Written by Christine Yee
Learning should be fun. However, this is not the experience of most kids in conventional schooling systems. Reading and math can be frustrating for a child who does not understand the underlying concepts or the larger picture of what they are learning. In many cases, students are structurally encouraged to just rote memorize information and simply go through the motions by following the school curriculum. Without establishing the right building blocks and foundations for comprehension and critical thinking, school can become even more daunting as courses become harder as the student rises through the grade levels.
However, by integrating imagination, creativity and game mechanics with the desired information, knowledge can come to life in meaningful ways. Compared to traditional grading systems, this offers a far more effective way to inspire the core drives of Core Drive #2, Accomplishment & Development as well as Core Drive #3, Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback.
Immersive game environments can incorporate visual, auditory, and tactile modes of exchanging information with players, which creates an interactive learning environment where engagement is key to success.
The rewards gained from feeling an internal sense of real achievement and having the ability to creatively solve and master challenges becomes far more meaningful in this type of learning environment.
And with games, it is also possible to effectively utilize other forms of motivation such as Core Drive #4, Ownership & Possession and Core Drive #5, Social Influence & Relatedness to further enhance the experience of players and add a greater sense of personal meaning and significance to what they are learning.
Here are five examples of educational games that are transforming the way kids are now learning in school.
1. Timez Attack
The conventional way of teaching multiplication tables is through the use of flash cards. This is perhaps the prime example of rote learning used in conventional schools. No one really enjoys mindless memorization tasks but its considered effective for making basic information stick. But learning multiplication sets does not have to be so painful. The game, Timez Attack demonstrates a better way for kids to master this basic math skill.
The graphics of the game are done in 3D animation and the story takes place in a castle-like setting. Automatically, this puts kids in the mode of playing an immersive, adventurous video game.
The player is required to demonstrate their visual understanding of simple problems like 2×2 by throwing sets of numbers at a wall. They have to figure out how many number sets equate to the multiplication problem. Getting this right is an example of Core Drive #3, Creativity & Empowerment of Feedback.
Periodically, an ogre comes out to help jog the player’s memory of previous multiplication questions and to reinforce the long term memory of these problems. Getting past the ogre by coming up with the right answer helps players feel a sense of Core Drive #2, Accomplishment & Development as they become more confident in their mastery multiplication tables.
2. Raz Kids
Raz Kids is an animated e-book repository where very subtle forms of game mechanics are woven in. Reading is something that many kids struggle with throughout their school years. Without establishing the right foundation, it can become ingrained as an unpleasant chore.
Raz Kids is designed to first help students master sight reading and phonics in an interactive fashion. The game includes a microphone feature where they can record themselves as they read. This is can be saved for parents and teachers to listen to and provide their feedback (Core Drive #5, Social Influence & Relatedness). But it also gives kids a chance to step back from their focus on sounding out the words. They can then hear themselves read and then process the concepts being conveyed by the words.
Quizzes to test and reinforce comprehension are also offered. Students earn stars as they pass through quizzes. These can then be used as online currency to buy virtual items which can be used to personalize their rocket clubhouse (Core Drive #4, Ownership & Possession).
3. Boom Writer
How would one teach children to love writing and to develop their creative skills in this area?
Boom Writer offers the opportunity for kids to create stories and build upon their abilities through online collaboration. It is largely driven on Core Drive #5, Social Influence & Relatedness.
Published guest authors from the site contribute story starters. Students in a class would choose one of these starters and write additional chapters. Teachers are able to view these submissions and make suggestions and edits as needed. The chapters are read to the class (without names being revealed) and the students vote on which ones to include in the final book which can then be made available for sale in the Boom Writer stores (Core Drive #2 and Core Drive #4).
For the students whose entries make it into the book, Boom Dollars are awarded. These can be used to buy accessories for their personal avatar on the site (Core Drive #4). Each profile also displays scores such as the number of books they published, how many entries they’ve made, and the votes they’ve received from their peers.
To learn more about how Boom Writer works, watch this video:
4. Frequency 1550
Frequency 1550 focuses on teaching history to middle school students. It uses a combination of mobile and GPS technology to integrate historical sites in Amsterdam with actual learning goals which are part of a larger school curriculum.
The overall objective of Frequency 1550 is to complete as many assignments as possible in order to win points (Core Drive #2). This includes tasks like answering questions pertaining to various locations and creating relevant media in the form of videos and photos (Core Drive #3).
As the students engaged in this interactive game, researchers at the University of Amsterdam and the University of Utrecht compared their mastery level of the curriculum by observing the learning performance of the kids who utilized Frequency 1550 with those who were given more traditional curricula.
The results showed that the students who were taught the history course through the mobile/GPS technology actually remembered more and demonstrated much higher levels of learning compared to the control group.
For kids who wish to make a dream or idea a reality, understanding the objectives and skills of entrepreneurship is quite important. And the earlier one learns these lessons in life, the better. What better way is there to impart these principles than through a game setting?
Dinorama is a fun app where players take on the role of running a dinosaur park (Core Drive #4). Not only do they get to feed and care for these animals, but they also learn valuable financial concepts such as earning interest by keeping their money in a bank, defining necessary versus nice-to-have expenses, maintaining an emergency fund for unpredictable events, modifying spending when there are fewer customers (i.e park visitors) or increases in the cost of food, and purchasing inventory in bulk in order to get volume discounts.
While most educational games for kids are based on White Hat core drives, Dinorama is somewhat unique by enabling the inclusion of Black Hat Core Drives that are intrinsic to the experience of running a business, such as Core Drive #6, Scarcity & Impatience, Core Drive #7, Unpredictability & Curiosity, and Core Drive #8, Loss & Avoidance.
These variables help kids learn how to plan for and mitigate real world consequences by taking appropriate actions in the present.
The Value and Challenge of Education Gamification
Games are excellent tools for supplementing the way information is taught in school. Through imaginative contexts and the use of game mechanics, what was once perceived as boring comes to life in new ways. However, the inclusion of a gamified curriculum should not completely obliterate traditional reading assignments.
Paul Anderson, an AP Biology teacher in Montana discovered that although his use of gamification helped students easily master complicated concepts, they remained weak in reading comprehension. Games are simply intended to illustrate certain concepts in more engaging ways. However, students will still be faced with complex reading materials at the university level and even in their careers and cannot always depend on the availability of fun games to help them excel.
Therefore, it is also recommended that in a gamified educational setting, students are also asked to create their own game designs to exercise their ability to reframe dry subject matter in more imaginative ways.