary, and since children do not have the life experience to recognize what is truly necessary, we must resort to making it interesting.

As attributed to Mark Twain, "Never let your schooling interfere with your education." For many adults, formal schooling is not critical if you have learned how to learn from life. You will be able to educate yourself should you find a suitable reason to do so. Personally, I think games are a wonderful teaching tool due to the fact that the largest barrier to education (assuming that schooling is available) is a lack of interest/motivation on the part of the student, and games, by design, circumvent that. By studying how people improve at a game as they play it, students can recognize that the same self-education happens in real life. By focusing on the abstract nature of games and their relation to real life counterparts, we can help students recognize how the same strategies and critical thinking used to win at games can help people succeed in life, and isn't helping people succeed in life what school is really all about?

P.S. I apologize for rambling, but I've learned a good bit about my own feelings through writing this, and I hope you can see what I was trying to say even if I've failed to be clear.

Orangebeard
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I have to laugh...

neljer00 wrote:
2. Thus, my administration casts a leery eye my way when I bring up gaming in my classroom. They think along the lines of Chutes and Ladders, or Risk, or Monopoly, not a game that is driven by content. I have essentially gone 'off the radar' and not really discussed my gaming endeavor with the curriculum so as to operate unencumbered. Despite their skepticism, they have been supportive.

...otherwise I will cry!

It is disturbing that an educational approach that encourages application of knowledge must be "off the radar".

A fair number of my friends and relatives are part of the educational system, so I understand what neljer00 was saying even if I am not familiar with the exact requirements for education.

I think neljer00's multi-day game experience has a lot of advantages that help integrate teaching with application in real time. For example...

- Each day builds on the previous day so there is opportunity to introduce a new concept and then introduce the game mechanic that applies the concept.
- Complex ideas can be introduced in smaller bits
- Students can see immediate results of their decisions rather than finding out during the test that they don't quite understand the concept.
- It's not a lecture! It seems that most people retain a lot more information when they have a "hands on" use for the knowledge rather than simply listening to a theory.

Keep on doing the right thing!

Would it be too dangerous to suggest that you invite the administrators to play the game?

Jason William
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Educational Gaming

MarkKreitler wrote:
First, how many of us out there are working on games for teaching?

Second, how do you work within the constraints of teaching requirements to deliver a fun product?

Finally, how do you deal with the educational establishment's general misunderstanding regarding what constitutes a game and how how games can promote learning?

As a high school math teacher I always seem to be jotting ideas down for a game to use in my classroom. I got frustrated in not being able to find a game that did what I wanted it to do so I made my own through The Game Crafter. It is called Solve and Settle and it has an entry over at BoardGameGeek.

In regards to working around the constraints of teaching...I use the game as a review during class do it doesn't "waste" any instructional time but rather is played on review days. It is a game that is specific to Algebra I and only a certain topic in Algebra I, so I don't use it often. I am working on a dice game for my Trigonometry classes right now. I hope to finish it this summer.

Instead of getting around the educational establishment...I took the game to an educational conference and was a presenter at a break-out session. It was pretty well received and not just by math teachers. I wasn't trying to sell my game...but rather to show other teachers how they can use The Game Crafter to create their own games for classroom use.

It's hard to find a mainstream game where solving trigonometric equations is involved...so I just create my own and use The Game Crafter to produce it. Knowing that I am not going to make millions on my games doesn't bother me but I make them available at TGC if people want them.

SlyBlu7
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I've put together a few very

I've put together a few very basic math and english games for my mom's classroom - she teaches 3rd grade. I also put together more than few games for higher levels of education.

There was a gentleman on this site a little while ago talking about creating a pokemon style game to use for teaching his Japanese students English. It seemed like a great idea, and there were all sorts of opportunities to add rules that would help a lot.

I was an English Major for a little while, with a dual major in Secondary Education. One thing that I felt I had "discovered" and wrote a term-paper on, what the fact that there is very little difference between sentence structure, and a mathematical equation. Even down to the idea of order-of-operations. Granted, foreign languages can be a bit different, but even with English's complexities, you can break it down into simple "if-then" statements, and there is a set pattern that every language follows in order to remain coherent. Once I realized that, it became very easy to envision games that would teach students all the parts of a sentence and award numerical values for the complexity and structure of that sentence.

