Bill MacKenty

  Home     Computing     Teaching     Bushcraft     Games     Writing     About  

An invitation to try computer games in your classroom

Posted in Games in education on 11 - February 2006 at 05:45 PM (18 years ago). 225 views.

Who this is for:

This guide is primarily written for K-12 teachers who are interested in using computer games in their classroom. This guide may also be helpful for administrators and system administrators.

The invitation:

Are you a K-12 teacher interested in using computer games in your classroom?

Maybe you want to harness the energy, time and enthusiasm students put into games. Perhaps there is a historical simulation which perfectly addresses a curriculum idea. Maybe you want to try something fun with your students.

We are going to explore some hands-on strategies, some do’s and don’ts, and points for successful implementation of computer games in your classroom. As a point, I hope much of this will be similar to solid instructional design…I’ve also included some examples to get you started.

As always,  you are warmly invited contact me with any questions or comments.

QUESTION 1: What are your goals?

The best place to start planning a lesson is at the end.  By the time this unit of instruction is over, what will our students know?  What understandings will they be able to demonstrate?  This is

quite important

.  When the goal drives the lesson, we are able to plan more clearly. 

Learning goals communicate to administration, community members, colleagues, and our students. Specific, clear goals, with specific and clear learning objectives. The more specific, the better. 

Example: My learning goal is to teach a class of 7th grade students the role of sea commerce in the mid to late 1700’s. By the time this lesson is over, my students should be able to:

a. Define commerce, identify 4 or 5 factors of commerce, and assess the supply/demand model of commerce in the 1700’s. Look for related supply/demand in their town or city.
b. Name four major sea routes, explain why these sea routes were popular, illustrate these routes on a map.
c. Discuss the ships which were used. explain how the “technology of the day” is related to commerce. Provide concrete examples.
d. Identify the risks involved with mid to late 1700’s shipping.

QUESTION 2: Is a computer game the right choice?

Just as with other instructional strategies, there are some things to consider when we think about using computer games in a classroom.

1) Your learners. Are your kids amenable to technology? Are they able to draw inferences from experiential activities? With the proper structure, can they stay on-task? Are there any disabilities which would prevent a child from using a computer? Note: most of these things can be heavily influenced by instructional design.

2) You. Have you played the game?  Are computer games fun for you?  Are you comfortable using technology?  Can you fix simple computer problems?  Are you willing to go the extra mile to create a good framework for the kids to learn? Have you developed really clear learning outcomes?

3) Time.  Although some parts of some computer games can be completed in 40 minutes, my experience has been 3 or 4 40 minutes classes do the trick. We usually spend the first class learning to use the game, the second just playing, and the third and fourth playing the game with good instructional design.

4) Technology. Have you discussed this with your system administrator? Well before the class?  As a rule of thumb, system administrators don’t like surprises.  Perhaps you could include them early on in the planning process.  Will the game work on the technology? Are any of the computers different (older stuff)?  Will you be using a 1 computer to 1 student model, or 2:1, 3:1?

As a side note, I’ve found students to work very well together when we use games to teach.

5) Outcomes. Are they written down, super clear, and linked to a state standards? 

You may wonder why I am so insistent about this.  I believe we need to use a higher standard when we use games in education…I often tell teachers to be prepared to justify your teaching to anyone who walks in. The initial reaction when a colleague, administrator, or community member walks into a computer lab full of game-playing-students is disbelief. I like to be ready, “Well,

, the kids are learning about


6) Support. Don’t try to use games without support from your administration, and your tech support team. The energy and power games invoke is really cool.  If we wake that energy and passion, and then squash it with a technical problem or a procedural problem, kids can feel genuinely disappointed.

Example: My students are very computer savvy, with over 98% having a computer at home. The average student spends between 1 and 2 hours per day at their computer.  I’m a computer geek, and have played computer games for a looooong time. I have allocated 5 to 6 classes to teach a specific subject.  I have assessed my technology needs and tested the technology to ensure the games work. My learning objectives are concise and a printed copy is on my desk. I’ve asked my principal for permission to run this activity, and I’ve shown him my lesson plans, and outcomes…he said yes.