It Might Not Be a Great Game! Tips for Finding a Quality Game!

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Oftentimes, I see many, many tweets that claim this title or variation thereof: “10 Best Games to Teach Math.” Because I am a GBL nerd, I always click on the link and explore. In my exploration of many of these tools that claim to be games, I have found that many in fact are NOT games, or they are poor games. Games are crafted specifically, with certain mechanics and components present for it to be good. Many companies are putting out “games” that are in fact activities with many “bells and whistles” that make it look like a game. So how do we navigate this huge field of games to find the best ones? Here are some starting tips.

Authentic Identity and Story – We play games because they immerse in worlds, real or fantasy, that truly are engaging. This is done through amazing stories and authentic characters that we connect with. We play as these characters and feel like what we do actually makes a difference in the story, that our actions have consequences. What if there are no characters? What if there is no story or engaging scenario? We get bored and choose not to participate. Look for games where there are characters who have agency in the scenario and story.

Content Learning Connects to Scenario – This relates to indicator above. If players are solving math in a content that doesn’t make sense, then students will often see it as gimmicky. Imagine: You are asked to apply your knowledge of math skills in order to kill cockroaches. How does this content make sense in that scenario? It doesn’t. It might be a fun activity for students to practice skills, but students may not be engaged in it, because the game demands learning of content in an unrealistic situation.

Problem Solving and Critical Thinking – A great game calls for more than just fact recall, or shallow depth of knowledge. A great game requires students to apply this in authentic problem, and critically thinking to solve these problems. Instead of knowing important facts about the Electoral College to win the game, the player must Win the White House by paving the best possible path and strategy by using their knowledge of the electoral college

Now this is just a start. There are still other components of good games, but I feel these tips will help you as an educator start on the path of quality games to use in the classroom. If you try playing a game, or have your students play a game and it does not meet some or all of these criteria, it may in fact not be a game at all. It might be an activity, where game mechanics have been applied to make it more engaging. It might have some elements of a game, but because it doesn’t it would not qualify as a game. If we truly want to legitimize using games in the classroom, then they must actually be games!

Biography: Andrew currently serves on the National Faculty for the Buck Institute for Education and ASCD. He travels internationally, working with educators in his many areas of expertise. He has given presentations and workshops at many conferences including National Council for Teachers of English, ISTE and ASCD. Andrew is an avid blogger for a variety of organizations including ASCD, Edutopia and the education section of the Huffington Post. Follow him on Twitter: @betamiller.

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