A preview of digital games for the classroom and beyond
Teaching and learning with digital games is a way of learning that can be exciting and beneficial to the whole family. Despite some apps’ promise of “learning at your fingertips,” they fail to meet the expectations of a school setting. The professional development Web seminar presented at the recent TechNAPA Spring 2015 Conference by Tech NAPA and USA Today shared smart strategies for turning digital devices into useful learning tools at the classroom level. A comprehensive preview and discussion of strategies that are relevant to schools was moderated by Dorian Twarnsy, a managing editor of The Parent Coach, www.thesparentcoach.com. Twarnsy introduces educators, professional coaches, and parents to guidelines for engaging in classroom projects, real-world apps, and activities that truly use an electronic device:
Digital games are not the only thing with value in school.
Playing games at home is still an exciting activity, whether you choose to do so with a smartphone, tablet, or computer. Game application developers have made a career out of making digital content that you can use to put your knowledge and your creativity to use in interesting, immersive, creative ways. For example, see the app BladeRunner, developed by Andrey Ternovskiy, as an example of interactive educational gaming. Similar experiences can be found on board games such as Magic: The Gathering, the popular Scrabble-like word game DuckTales, and Wordplay, a word puzzle game.
The classroom should not be one-size-fits-all.
Programs and toys that are geared toward age groups different from yours can be a wonderful learning tool in the classroom, but they are likely to be less effective, or at the very least less interactive, than games and other digital educational resources that are targeted toward pre-K through sixth grade. Instead, try to determine if there is a group of elementary students in your district who are not already being used as model learners or who are special needs. It can be particularly beneficial to target children of this age group as a group and assign them an individualized learning strategy for an activity or game that they would like to do together. Teaching the technology expertise or the application that is involved to that group of children, the parents, and the classroom teacher can facilitate successful play.
Games are useful but interactive learning experiences must include real-world rules.
Whether they are educational or not, many educational games, like games that are used for training purposes and as research tools, are great for “brain breaks” during difficult readings or mathematical equations. Additionally, games can be educational because they present visual cues to help the user understand a sentence or two. Any game with digital art and type, in particular, is an opportunity to learn about layout and math, in addition to culture and social issues. The ultimate goal, however, should be to create a “mixed environment” where everyone plays, the game is helpful to everyone, and the game is entertaining. A calculator, a teacher-designed app, or a video game may be an effective way to achieve this, but all things must be balanced with actual teaching skills, meaningful activities, and digital or physical play that can also benefit the entire class.
Technology and games can use only half of your imagination.
Educators need to consider carefully that a digital game or app could also be a tool that they would use in an actual classroom. In terms of simulation, the application of on-the-go tools, such as the map on Kindle for the “Wonder of Maps” game, a digital printing kit for the “24-Hour Print Challenge,” or virtual fact finding via books at the library, there are plenty of possibilities. To be successful, however, game designers must understand that digital games cannot be the lone solution to learning; they must be part of an overall “imagination curriculum.”
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