Five Reasons You Should Teach with Games

Adults love games. Kids love games. Both groups of people work in classrooms. So why aren’t classrooms filled with game based learning?

Some teachers have resisted gaming because they see it as a chance for students to goof off rather than focusing. In their minds, games do not truly teach content and thus do not provide educational value.

Over the past few years, learning games have evolved to include content of real value. Meaningful learning games are now easily accessible for teachers. Legends of Learning offers 900 science curricula games for middle school.

Take it from this teacher. Game based learning is not only fun for students it makes teaching easier.

Five Reasons to Use Games in Your Classroom

Teacher showing child tablet

1. Students Love Games – Most students already spend free time playing games online with friends, watching other gamers play on YouTube, and bragging to each other about who’s the best gamer.

Introducing games into your class is a natural extension of what your students already like. With so many games available that teach content, its the perfect fit for your classroom.

2. One on One Time with Students – Imagine getting to walk around a room of 30 students and having meaningful one on one conversations with each of them. Because students are so engaged, off-task behavior with game play is minimal, in turn giving you time to work with the students who need your help most.

3. Curricula Games Mean Learning – Games are effective because students have so much fun playing the games they don’t even think about whether learning is taking place. When students are engaged, they learn significantly more content and remember more of what they learned. This leads to higher test scores and more confidence taking on complex tasks in the classroom.

4. Struggling Students Feel Included – When students struggle, they often stay quiet or act out. Because games are fun and teach content without shame, struggling students engage and learn at their own pace.

It’s common to see organic conversations about content crop up during class. Students who never raise hands show eagerness to participate. Games remind you that all students want to learn, they just need the right vehicle.

5. Personalized Learning – Games let students take control of what they learn. Students teach themselves new material or review existing knowledge via engaging gameplay. Teachers facilitate learning, gently guiding students through game play, and helping them think critically about decision points. This is the 21st century classroom.

As you consider your lesson plans for the school year, imagine the possibilities games offer as an everyday part of your instruction. Simply put, game based learning can transform your classroom. Want proof? Try Legends of Learning science games for three weeks and watch student achievement take off in your classroom.

Aryah Fradkin is Manager of Teacher Outreach and Engagement for Legends of Learning. Prior to joining the Legends, he taught middle school for six years in Baltimore City Public Schools.

Creating a Blended Learning Culture in Your School

Excerpted from Eight Steps to Successfully Implement Blended Learning in Your Classroom. Download it today.

Having technology in your classroom can be a fantastic thing. It has the potential to expose your students to a world of information, hand’s on projects and game based learning, like our middle school science games. In order to maximize your classroom experience with blended learning it is critical to have a school culture that supports technology integration.

Getting Administrators and Parents On Board

Catlin Tucker, co-author of “Blended Learning in Action,” shares the importance of a shared vision in her article, “Sharing the Journey to Blended Learning.”

Making the shift from traditional learning to blended learning is daunting and impacts every stakeholder in a school community, including leaders, teachers, IT staff, students, and parents. As a result, the journey from old to new, from traditional to blended, must be a shared journey—one in which all stakeholders are engaged and all voices are heard.

For a blended learning initiative to be successful long-term, decisions cannot be top down or device driven. Instead leaders must carefully consider why they want to make a shift to blended learning and how that shift will benefit members of the school community.

To get administrators and parents on board, use these two approaches.

Administrators

Administrators may hesitate to invest in blended learning because of cost or lackluster results. Overcome their concerns with detailed research and data that show blended learning’s past successes and your plans to implement the teaching model in the classroom.

Administrators also want hard numbers about projected academic performance. They prefer financial documents, implementation plans, and blended learning examples. The more data and documentation you can provide, the more likely your blended learning proposal will receive approval.

Parents

Parents care about academic performance on a more personal level—everyone wants their child to succeed. They want to know how their child is performing academically, and what you’re teaching in the classroom. They also desire to learn how to help their child improve test scores and study habits.

