Tuesday, July 15, 2014 - 12:35
Student playing video games

Video games outside of the classroom are typically frowned upon by teachers. Some are too violent; some don’t force kids to think critically. Those schools of thought are starting to become a thing of the past in education. Now teachers are looking strategically at these games and using them as creative tools in the classroom to get students excited about learning. Video games can positively help a classroom and increase students learning.

A Wall Street Journal article by Stephanie Blanchero, stated that students in a private school in Houston explored the concept of Newton’s law of motion via sling shotting red angry birds across a video screen. Also “high school students in that same school created the, “Zombie Apocalypse” computer game to master character development. Also elementary students in Hampstead, N.C., build a virtual city to understand spatial reasoning.”

STEM - Science, Math and Physics

According to Blanchero, games and unique teaching tools represent a change in education of using videogames as teaching tools. “Though it’s still a budding movement scores of teachers nationwide are using games "Angry Birds," "Minecraft," "SimCity" and "World of Warcraft" to teach math, science, writing, teamwork and even compassion. In Chicago and New York, entire schools have been created that use the principles of game design in curriculum development.” This proves video games can positively help in the classroom setting and increase students learning.

This new movement has come about as younger teachers who grew up with these computer games are now utilizing them as innovative teaching methods for classrooms. Also kids’ interest in this medium (video gaming) has grown and it helps those students who need a faster paced learning environment instead of traditional lectures.

“Proponents say videogames can be powerful classroom instruments that prod students to think creatively to solve complex problems. They provide rapid feedback that forces students to rethink and alter strategies. And they can empower students to work together to conquer specific tasks.”

Video games unlike other methods of learning allow students, “to explore, be curious and persist through negative outcomes. In many of these games, the best way to learn is to continually fail and then reassess and try again. This creates a positive relationship with failure, especially because the stakes are so low."

In addition, to technical concepts, video games can teach students about creativity. A medieval village was created in Minecraft by Rocky Point high-schoolers for elementary-school kids to use. Geovany Villasenor, a senior at East Los Angeles Renaissance Academy, says he liked building virtual cities in Minecraft during his after-school club because it let his "imagination go wild." He adds that the game, which his teacher now uses in his architecture course, "taught me how to work in a community to get things done."

On the other side of the educational spectrum this new concept isn’t without its critics. “Opponents say games are addictive and violent. Some parents worry that children already spend too much time in front of glowing screens, while others argue that the games are based on rewards, corrupting the idea of learning.”

Teachers have been fans of technology and computer games for educational purposes. Now there is a new “Wave of innovation [that] takes popular video games and transforms them into learning tools, often creating lessons around Common Core math and language arts academic standards adopted by 45 states and DC. “

One video game a number of educators have found useful in creating lessons is “Angry Birds.” The game, “is a product of Finland's Rovio Entertainment Ltd., prods players to slingshot feathery critters of various sizes onto wood, rock or glass towers where pigs hide. To knock out the pigs—and move to the next level—players must get the birds' trajectories just right.”

One teacher that is, “an avid "Angry Birds" player, researched the physics behind the game and spent a few months creating a lesson plan. Today, her students spend a week playing the game and writing blog posts about the birds' arc through the air, their descent and collision in terms of Newton's law of motion, force, mass, speed and velocity.” She is trying to teach her students there is more to the game than just knocking over objects and advancing to different levels.

This particular teacher has completed a number of creative learning projects for her students over the course of her 27 year teaching tenure. But in the Angry Birds lesson, students are far more enthused and write blogs with "such amazing clarity and precision, I see a deeper understanding of physics," she says. "I want my kids to be informed, scientific thinkers, and I saw I had hooked them."

A student from the class struggled with the concept of “potential and kinetic energy—until the "Angry Birds" lesson. "It made sense to me because I could see it," she says.”

In Summary, video games in the classroom, if used correctly can make a lot of sense. Not only does it teach students concepts and skills in new, meaningful ways, it also allows them to have fun while learning.