I recently asked my nine-year-old daughter if she thought playing video games helped kids with reading. She looked up from her world in Minecraft and said, “No!” If you ask an adult the same question, you will likely receive the same response along with many reasons why video games might be considered harmful to children. Some of those reasons might include violence or inappropriate content; sedentary lifestyles that result in obesity; lack of social skills development; little use of imagination; or a waste of time. While those are valid concerns, researchers and educators are discovering the positive impact video games have in the classroom.

While gaming in the classroom, or gamification, has become more prevalent with the addition of technology in the hands of today’s students, it is not a new concept. 

Video games have been in the classroom setting as early as 1980.

Maybe you played a round or two of "Oregon Trail" or "Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?" with a friend in social studies class. Perhaps "Reader Rabbit" was your introduction to early literacy skills. Regardless, video games remind us that playing and learning go together.

When students engage in video game play, they experience the world in a new way. They learn to work collaboratively and to solve problems through the highly complex mental challenges that games provide. They also develop resources and skills that transfer into future learning opportunities.

Gaming offers motivation and relevance to students’ lives. When faced with problems in real-life, we can become anxious, overwhelmed, and feel like giving up. In gaming worlds when confronted with a problem or obstacle, the player is motivated to persist until the problem is solved. Then, the player advances to the next level. In games, players are motivated to take risks, collaborate, and creatively problem-solve until an epic win occurs. Isn’t this the type of motivation we want to foster in classrooms?

Games allow students to explore, make observations, manipulate, imitate, and use prior knowledge.

In games, failure is an option. Failing forward allows students to learn from their mistakes, take risks and try again for success. How many times have you tried to pass a level on Candy Crush? 

Gameplay is visible evidence of comprehension. It requires understanding, skills, and strategies to succeed. Games require players to make predictions and logical inferences. Gamers cannot proceed or progress without deciding what comes next. Games provide clues for the gamer to advance, but this requires the player to integrate and evaluate the content. Games figure out how to play the game by analyzing characters and plot. Gamers learn to determine a point of view and purpose to make determinations between good guys and bad guys. Gaming can create a basis for developing and using comprehension strategies.

The 21st-century learner is expected to be a critical thinker, make informed judgments, be a creative problem solver, communicate and collaborate with others, use information in innovative ways, and take responsibility for himself and others. Gaming provides the avenue for all of these skills to be in play. So, why not let students in classrooms get their game on?

Here are three examples of how teachers are using gamification to support classroom instruction:

Minecraft EDU

With Minecraft EDU, educators and students can create intentional instructional experiences. In the literacy classroom, students can create worlds and characters from settings in literature like the Capitol or District 12 from The Hunger Games. Historians and amateurs constructed The Forbidden City for tours and exploration of the ancient site.

Kahoot! and Quizziz

Kahoot! and Quizziz can turn any subject into a game! Teachers embed multi-media content into these gaming platforms to engage students in the material.

Class Dojo

Class Dojo is a gamified classroom management tool that encourages students to be active listeners, participate in discussions, and engage in the learning process. Students earn points for positive behavior as well as lose points for negative behavior. The bonus is the variety of communication tools Class Dojo provides for teachers and parents.

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