To reach parents, talk through how blended learning will motivate their student to learn and excel, they will back the initiative. Your conversation could prompt them to become advocates on your behalf and secure support from administrators, other teachers, and peer parents.

Establishing a Blended Learning Culture in the Classroom

http://www.schooltechnology.org Photos of elementary students using iPads at school to do amazing projects. student_ipad_school - 235

Blended Learning Universe marks the importance of culture in blended learning success. The organization states:

Blended learning can sustain a bad culture or help create a new one. Culture is especially useful — or toxic — in blended programs because blended learning goes hand in hand with giving students more control and flexibility. If students lack the processes and cultural norms to handle that agency, the shift toward a personalized environment can backfire.

As such, your blended learning culture sets the tone for classroom instruction and assignments. It fosters the right attitudes in students, inside and outside the classroom. Culture can affect parents, too, causing them to encourage, rather than frustrate, their students’ blended learning activities.

To establish culture inside the classroom, begin with clear and honest communication with your students. Set expectations for your blended learning program, whatever it encompasses—classroom projects, edgames, student teams, at-home assignments, et cetera.

Also employ “TRICK,” an acronym suggested by Esther Wojcicki and Lance Izumi, authors of “Moonshots in Education: Launching Blended Learning in the Classroom.” The acronym stands for trust, respect, independence, collaboration, and kindness. When your classroom embodies those five traits, students learn, grow scholastically and personally, and desire to help their fellow students.

Outside the classroom, you should also focus on communication, this time with parents. Just because you got their initial buy-in doesn’t mean your work is done. Let parents know how their kids are enjoying and improving thanks to your new blended learning environment.

Remember that some parents may not be familiar with digital technologies and tools, especially if you teach in a rural or underserved area. Share basic information about blended learning with these parents, and offer opportunities for them to experience it in the classroom. Showing parents how blended learning works can better convince them than a letter sent home.

Finally, aim to spread your blended learning culture across the school campus. Your own success with the initiative often sells itself, but you should talk about it, too. Sharing results and personal testimony invites other teachers to participate in blended learning and make a difference in their classrooms.

You can download the whole white paper Eight Steps to Successfully Implement Blended Learning in Your Classroom here on the Legends of Learning site.

Game Based Learning and the Blended Classroom

Game Based Learning (GBL) and the blended classroom have become increasingly popular instructional options as teachers strive to improve teaching and learning. These two instructional forms complement each other well. Both serve the 21st century classroom by engaging students in their education and giving them opportunities to develop not only basic curriculum mastery but also critical thinking and problem solving skills.

GBL uses games to aid students’ learning. Although GBL can drastically transform instruction, as in the case of using World of Warcraft to teach humanities, GBL can be as simple as playing Jeopardy to review materials before summative assessment. Both applications involve games to complement or replace more traditional instructional methods, such as lectures, Q&As, and worksheets.

Most teachers employ some form of GBL. However, we must be careful not to confuse GBL with gamification. In gamification, a teacher incorporates the mechanics of game play and game design into the curriculum. Teachers who espouse GBL take a very different approach. They infuse the curriculum with games, and the games become primary methods to introduce, explore, explain, and reinforce material.

Blended Learning

Blended learning fuses online and traditional “brick and mortar” instruction. Some teachers assume using technology equals a blended classroom; however, blended learning should be viewed as more of a spectrum between traditional “brick and mortar” instruction on one end and online-only classes on the other. Most truly blended classrooms feature 1) students who access some class content and instruction online outside of the traditional time and space of the classroom, and 2) a Classroom Management System (CMS) such as Edmodo or Moodle.

Game Based Learning and Blended Learning in Practice

GBL fits seamlessly into a blended instructional model. Games can act as bridges between the physical, face-to-face environment and an online classroom in at least three ways.

First, a student could play games independently, outside the regular class time and setting. Sites like Quizizz and Quizlet have popularized this method. For this to be successful, teachers must possess some way to track student progress and learning. This usually occurs in the form of tracking time spent on the game and assessing students’ answers and feedback to questions.

