Saturday, May 15, 2010

And Now For Something Completely Different...

Teacher: We are going to start our unit on statistics today. It's going to be really fun! (Cue collective class groan.) We are going to use an online game called Quest Atlantis to help us out. (Hmmm...the students may be coming around...) I'll pass out this comic book to start. It will tell us the background of Atlantis before we get started with our Quest. (Our Quest? Has our teacher gone crazy?) It's quiet as the students start reading the comic books. A student from the back whispers, "Wow, this might actually be kinda cool."

We are featuring Quest Atlantis along with other game-based learning resources this week on The Gateway. This game was developed at the Indiana University College of Education for in-class use in 4th through 8th grades. Researchers created Quest Atlantis to be a "powerful new learning environment," and it's more of a simulation than just an online learning game. There are Quests, Missions, and Units that cover subjects from science and math to social studies and English. In order for students to be successful in the game, they must use problem solving and inquiry skills. The academic concepts covered are aligned to McRel standards, and you can get a general idea of which of your state's standards are covered using the standards suggestion tool at the bottom of the Quest Atlantis record on The Gateway. If you think this type of online learning environment might be a good fit for your class, start here to see some snapshots of the Quests, Missions, and Units in the game. Each topic is related to social responsibility and action and has a culminating writing assignment or project to illustrate students' learning and understanding of the social or environmental issues covered.

It is exciting to me because students can experience the history and geography of places like Mesa Verde National Park without ever leaving the classroom. With field trip budgets being tight or non-existent, it's nice to know our students can at least be collecting virtual samples of indicator species from streams to research the effects of water contamination. They can even be engaged in inquiry-based learning in a huge variety of topics like plagues, diversity, statistics, and planetary science. Teachers can use the program for short lessons that can be integrated into an existing unit (Quests and Missions) or they can use the program as the backbone of a whole unit. According to the Quest Atlantis site, more than 44,000 students from 6 continents have learned through playing with the program. They explain their goal best by stating, "Rather than just placing work and play side-by-side, QA strives to make learning fun and to show kids they can make a difference." I believe that kids do learn best when they are enjoying what they are doing. I think it's worth our time to check out programs like this to see if this is the small change we need to make our classroom just a little different and more fun.

For older students, there is a game called Evoke. The first 10-week season just ended, and the new season is currently being planned. They describe their game as "A Crash Course in Changing the World." This game says that it is appropriate for students ages 13 and up. This site focuses on teaching students to promote (or evoke) change in the real world by practicing in the simulated environment. Students respond to quests with blog posts, pictures and videos posted to the Internet. The site encourages students to keep using these skills in real-life situations. They are learning how to use social networking to support causes. Teachers using this game with students need to be sure the students understand privacy issues and Internet safety, since it is not in a secure, protected environment like the one in Quest Atlantis. These older students need to understand cybersafety anyway, so it would be a good environment to help teach them about it.

If these two resources don't seem like a good fit for you, there are plenty of other ways to implement game-based learning in your classroom. I have come across quite a few great games for teaching math. We wrote about Granny Prix in a previous post. If you haven't played that one yet, you should! Game Classroom, a site dedicated to gaming for homework help, has a huge selection of games for many subjects and grade levels. I tried to pick a couple to give as examples, but all of the ones I tried were really fun, and I think you'll want to check them out for yourself. My daughter probably thought it was strange that I was having so much fun playing a lizard munching verbs, but was all in the name of research! These games can be used in the classroom or after school for extra practice in problem areas.

Don't forget about traditional forms of game-based learning, too. There is something to be said for letting your students sit down and learn with board games. I have created review questions on cards to use with a Trivial Pursuit board, and there are plenty of ready-made learning games out there. One Edutopia reader had a great idea of letting her students create their own games to answer all of the "What if" questions they were asking in class.

To sum it up, I'll leave you a quote from Mr. Rogers: "Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning…They have to play with what they know to be true in order to find out more, and then they can use what they learn in new forms of play.” Let's all look into simple ways we can integrate play and game-based learning into our classrooms to make learning authentic and fun. We look forward to hearing some success stories!

~Peggy's Corner - 5/14/10~

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