I created several math games that are all variations of Blackjack, for my mom's classes. Teachers in higher level classes eventually asked if I could make them games that were more advanced. The 5th grade teachers are having their classes play '41', which is a game that I based on Blackjack. The goal is to get your hand as close to totaling 41 as possible, by reorganizing your cards. The first card is just a number, the second card is added to the total, the third card is multiplied or divided, and the fourth card is subtracted. We take out the Faces and Aces, so that they have the numbers 2 through 10. If, at the end of your turn, your total is less than 4 or greater than 41, you bust.

Just for projects in school (never to really play in class) I've built a few simulation style games. One was an American Civil War game that was based heavily on Warhammer-style rules, but drastically simplified because races and training didn't make as large a difference. I also helped a teacher create an Economic Model game, where each of his 3 classes split into 4 countries (in 3 regions of our fictional world). Each day they were given choices to make, and told how much of each type of 24 resources they produced. There was a "world market" where they could set the sale prices of their products, to be bought and sold using Monopoly money or traded for, and it was very hands off. The kids (and teacher) were initially shocked that by the end of the first two weeks of playing, they had created an economy that worked almost exactly like our current world market does, with hardly any rules or guidance from the game itself. The even went to war occasionally, with rules provided.

Rather than figure out a theme, you figure out what mechanic fits with your curriculum, and then paste a thinly-veiled theme over that. The better the mechanics fit the subject, the better the educational quality. The better the subject is masked behind the theme, the more the kids will like it.

Word Nerd
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Play = Learning

"[How] many of us out there are working on games for teaching?"

I have always used games for teaching, and I've found them useful for every subject (I've never taught physical education, though).

"[How] do you work within the constraints of teaching requirements to deliver a fun product?"

I ask myself, "What is the learning objective here?" and "How can I design the activity to respond to this need?" Games are inherently fun (or should be) for my students because they do not resemble traditional "book learning" activities.

"[How] do you deal with the educational establishment's general misunderstanding regarding what constitutes a game and how how (sic) games can promote learning?"

(1) Everything is a game because everything is learning. I like to take a mundane activity from their daily lives (e.g. grocery shopping; commuting) and demonstrate how it is actually a "game" that results in "learning".

(2) I flood their email inboxes with internet links to educational research and reports on the role of play (and games) in learning. When they question my methods, I cite the information I've already sent to them, and ask them to challenge the validity of my approach with research they have conducted or discovered.

Play on.

MarkKreitler
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Belated thanks

Thanks, akanucho, for your thoughtful and thorough reply. I agree with all your points, and these two in particular:

1) All games promote learning
2) The best way to get students to learn is to get them interested

resonate with me. It's no coincidence that these 2 points seem to be the ones missing from modern education.

Good teachers manage to interest their kids, of course, but that's usually "something extra" that they do in addition to their "expected" work.

And, yes, sadly, much "learning" today seems to be about memorization.

What I meant by "working within the constraints of learning requirements" is this: teachers have a list of "learning targets" they must hit in each subject. These read like this: "Students must be able to differentiate between rational and irrational numbers," and "students must be able to graph a line given in point slope form." Recently, while developing some educational computer games, I was handed a list of learning requirements and told, "make a game that does this." That rarely ends well. I was wondering if others had run across this and, if so, how they modified their design process to make it work.

MarkKreitler
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More thanks

Orangebeard wrote:
neljer00 wrote:
2. Thus, my administration casts a leery eye my way when I bring up gaming in my classroom. They think along the lines of Chutes and Ladders, or Risk, or Monopoly, not a game that is driven by content. I have essentially gone 'off the radar' and not really discussed my gaming endeavor with the curriculum so as to operate unencumbered. Despite their skepticism, they have been supportive.

...otherwise I will cry!

It is disturbing that an educational approach that encourages application of knowledge must be "off the radar".

