5 Tips to Level-up Game-based Learning in the Classroom

Over the past five years, frequent studies and experiments on game-based learning (GBL) have been performed, showing promising results; according to one, nearly three-quarters (74%) of K-8 teachers report using digital games for instruction. 

Games, however, are not a magic formula that will solve all educational woes. Rather, they are educational tools and while GBL is an exciting development for many educators, it is one that poses an important question: how do you bring it into the classroom successfully? 

Here are my top five tips to do just that.

1. Start small

Implementing an entirely new technique or tool in the classroom can sometimes seem like a daunting task. This is why it is helpful to begin with simple steps.

A good first step is to focus on one topic that best fits the profile and interest of the class; for example, a science activity for a class that is really engaged in science. Set up a short session with modest goals and clear rules for students. This will facilitate quick feedback and identify areas for potential adjustment. 

2. Select an appropriate resource 

Game stores are full of educational apps, but not all educational apps are equal. Check out the user reviews on various sites and look for reviews from specialized blogs and educational websites, such as Graphite, Kindertown and HMH’s own HMH Marketplace, which offers thousands of teacher-created resources that supplement classroom learning. Annie Murphy Paul wrote an article on her blog that includes some high-quality educational resources as well. Among the list, there is Agnitus, Endless Alphabet and Sago Mini Ocean Swimmer

3. Ask for feedback

How do you know if a GBL experience is adding value to the learning process? One way to verify if the experience is “working” is by asking students for feedback from the start. Did they enjoy the game? What did they like/dislike? What did they learn? Are they better at something now than they were before they played?

To go one step further, empower students and build on their problem-solving and creativity skills by putting them in the position of a game designer. What would they change in the game if they could? What would they improve, add, or remove? 

4. Explore

Classrooms have their own unique patterns of student interactions, levels of knowledge, and personality. Because a game that works well in one class might not do as well in another, it’s often necessary to try different products to find the ones that work best for specific classroom needs. 

There are a range of products to choose from. Popular games, like Minecraft, Portal or the Sims, explore soft skills and have found an entry among educators. There are also games tied more closely to learning content, such as BrainPop, MangaHigh, iCivics or Filament Games, or those that were created first for a consumer market and then relaunched with a School Edition, like Dragon Box or Slice Fractions. Finally, there are more serious role-play oriented games that place users in simulation situations. Games for Change contains a vast library of these games, which address topics such as environment awareness and health. 

5. Stay tuned in

Initiatives and research on GBL are flourishing and it’s worth paying attention. Institute of Play, a non-profit research lab, brings learning and game designers together in order to create learning experiences rooted in the principles of game design—experiences that simulate real world problems, and require dynamic, well-rounded solutions. 

Similarly, Quest to Learn is a public middle school based in New-York that opened in 2009 whose specific curriculum includes GBL activities. Their mandate includes a team of educators creating daily games to address specific learning or assessment goals, focusing on areas where students typically struggle. 

Pay attention to developments in the GBL field as you may learn something you can incorporate in your own classroom. The use of educational games is growing, and learning from some of the sector’s exciting pioneers can be a reward in itself.