Monday, March 23, 2015

Back to the games

I started this blog talking about video games and their relation to lesson planning. I find it funny and fitting that the last post I write for this class is on the same topic. At the MACUL conference on Friday, I got to listen to Brady Van Maison talk about video games and their relationship to the classroom. He covered an amazing amount of material in just an hour, from gamification to Minecraft in the classroom, even discussing some of the ways in which video game design is like lesson design (just like my post!). What I wanted to focus on was his discussion of what a game actually is and why that’s an important part of why we love to play them.
Mr. Van Maison referred to the four things that make a game a game: a goal (think objectives), rules (limits/challenges on how to meet the goal), feedback, and the promise of achieving that goal. All of these relate to motivation and even if we don’t turn our whole class into a game, we can learn from games by studying these elements. These attributes of a game have a lot to do with both our motivation to play a game or engage in a lesson.
Start with a goal. Very few people want to do something that they don’t get the point of. Games give us a definite goal to work towards. This is pretty translatable to the classroom when we tell our students the objectives they are supposed to be hitting and the reason those objectives matter.
Next come rules. The way in which Mr. Van Maison discussed rules as a challenge to hitting the goal made me think of how I could design assignments that were more interesting even while they were more challenging. Mazes are a great example of how totally arbitrary rules make the challenge more fun and encourages creative problem solving even though it makes a simple task more difficult. I think this kind of thinking could be applied to designing assessments, but I’m still working on specifics. Perhaps some lovely readers have suggestion?
The next element of a game is feedback. Players need to know how close they are to achieving a goal or when they’ve met a goal and are ready for the next one. Like goal-setting, I think the application to the classroom is both obvious but meaningful. How are my students going to know when they’ve reached a goal? Even more importantly, how do they know when they have almost reached a goal? I try to get my students feedback quickly but this is a reminder to focus on getting them feedback when they’re ALMOST THERE to encourage them to hang in just a little longer and meet that goal.
Finally, nobody wants to play an unwinnable game. Video games go from easy to hard levels for a reason. If they started out too hard, players would get discouraged and never push through level 2. This reminded me of the importance of incremental goals in the classroom. Students need that feeling of success on easier tasks before they’re ready to push on to the harder ones. I looked at the quizzes I’ve been giving in class. I think they’re actually harder than the tests. Maybe what I need to do is approach quizzes as mini-bosses: something challenging but beatable to whet the player’s appetite for a bigger goal.

So there are four elements that make a game, how they connect to motivation, and how I can connect those lessons back to the classroom. I think edugames and gamification are important and fascinating but just looking at games on a deeper level can show us something about how humans have fun and challenge themselves. Maybe I should even adjust my motivation for lesson planning. I job is to help students explore history. I need to guide them through the world so that it makes sense and give them the tools and skills they need to explore it for themselves. 


  1. Liz,
    Very insightful reflection on how gaming can enhance learning. I've been trying to make this work in my classroom for a few years, but I haven't yet been able to translate it--I think I need to get over my mental block that says it's not applicable to English. I'm sure it must be! I'm curious if you're planning to do some of this at Thurston.

  2. Rory, this is my first awkward attempt at a "level up" system for an extra credit project.