Would it be too dangerous to suggest that you invite the administrators to play the game?

Thanks for replying, Orangebeard.

I agree that NelJer's approach had many advantages over a typical lecture. I was hoping he'd have time to write a post-mortem at year's end so we could hear how his students -- and administrators -- felt about the experiment.

Given the "leery eye" that the establishment casts over games in the classroom, I'm wondering how many teachers even try.

On the plus side, there does seem to be a growing movement within the ranks to use "educational games" on tablet computers within the classroom. I'm not sure why this seems more palatable, and it's far from wide acceptance, but it's growing. It helps that the Gates' Foundation is pushing this development. Hopefully, video games can be the camel's nose under the tent, with board games following close behind.

MarkKreitler
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Solve and Settle

As a high school math teacher I always seem to be jotting ideas down for a game to use in my classroom. I got frustrated in not being able to find a game that did what I wanted it to do so I made my own through The Game Crafter. It is called Solve and Settle and it has an entry over at BoardGameGeek.

It's hard to find a mainstream game where solving trigonometric equations is involved...so I just create my own and use The Game Crafter to produce it. Knowing that I am not going to make millions on my games doesn't bother me but I make them available at TGC if people want them.[/quote]

I checked out "Solve and Settle" on BGG. It looks like a good combination of algebraic manipulation and strategy. I would've liked to play that back in middle school!

Using Game Crafter is a great idea, and one I hadn't thought of for this venue. The POD model seems like a perfect fit for the market. You may not get rich, but I'll bet you've made some teachers -- and many students -- a lot happier with algebra.

I hope you add an entry for your trig game when you complete it.

MarkKreitler
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Thanks, Sly

SlyBlu7 wrote:
I've put together a few very basic math and english games for my mom's classroom - she teaches 3rd grade. I also put together more than few games for higher levels of education.

Rather than figure out a theme, you figure out what mechanic fits with your curriculum, and then paste a thinly-veiled theme over that. The better the mechanics fit the subject, the better the educational quality. The better the subject is masked behind the theme, the more the kids will like it.

These games sound great -- especially the economics one. I've been wanting to make a networked multiplayer version of that sort of game for awhile, so that classes could play against each other.

All of the designs you describe have the clean, clear quality you always bring to the table. I expect this is even more important when you're designing for the classroom.

You make a good point about sentence structure and mathematics. Did you try that game in the classroom? How did the kids respond to it?

MarkKreitler
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Still more thanks

Word Nerd wrote:
"
(1) Everything is a game because everything is learning. I like to take a mundane activity from their daily lives (e.g. grocery shopping; commuting) and demonstrate how it is actually a "game" that results in "learning".

(2) I flood their email inboxes with internet links to educational research and reports on the role of play (and games) in learning. When they question my methods, I cite the information I've already sent to them, and ask them to challenge the validity of my approach with research they have conducted or discovered.

Play on.

Brilliant. Put another check in your column of, "ideas Mark wishes he'd had." You're racking up quite a few.

Pointing out the "gamey-ness" of everyday activities is also a great idea. I've tried this with my own kids various ways, but for some reason, rarely do so with other people. Usually, I try to create a game to illustrate a particular concept. And, as you point out, that's a valid approach in its own right, it misses the other avenue entirely.

Thanks for the though-provoking reply.

Telc
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link:

Sry, no time to read right now but the title made me think of this video
http://www.ted.com/talks/brenda_brathwaite_gaming_for_understanding.html

Telc
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What I mean starts at 4:45

What I mean starts at 4:45

lewpuls
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Sometimes teachers run into

Sometimes teachers run into the problem that administration assumes games must be electronic, even though the typical electronic game can isolate, and is more suitable for rote learning than for education. (There's also the problem of unavailability of computers.) Young people want interaction with others, which tabletop games provides.

Administrations (and teachers) often question whether students actually learn anything by playing games, often resorting to "is it confirmed by a paper assessment". As paper assessments tend to be multiple choice, hence far removed from reality ("life is an essay test"), they often don't really show whether people have learned, so a person who wants to use games is faced with a criterion that isn't valid. Rather those assessments show what people have memorized, not what they can DO. This varies greatly from subject to subject, of course.