Second, a teacher could meet with students in a virtual environment. Examples of such environments include Minecraft: Education Edition and Second Life. With this method, the teacher schedules a time to meet in a virtual space within the game. Students and teacher are therefore in different places but meeting at the same time. The mode of instruction varies depending on the virtual environment and game limitations. A lecture is possible in Second Life, for example, but not Minecraft.

Third, a student could meet and play with other students in a game environment without teacher supervision. The situation arises when students are assigned collaborative Minecraft projects or asked to compete against other students in some games found on ABCya!.

GBL perfectly suits a blended classroom framework. With it, teachers meet students’ expectations—today’s students already “game” with other students. Teachers also overcome challenges found with typical homework assignments and assessments.

Games can reduce testing anxiety and increase student motivation to engage and learn. In fact, some teachers see students playing games outside of class sheerly for the joy of it. For those reasons and many more, game based learning will become a more common mode of instruction that extends learning beyond the classroom.

Scott Beiter teachers science at Rensselaer Jr. Sr. High in Rensselaer, New York. Follow his blog, Full Sail Science, to learn more.

Get Your Classroom Ready for Blended Learning

The following is an excerpt from our new white paper, “Eight Steps to Successfully Implement Blended Learning in Your Classroom.” Download it today!

Do you ever find yourself leaving school at the end of the day thinking you could have taught your lesson just a little bit better? It is very natural as a teacher to take stock of your day and think about adjustments you can make for tomorrow. What if you could use tools like games to make a large scale change to your classroom that would lead to much higher levels of engagement and achievement? You can, and blended learning is the 21st century key to this kind of change.

You might be wondering how can you transform your classroom with a blended learning model? After all, the possibilities with tech based learning — middle school science games (hint, hint) — can be truly infinite given the right strategies.

Time to Rearrange the Desks

http://www.schooltechnology.org Photos of elementary students using iPads at school to do amazing projects. student_ipad_school - 030

Whether you have a cart of iPads or a room full of Chromebooks, integrating technology into your classroom is a great way to engage students in learning. One facet, the classroom setup, is often overlooked. It might seem that just putting technology on the desk in place of a textbook will improve a student’s experience and engagement, but research has found otherwise.

Says Ramona Persaud, Edutopia contributor, “From the front door and school grounds to the classroom, the aesthetics of learning spaces impact brain function and influence how students feel when they’re in school—as well as how they feel about their school.”

You likely understand Persaud’s point intuitively. Students perform better when they feel comfortable, safe, and feel as though they belong. You might even have anecdotal evidence demonstrating the impact of something as simple as a desk arrangement.

If classroom setup is instrumental in determining the success of your blended learning model, try something a little out of the box next year. Get a bunch of chairs and a couch and have your students use them during blended learning time. No room in the budget for furniture? No problem! Let students sit on the floor. Students simply do not have to be sitting at a desk in order to be engaged in learning.

Seven Ways to Set Up Your Class For Success

http://www.schooltechnology.org Photos of elementary students using iPads at school to do amazing projects. student_ipad_school - 112

Check out this great list of recommendations from Blended Learning Universe on how to arrange your classroom for Blended Learning.

  • Station Rotation – moves students from station to station on a fixed schedule, with at least one (if not all) of the stations featuring digital learning activities such as games, puzzles, or videos. The rotation can free up teaching time, allowing you to work one-on-one with students needing extra attention.
  • Lab Rotation – looks similar to Station Rotation except that students go to a dedicated computer lab rather than an in-classroom station. Many teachers enjoy the flexibility of using an outside lab in terms of both scheduling and classroom layouts.
  • Individual Rotation – provides students with personalized schedules and assignments. The students may or may not visit every work station in a single day, instead focusing their attention on completing assigned activities.
  • Flipped Classroom – changes the classroom dynamic. Students learn at home via a digital curriculum and online lectures. They then complete teacher-guided projects and other activities in the classroom.
  • Flex – gives the most control to students. It allows them to move through classroom curriculum and activities — both digital and traditional — on a fluid schedule. Teachers, in turn, offer support and instruction as needed. This model tends to use online learning to a greater degree than the previous four.
  • A La Carte – allows schools to offer electives they can’t provide due to a lack of on-site resources. The model often supplements high school classes.
  • Enriched Virtual – requires students to learn at home via online instructional materials and meet with a teacher face-to-face two to three times a week. This model tends to be less common than the other six.

