Game Based Learning: From Oregon Trail to Mindcraft

Game Based Learning, I went into this week expecting read about students hooked up to virtual reality games and Minecraft building the minds of our students. However, I was surprised that really it is just the modern version of what has been happening since at least the 90s, just modernized.  It has been around since I was in school, does anyone remember Oregon Trail? In elementary school my world was filled with games, our teachers created games for everything and because I’m a competitor I loved it.  When I began teaching in 2006 my students played games (albeit board games) to reinforce content, heck even our math instruction was based on students playing review games.  

When I read A Guide to Game-Based Learning I loved the simple explanations, examples, and all the resources (hello Game Based Learning Wiki!–different from this week’s blog wiki)  that are out there to modernize Game Based Learning.  However it didn’t just focus on digital games, it also shared some ways to bring gaming into your classroom through traditional games. When I taught I loved to do simulations with my class. Interact is an amazing company with simulations across disciplines that my students absolutely loved. The level of engagement and focus was incredible, and still to this day I have students that talk about the colonization of America with me because of their class’ simulation.  I have to admit, even though I feel comfortable with technology the thought of adding gaming into my class intimidated me. I loved that traditional games were included, because in my opinion Game Based Learning is similar to SAMR, not all learning requires a crazy innovative game.

Now, how do we use Game Based Learning to support that “Our schools that aren’t failing: it is our theory of learning that is failing. Once we rethink what it means to learn in a way that is based on passion, imagination, inquiry and questing, it becomes easy to reshape classrooms to those goals.” Gaming (both virtual and in real life) foster all of these things. While I feel more comfortable with IRL (in real life) gaming,  Jane McGonigol’s TED Talk opened my eyes to how people’s emotions, inspirations, and possibilities ebb and flow while playing virtual games.  In addition, it sparked my interest on how to create an environment in real life where students feel they can be as successful as they can in their online gaming. In What Video Games Can Teach Us James Gee stated, “Kids diagnosed with ADHD because they can’t pay attention will play games for 9 straight hours on the computer,” Gee says. “The game focuses attention in a way that school doesn’t.”

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My visual notes on Jane McGonigal's TEDTalk

My visual notes on Jane McGonigal’s TEDTalk


I watched countless videos about virtual gaming, and found a brilliant trinket of information, but with so many tabs open I unfortunately closed the one video that this came from.  I’ll set the scene and hope it can make up for my negligent citing of the source.  A panel was discussing why teachers should let/encourage their students to game.  One of the panel members shared about Tony Robins theory that in order to make a permanent change in your life you have to associate a emotion with it. He compared education to gaming; education is not emotional, there is a long time between the feelings of accomplishment (grading) whereas in gaming you experience highs and lows about every 10-15 seconds. It becomes addicting, yet at the same time if you hit a low you know you can bounce back soon.  I thought that was an interesting point related to feedback and motivation.

As I said earlier, just like the SAMR model Game Based Learning depends on matching the right game to your learning objective. So how as educators do we find the correct game to foster learning and reinforce learning.  After thinking about this I came to the conclusion that games can be used for different outcomes.  First, you have your content games, to reinforce the content you’ve already taught or possibly to introduce an upcoming unit.  This would be like EDM games, Kahoot (now available in teams), review games, etc. Second, you have the games that will teach your students all the non-tangibles–creativity, collaboration, imagination, perseverance, etc–hopefully through class content, but not always.  And thirdly, you have the games that will expose students to the problems our world is facing and empower them to think critically, problem solve, and communicate clearly in order to participate in their future. The last two are intertwined, the difference being one is more tied to content and the other not as tied in and possibly more open to higher order thinking.

What now?  Honestly, I am not sure.  I am so intrigued by Game Based Learning, and I am searching for ways to incorporate it into my job. As I stated in earlier courses my school is trying to figure out how to use the Dynamic Learning (DL) class more effectively, and this seems like a great option.  As we head into the end of the year I am keeping it in my mind to find online simulations/games that are age appropriate for students to work through together.  I’m thinking DL could be a mix of Genius Hour (Passion Projects) and Game Based Learning.

I’ve also shared the resources and ideas with my teachers. Just passing the resources along won’t be enough, our time is tight here and the curriculum is full so I think it would behoove of me to sit down with teachers and look for direct links into their class curriculum. I’m on the hunt for Portuguese games/simulations to share, so if anyone has any resources please send them my way.
To conclude I want to share Fun Theory with you, this is an initiative of Volkswagon that solves problems in a fun way. They’re all about “changing human behavior for the better by making it fun to do.” The company is the child of Problem Based Learning and Game Based Learning, this is the direction that education should head.  Check out the winners (fair warning you can spend some time watching all of them!).

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on “Game Based Learning: From Oregon Trail to Mindcraft
4 Comments on “Game Based Learning: From Oregon Trail to Mindcraft
  1. Hi Megan,

    The title of your post caught my eye because I used to love playing the Oregon Trail! I like how in your post you  break down the different outcomes for games. I hadn’t really thought of it in this way before. I have definitely used games in the 1st and 2nd way but rarely ever in the third (I also love kahoot!) I found this article on how gaming can support multiple learning styles that you might find interesting.

  2. I love that Fun Theory video! I wonder how I could create the same type of competition for my kids.

    The amount of links in this post really shows how much thinking there is on this topic. I am kind of overwhelmed by it myself. But I always go back to the idea that kids are absorbed when they play games and it is not passive. I don’t think even now I’m even close to capturing that absorption in my class, but it’s a goal.

    As always, I hope you keep sharing!

    • I love Fun Theory, at my school the HS students are tackling food waste. I wonder if I could point them into the game direction I’m thinking guess the weight or tracking the amount of food we waste, then researching how much weight/food it takes to feed children going hungry.

      I, with you, am overwhelmed, but so excited. I’m wondering how I can get my teachers gaming through PD and/or meetings.

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