Game-based learning: It’s coming and you can’t hide!


Last week I learned a lot about game-based learning at a fantastic EDCO Collaborative workshop at MIT. The presenter was Peter Stidwill from Playful Learning, a project of Learning Games Network  at MIT and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

For years the federal government and other agencies have been focusing on educational game development and research by giving tons of grants.  You can read a 2006 report  from the Federation of American Scientists to see what some content experts believe about game-based learning (remember Ender’s Game?).  A recent round of federal grants funded some exciting new educational gaming projects .  Over the next few years, gaming will become part of more curriculums across the country.

The workshop opened with a quick quiz on, a gamified quiz platform based on speed. Try it—you’ll love it.  Then Stidwill moved on to identifying what gaming offers students:

  • Authentic challenges—engagement/movitivation
  • Scaffold support with increasingly complex problems—zone of proximal development, pulling kids into “flow” by getting lost in the program
  • Introduce concepts slowly—just in time instruction
  • Learning through doing—participator-constructivist
  • Social/collaborative opportunities

Stidwill expertly identified barriers to using educational games in the classroom:

  • Finding quality games
  • Lack of experience/confidence
  • Pedagogy—what’s the teacher’s role? Where does the learning happen?
  • Finding quality support materials
  • Assessment
  • Lack of peer support
  • Convincing administrators and parents
  • Technology
  • Cost
  • Timing and curriculum

This is where Playful Learning comes in. It’s a platform designed to help teachers discover the right game for the right purpose, and share the info with other teachers. It’s a collaborative platform, still being built, using clean, easy to understand design. You can start a free account and make a folder to save your favorite games. It’s a free service and doesn’t host games—it links to them, helps you discover them, find supporting materials, comments from other teachers, award info, reviews, etc. 

Gaming does not equal gamification

Next we learned a bit about the history of educational gaming.  We’re not talking about Grand Theft Auto, but games that have a discernable educational link (yes, we did discuss at length the physics applications of Angry Birds).  Gaming is not gamification.  Why?  Because “gamification, which takes the least important bits of games (scores, etc.), is all about external motivation—not about finding the intruiging and fun parts of learning like game-based learning does.” (Stidwill) Gamification includes badges, which has a been a big topic in education lately (and one in which I am very interested).

Gaming Taxonomy

There are two types of games:  COTS, which stands for “commercial, off the shelf” games, and educational games.  Both are divided into two categories, short form and long form.  Short form games work on “a specific concept or skill, fit into a single class period” (Stidwill.)  Long form games “extend to multiple sessions or weeks and focuses on developing concepts and 21st century skills” (Stidwill.) These are games like the new Sim City or Sid Meyer’s Civilization.  They have a vertical learning curve, are immersive and take weeks to master.

 Gaming Genres

  • Drill and practice
  • Puzzle
  • Interactive Learning Tools
  • Role Playing (World of Warcraft)
  • Strategy (
  • Action/Adventure (Lara Croft)
  • Simulations (Sim City, Zoo Tycoon)
  • Sandbox (Minecraft)

In addition to developing the discovery and sharing platform described above, Learning Projects has developed high quality educational games for a variety of subjects from ELA, to Civics, to ELL learners.

Nervous?  You’re not alone

None of the teachers in the room at the workshop had introduced game based learning in their classrooms—yet. I suspect it was because of a combination of factors—the instructional technologists who made up the bulk of the audience don’t have classes of their own and have to work through other teachers. Not only do they have to convince themselves to take a chance, they have to convince another teacher, too.

If you want to find out more about game-based learning and live in the Boston area, you’re in luck because Playful Learning is hosting the 2013 Media Literacy Conference in Boston on Saturday, November 2.  

It’s time to give game-based learning serious consideration. The Playful Learning platform is a great place to start.


Learning Games Network Projects on Pinterest

 More links from the wonderful Rick Atkins at EDCO:

Joan Ganz Cooney Center video series

Case studies on YouTube for using Minecraft and other games in the classroom. 


ELA game that develops ethical decision-making skills and critical thinking, for ages 8 and up. Just launched: the Character Creator Contest on the new iPad and Android tablet version.

Game Design Tool Kit
FREE guide to implementing game design in your classroom.

Game design software
Handy guide to game design tools from the National STEM Video Game Design Challenge.

Lure of the Labyrinth 
Math game that demonstrates really well the idea of learning through play and exploration.



Choosing a tutor for your child


Portrait of Lady Mary Fairfax (1638-1704), aged nine, with her tutor, c.1647 by Walker, Robert (1607-60) oil on canvas

Our wonderful physics teacher, Boris Korsunksy, has written a brief, down-to-earth guide to choosing a tutor for your child.  Check it out and pass it on!