No matter which approach you choose, remember that bringing blended learning into the classroom is a chance to approach student learning in a new way. Do something new this year with your class and get excited for a transformational 2017-2018 school year!!!

Don’t forget to download the new white paper, “Eight Steps to Successfully Implement Blended Learning in Your Classroom.”

Make Tech Easy
for Teachers to Use

When it comes to digital education content, technology and tools, ease of use reigns supreme. If we don’t make new media and tech easy for teachers, they won’t use them in the classroom.

Good digital education tools can be tremendously beneficial in the classroom. They help teachers engage students AND reinforce the educator’s lessons. We know this. But as such, that tool must do more than simply entertain students, and meet a basic loose affiliation with curriculum topics. They must be intuitive and natural to implement.

This is a classic user experience conundrum. User experience (UX) concerns itself with making a customer happy before, during, and after using a product. Unfortunately, education content, games and tech products have been criticized for not meeting the UX bar in the past. Ease of use is one of the main culprits.

Creating a successful education UX requires understanding teachers’ challenges with technology as much as it does building great curriculum media for students. Teachers don’t receive as much professional development as they would in an ideal world. Many struggle with using the latest technology on a personal basis, much less figuring out how to deploy it in the classroom.

Content creators and developers should understand what makes a new digital tool in the classroom useful. Does the media reinforce teacher lessons, or is it a distraction? Can a teacher use the product as part of their core curriculum, or does it seek to replace them in some way? Will a teacher be able to use student data for productive analytics, or do privacy risks interfere?

“Companies often overlook the fact that younger students do not have email addresses, and that teachers are more likely to use technology if it is easier to set up class rosters with user names and passwords,” said Richard White, Science Department Chair, Griffin Middle School. “I need to be able to import CSV files and have the software generate the user names while I assign a generic password.”

It makes sense to engineer content and tools to work for the teacher as much as they work for the student. A happy teacher makes for a successful use of the new education tool.

Providing Integration

Making new tech easy for teachers to implement within larger district learning management (LMS) and student information systems (SIS) is a primary consideration. “Products need to have seamless integration within existing district technology ecosystems,” said Scott Beiter, a science teacher at Rensselaer Junior Senior High School. “A district won’t buy all new hardware just to adopt one wonderful product.”

For example, integrating into Google for Education allows teachers across the country to use digital tools. Similarly, working within other widespread and adopted education standards, both curriculum and technological, helps teachers use your tool.

“Two words: Google integration!” added Rebecca Beiter, a teacher at Bethlehem Central School District.

A Little How-to Help Goes a Long Way

Sometimes making a new digital tool work in a classroom is as much as about guidance as the actual tool itself. Not every teacher will pick up on how to implement a tool, no matter how well designed it is.

Many companies release their tools with video tutorials, webinars, professional development, and user support forums to make their tech easy for teachers. Some actively seek feedback from teachers and incorporate that feedback in their product evolutions (have you joined the Legends of Learning community yet?).

Secondary content such as lesson plans and evaluation tools can make a big difference for a teacher’s experience. Not only does the digital tool work, but the supplementary content helps teachers at least consider how to implement in the classrooms.

Going the extra mile can make all the difference for a new education tool.

Additional Teacher Insights

We asked our Legends of Learning community members what they thought about the topic, too. Several offered additional insights:

“Making tech media accessible to students on a free basis is crucial,” said Caitlin Unterman, a teacher at Bedford County Public Schools. “Also, including easy to read instructions, easy to manipulate sites, and allowing for manipulation of content, is key!”

