by Victoria Zelvin. Already in schools, teachers and educators are using video games to help foster learning in the classroom. Much of this is done by taking platforms or games that students are already familiar with and integrating them into a learning environment. Teachers are already utilizing one specific, great resource new to them: Minecraft, which is available on many different platforms varying from the Xbox to the PC to handheld devices.
Minecraft, a creativity engine often compared to Legos, allows players to use a multitude of different “blocks” to create their heart’s desires. Utilizing various different modes of gameplay, players are able to customize their in-game experience. There are a multitude of examples of teachers using Minecraft as a teaching tool, so many that the developers have begun working with an initiative called MinecraftEdu, which not only chronicles the way Minecraft has been used in the classroom in the past but also pushes for ways to keep Minecraft an affordable, effective option for use in schools.
Teachers and educators creatively using Minecraft’s natural creativity engine to facilitate learning is not the only example of gaming working its way into the classroom setting. More and more, educators are incorporating the use of devices and technology, Those working in the video game community are also chiming in on this issue.
Extra Credits is a show put on by those working in the gaming community and written by game designer and gaming activist James Portnow. They discuss varying topics in a weekly manner, but most of their topics have to do with the mechanics of game design itself and the thought that gets put into any video game. They also have spoken at length about the educational value of video games, whether it is through Tangential Learning, or simply educational games themselves.
One episode, entitled Games in Education, talks about the innate power of games in the classroom setting. “Play is nature’s way of getting us to learn,” the episode states. “It’s why it’s so great for education. It’s what we… are naturally hardwired to want to do.” For this reason, Portnow argues that games can be of great use in the classroom.
For use at home, Scholastic offers some suggestions on good games to get parents started. Many of these are for the Wii, Kinect, or Move consoles, which involve exercise in tandem with other problem solving and hand eye coordination skills. A personal recommendation that does not involve motion controls would be Sid Meyer’s Civilization Series (any will do, but Civ V is the most recent). This is a fairly complex strategy game roughly analogous to Risk, for slightly older (10+) kids who have an interest in history. In the game, players can take control of a historical world leader, such as George Washington, and build up their own civilization. Will the civilization focus on science, to try and beat the rest of the world in a space race to the moon? A diplomatic victory, by building the UN and fostering international diplomacy? With several ways to win and a multiplayer option, this is a great interactive game for students of history.
As always, parents and educators should consult the ESRB website for ratings information before purchasing a video game meant for children.