Photo courtesy Flickr user lisby1.  CC. Some rights reserved by lisby1.

"My College Freshman is your High School Senior" Friday, May 31, Mt. Wachusett Community College

I went to this daylong conference developed by the Massachusetts Library Association expecting to hear college professors critique the information literacy skills of incoming freshman, and that I would come away with a list of ways to improve the same. 

I was shocked to discover that college professors are afraid they do not provide active learning experiences like students get in high school.  Also, it seems like educators at every level are afraid of the tech skills of rising students.

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Minecraft club: the first meeting

A productive half hour. Five sophomores showed up and were surprised more people weren’t there. The kids’ main concern is getting a critical mass of 15-20 people to play which would make a fun game.

Most of our potential members are in the Anime Club which meets during activity blocks like us. We can’t move to after school because kids’ schedules are too busy.

Also, no freshmen showed up which I attribute to their being mad at me for the frustrating research and technology class I taught at the beginning of the year. I hope that that will change, but if it doesn’t there is a large group of minecrafting freshman arriving next year.

Since Minecraft is drama filled, there was discussion about barring entry to players who were likely to be trouble. The club decided everyone would be innocent until proven guilty. Also, since this server is donated by a student who has used it to play with kids in town there is a history associated with it.

We are thinking of starting with a high stakes, fast, super dangerous kind of game to get things moving.

I am charged with getting the software downloaded on three computers in the lab. I will give more details on that later.

Minecraft Club part 1: “I want to teach everyone how to make a clock.”

I’m starting a Minecraft in my school.  I’ve been anxious about the idea because I feel like I don’t know enough about the game. Why did I feel I had to do it? Because I’ve been reading Minecraft posts by Sarah Ludwig and I admire her practice. And, most important, there is a Minecraft club at our middle school—and I’ve got to keep up with them!

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Can We Talk: How school librarians discuss social media with stakeholders

by Alida Hanson

By now you should know that I’m interested in new media and how we can use it in schools.  I researched and wrote an article about school librarians and social media which was published in the winter 2013 issue of Young Adult Library Services. YALS is the journal of the Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association.

The main things I learned were don’t expect perfection, be realistic, and anticipate and validate the anxieties that most stakeholders have about using social media in school.

Thanks to Linda Braun for asking me to write the article.  Now I’m interested in learning more about how educators construct Acceptable Use Policies, so maybe that’s next.

Can We Talk: How school librarians discuss social media with stakeholders

Google Power Search Class 2

Notes from class #2.

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Google Power Search Course 1

I signed up for this free online Google course and took the first lesson last night.  I’m sharing my notes here with you.  There are five more lessons coming, I think.  If I pass the midterm and final I will earn some kind of certificate. Wish me luck.  Notes follow after the jump.

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Haiku Deck

I played around with the free iPad app Haiku Deck tonight and think it’s an excellent way to present a short lesson. It’s also a nice summarizing tool for students. You must create presentations on the iPad but you can view them in any web based browser.

The presentations have a fresh design, and great pictures to choose from.  It’s not completely intuitive, but after a few tries I got it down.  I suggest making nonsense-trial slide decks until you figure out how it works.  It took me about 45 minutes to figure out how to use it and make the following presentation. (Just click on the picture to advance to the next slide.)

Back to school library bulletin board?

Too girly?

Download or customize.

Article Query: School Librarians and Social Media

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My New BFFs: PDFs, Adobe Reader and Genius Scan

Sounds boring.  It is hard for me to believe that these mundane tools have the most impact on my daily life—with big implications for the school library.

Genius Scan for iPhone


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This is the best mind map I’ve ever seen to get kids thinking about what kinds of information they should be sharing online.  Bravo Commonsense Media for creating this excellent resource.
You can download your own poster, too.

This is the best mind map I’ve ever seen to get kids thinking about what kinds of information they should be sharing online.  Bravo Commonsense Media for creating this excellent resource.

You can download your own poster, too.



Kamishibai, a traditional, low-tech form of Japanese storytelling, has magical effects on your audience.  I fell in love with it last month thanks to Deborah Abner, my friend and wonderful librarian at Lincoln School in Brookline, which has an ELL program for its large Japanese student population. She asked me to use it for library lessons during Sakura Week when I subbed for her. It’s easy, fun, and totally engaging. Yes, that’s me up there, having a great time!

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How do I eread? Let me count the ways.


I’ve had a Kindle for almost two years and have used it once or twice for a total of one hour.  Does that mean I’m not “ereading?” 


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