“As an educator, companies need to follow CIPA rules and make student sign up easy and without emails,” said Bobby Brian Lewis, Bibb County Schools. “They can also make tech that can read to students to meet the needs of special needs students such as close caption. Tech companies need to be aware of the needs of students with special needs.”

“Companies should look to their local community to help schools improve their internet connections,” said Nancy Hoppa, Ingenuity Program, Baltimore City Public Schools. “Many school communities are in older buildings and just getting connected in the first place presents a no go situation. One in which we need to almost always have a back up plan just in case. Another big problem we are facing is using technology for engineering/stem based projects. We need tools to construct the projects we are designing online and training. This generation does not have nearly as much experience working with hammer, nails and saws!”

There’s no single best way to make tech easy for teachers. Doing so is crucial to enable students to succeed in the digital age.

What do you think?

Can We Inspire Intellectualism through Engagement?

In the post-truth era, American society has come to devalue intellectualism. Twitter wars and opining about “alternative” facts take precedence. This lack of commitment to reason and knowledge doesn’t merely turn adults into pessimists and skeptics with the attention span of goldfish. It affects students, too, and their ability to reason and discover what is true.

Without a genuine hunger for knowledge, today’s students will struggle to discern actionable information in their preferred fields of study and careers. That is true regardless of a region, state, or family’s politics. The hallmark of education is teaching students to use knowledge and thought to reason their way to conclusions.

But how can educators inspire intellectualism in a time of deep mistrust in public discourse?

Perhaps the top method is to combat boredom in the classroom with engagement. Note the word: engagement. It’s not entertainment. The distinction is critical. Students need to learn, not to be amused. You can have both in the same environment, but entertainment is not and must never be the primary objective.

“We need to get away from thinking that the opposite of ‘bored’ is ‘entertained,'” says  said Todd Rose, Ed.M.’01, Ed.D.’07, a lecturer at the Ed School and director of the Mind, Brain, and Education Program at Harvard University. “It’s ‘engaged.’” Successful education is not about pumping cartoons and virtual reality games into the classroom; it’s about finding ways to make curriculum more resonant, personalized, and meaningful for every student.

Engagement as a Precursor

With engagement, a true interest in pursuing knowledge develops. Lea Taylor and Jim Parson note note several forms of engagement in an article published on Arizona State University’s Current Issues in Education.:

  • Academic
  • Cognitive
  • Intellectual
  • Institutional
  • Emotional
  • Behavioral
  • Social
  • Psychological

While a variety of pedagogical techniques — including blended learning, problem-based learning, and, yes, game-based-learning — may inspire some forms of engagement, not all of them are guaranteed. Fostering intellectualism in students is a by-product of the right conditions. One thing is clear: Engagement, curiosity, and interest are precursors of successful learning.

Engagement Stimulates Learning and Curiosity

And learning is the point. It’s one of the reasons Legends of Learning ties curriculum to its edgames and focuses on shorter games. It’s hard to deliver an engaging experience that survives classroom interruptions. But when students engage in a meaningful experience, no matter how short, their interest in school subjects can grow.

That interest can lead to deeper understanding and application, what Dr. Mike Davis of the Colorado Academy terms “intellectual curiosity.” Students grasp what they know and use it to comprehend new concepts. Fostering curiosity through the exploration of new and unresolved situations, i.e., games, can be a tremendous spark for children, as well one in which both teachers and parents can participate.

“But what about those test scores?” you ask.

Engagement comes to the rescue here, too. The quality of engagement can also improve retention. “If the students are interested and inspired to think about things for prolonged periods, then memory is enhanced,” says Ben Johnson, an administrator. Engagement wins again and provides yet another reason to build blended classrooms that integrate teacher-led activities with engaging exercises and games.

Will an engaged classroom become an intellectual one? Perhaps, perhaps not, but it certainly brings us one step closer towards helping students think and reason for themselves.

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