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Some answers to some common questions:
1. How can teachers who haven’t yet used video games in the classroom get started?
Play them! I suggest you snuggle into a comfortable chair and try your hand at ANY of the following titles:
Sim City (any version)
Civilization (there are 4 versions, play any of them)
Age of Mythology (any version)
Age of Empires (any version)
Muzzy Lane - the Calm and the Storm
I’d stick with these. There are a bunch of games, which although quite popular, would be spectacularly inappropriate for the classroom.
2. What if there’s only one computer?
This is a common scenario in many schools. I would shy away from using the above games in a one-computer classroom for a couple of reasons:
1. It’s tremendously distracting for other students
2. Games in the classroom work when we buffer the learning activity with questions and discussions before and after. This would be difficult with only a few students.
3. Three or four kids can play around a single computer - but no more. I think managing time would be tough (if each group played for 40 minutes).
I would however, strongly recommend a computer lab for these activities (we could talk about the dysfunctional relationship many schools have with their computer labs if you want). If you have jigsaw learning games might work in a one-computer classroom.
3. What are some examples of clear learning outcomes for using games such as Civilization, Sims or Sim City in the classroom?
With Civilization, there are clear connections between science, growth, transportation, civil rights, history, and war. In Sims there are clear connections between working, education, and lifestyle. In Age of Empires, we can see the relationship between kings, peasants…and we can ask kids to think about economics (cost/benefit, limited resources, etc…)
The truth is, any teacher can create good connections with these games…it’s about planning and assessment.
4. What are some of the most popular games teachers are using today?
Hmm. Popular? I’d say Sim City is probably the king of the hill. As we investigate games in education, Civilization emerges as a top contender, and Muzzy Lane’s title, the Calm and the Storm, is a great title (Muzzy Lane is an important step forward for games in education - I’ll tell you why in another blog post). I would also look at Age of Empires series.
5. What are the top three to five tips you would offer teachers who’d like to start using games to enrich curriculum?
The more specific you are with your learning objectives, the higher chance you have to succeed. I think is true for any learning activity, not just games!