Games in the classroom? They’re serious business


Serious Games

Charleston, WV – August 2010. Games in the classroom? It might sound like the antithesis of serious learning, especially for those of us whose school years were spent working through weighty textbooks.

But there is a serious body of research to suggest that games are a valuable learning tool. Robert J. Marzano, an educational researcher who has made many studies on the use of games in education and their effects on student achievement, suggests that using games to teach can lead to a 20% increase in student results.1
And Karl M. Kapp, in his book Gadgets, Games and Gizmos for Learning, explores in some detail how a new generation of techno-savvy gamers is replacing the boomer generation. They are perfectly at home with new methods and tools such as Flash mobs and cheat codes, video iPods, instant messaging and blogging.2
One organization that has built a very successful program to build on the potential of games for education is the World Wide Workshop Foundation.3 Its ‘Globaloria’ program, launched  in the spring of 2006,  trains students of ages 12 and up to create educational games and interactive simulations, for their own personal and professional development, and for the benefit of their communities.
Globaloria students work independently or in small teams to develop their own original games from idea to finished product. They learn game design and programming through a hands-on online curriculum that teaches Adobe Flash.
Students learn to use a wiki; make social profile pages and team game pages; produce and post interactive game content, prototype videos, simulations, graphics, music and sound effects; and write blogs about their gaming ideas and content research. They receive feedback and support from their classmates, Globaloria students at other schools, and professional game makers.
The largest Globaloria pilot was launched in West Virginia in 2007. Currently, educators in 41 middle schools, high schools, community colleges and universities offer Globaloria as a game-design elective or as a vehicle for teaching core subjects such as biology, chemistry, English, and civics. Globaloria educators customize and align the curriculum with the West Virginia Department of Education’s Content Standards and Objectives and 21st-Century Skills.
East Austin College Prep Academy in Austin, Texas is the first school to apply Globaloria as a school-wide teaching and learning program. During the 2009-10 school year, all students took a daily, 90-minute Globaloria class, where they developed original math games.  The curriculum is aligned with Texas state standards.
Some of the educators who take part in Globaloria learn about the initiative from colleagues. Others may be referred by their principals or superintendents. If their application is successful, Globaloria provides them with training, and pays them a stipend of $3,000 p.a.

The latest professional development initiative for recently-recruited, returning and beginner Globaloria educators recently wrapped up in Charleston. It brought together 50 West Virginia educators, and 3 colleagues from Texas, organized into 26 teams, with each team using Flash software to develop an educational game for classroom use. The group first met in July, for a three-day workshop to introduce Globaloria to the educators who were new to the program, and to provide returning educators with updates and advanced training. Now they have learnt how to teach the program. The subject areas covered by these 53 educators range from history to math to civics and social studies, taught at different grades of middle and high school as well as college.
Some examples of the games developed earlier in the program?4
Should They Stay or Should They Go is a game developed by Tracy Halsey and Sheila Robinson.5 This is a role-play game in which the user assumes the role of Deszo, an Arizona police officer responsible for determining immigration status. The game is based on the controversial Arizona Senate Bill 1070.
Once students successfully complete the three scenarios in the game, a final page provides them with a link to the Web sites of Arizona State Senators John McCain and John Kyl, so they can find out more or get involved.
The game uses a cartoon-style Deszo against an Arizona desert background.
Pythagorize the Fire was developed by Melanie Sheppard and Aaron Lester.6 The game challenges students to use the ratios of the Pythagorean Theorem while learning safety and fire prevention tips. For example: “If the fire is 12 feet above the ground and the fire hydrant is 16 feet away, how long is the hose?”. The question is illustrated by a picture of a firefighter aiming his hose at the fire in a burning house.
If the student gets the answers right, a fire hydrant fills with water to allow them to put the fire out. The wrong answers leave the hydrant empty.
Figuratively Singing is a game built by Jennifer Hayes and Nora Smith.7 The game uses snatches of lyrics from country, rap and rock songs – sung by appropriately-depicted avatars – to teach metaphors, alliteration and similes.
Race to Vote is the brainchild of Lana Turner and Tammy Holcomb.8 The game is designed to allow 18-year-olds to learn how to register to vote, how to learn about candidates, and to understand the voting process. The user has to drive a car around town and collect various items. After completing each level of the game, students are asked to answer a trivia question related to voting.
Learning Games to Teach

Globaloria Academy, West Virginia

Many of the games devised by the latest-recruited group of educators are still in the process of planning and development. But all benefit from a Globaloria approach which involves educators as partners in piloting the program. The goal is transparent, social learning, using the Globaloria West Virginia wiki and blogs to manage students’ work and report on their progress. These reports are also used by the Globaloria leadership to evaluate program success.
The games developed by Globaloria educators are fun for students to use. Nonetheless, their goal is serious business: improving the learning process for all that they reach. (END)
Notes:

1 Cited by Barbara Pytel on http://www.suite101®.com, see: http://educationalissues.suite101.com/article.cfm/educational-games-in-the-classroom

2 Gadgets, Games and Gizmos for Learning: Tools and Techniques for Transferring Know-How from Boomers to Gamers, by Karl M. Kapp. Pfeiffer Essential Resources for Training and HR Professionals, 2007.

3 See http://www.globaloria.org

4 A gallery of games can be found at: http://myglife.org/usa/wvwiki/index.php/Special:GlobaloriaGamesGallery

5 Tracy Halsey teaches at Liberty High School, Beckley and Sheila Robinson at Oak Glen High School, New Cumberland

6 Melanie Sheppard is at Eastern Greenbrier Middle School and Aaron Lester is at Sandy River Middle School

7 From Eastern and Western Greenbrier Middle School

8 Lana Turner teaches at Chapmanville High School and Tammy Holcomb at Webster County High School

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