Jim@TheMathGym
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Since I work for a company

Since I work for a company that has designed and self published both a really fun shoot-em-up style computer game to help kids reinforce and memorize their math facts (40% math and 60% game), and a board game (also translated into an online browser based version that plays identically to the board game) that really focuses on both creative/critical thinking by having the players craft mathematical expressions from drawn tiles just to move, and then focuses heavily on word problems in order to make the big money required to win (60% math and 40% game), we have to fight against both administrative AND teacher bias towards the use of games in the classroom.

As stated earlier, administration pretty much immediately knee jerks into thinking that all games are just useless time wasters like Chutes and Ladders and Monopoly, and since their budgets, jobs, and even the schools themselves are now tied directly to standardized testing scores, think that games are a waste of time that could be better spent teaching to a test. It sucks. It makes for a poor educational experience for the kids and teachers, and the kids really are learning less rather than more.

However, the more insidious issue is the one we have to deal with from the teachers... Their bonuses and jobs are on the line due to all of the emphasis being placed upon standardized test scores. Classes across the entire state must stay within a few days of one another curriculum wise, so teachers can't take the time to reinforce problem areas, nor can they forge ahead with a really bright class. We continue to leave those who are struggling behind, stifle the best and brightest, and slog ahead in total mediocrity. Hurray for No Child Left Behind, or as I call it, "Every Child Left Behind" because no one wins here except a few politicians capitalizing on useless feelgood legislation. So in the midst of all that CRAP teachers have pretty much relegated games to something that they can toss at the kids while they sit at their desk and grade papers, prepare lesson plans, or just plain zone out.

So at no point in any of this are games thought of as something that can be used to directly teach with in real time. Something that can actually be incorporated into lesson plans in order to help struggling children catch up, allow the middle of the road students to reinforce current lessons and begin to push ahead, and to allow the really bright kids to shine and advance as far and as fast as they want. Trying to break into this market is HARD. Really hard, and as a self publisher we haven't seen many fruits for our labors. So now we've got to find either a publisher, distributor, or both as we need to do a serious retool of our board game in order to lower costs and increase both saleability and profitability, who truly knows the educational market and can partner with and help us break down, and through those barriers.

So if anyone here knows of any distributors, publishers, or hybrid companies that specialize in educational games, or at least have extensive experience in field as part of their portfolio, or as a specialized division, I'd LOVE to hear from you! Better yet, if you work for or own such a company I'd REALLY love to hear from you! Suggestions? Ideas? Any help would be greatly appreciated!

Jim Waid
The Math Gym
www.themathgym.com
www.amoebamath.com

PS... We have free trials should you want to try things out and offer any criticism, suggestions, and/or praise.

Corsaire
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Common Core

Hi Jim,
I work with an education resources company, though I wouldn't be able to help with a connection. It looks like your company has done good legwork on research and effectiveness. Right now the big trend is in common core, if you research math common core, and document which common core requirements your game emphasizes. The areas in Operations and Algebraic thinking have language that melds well to games. You can see the standards at commoncore.org.

Another observation I've made is that resources should tie to training for their best reception. If your can offer a half hour video or so of using the game to satisfy common core requirements, getting kids engaged, etc. you are likely better positioned. Maybe throw in a certificate.

I had found a site on an education tech board game course that ended up leading me here and to The Game Crafter...
http://edweb.sdsu.edu/courses/edtec670/

Your products look interesting, but much of the sales information seems oriented toward the individual rather than towards the school. If a school or even a classroom teacher is interested, questions like: how many copies and what cost per do I need to get my whole class involved? Or how many students are covered by that subscription? Come to mind.

Kroz1776
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World Peace Game

I have Six words for you...

Search Ted Talks, World Peace Game.

This video is amazing and is right down your alley. (Of course this may be TOO radical for your administration)

Sometimes you can adapt already existing games to your class. In my college accounting class we played Monopoly and then had to record every transaction we made and make financial statements for it. Super fun, and a learning experience.

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