What kids can learn from playing and making games in school

This post is a follow-up to the post “How do we mix social interaction and fun into learning games?”, where I concluded that most traditional learning games aren’t suited for social settings, and that kids are bored with them quickly.

I have since done observations on how these intended learning games work when they are played in groups – and sadly, these observations were as discouraging as the observations I did for the first post.

When played in groups, the kids only interacted with each other very little, and they mostly waited turns instead of playing together. So intended leaning games leave little room for social interaction, which in my perspective is a huge problem.

Great benefits from playing games

The benefits of playing games, being social and having fun are great, and many researchers back this up. Kids learn to work together; they develop empathy and determination (because they lose in games). They also learn other things from playing games: they learn new languages: LOL’an. Minecraftian. WOW’an. And while that might not seem to be skills that are “relevant”, the act of learning new practice languages is.

Kids learn through the games they already play

My point is: there is huge learning potential in playing games. But only if we stop seeing learning as leaning “basic skills” like reading, writing and maths, which we can certainly learn outside of the computer. What if we stopped looking at learning through games as a way of learning basic skills (reading, writing, maths), as these kinds of intended learning games tend to exclude social interaction and fun (as I wrote about in the first post on this topic)? What if we instead look at the games kids play, and find learning potential in them? What if we took Minecraft and had the kids play it online together, but applied a specific set of rules (eg. “build a round house with the diameter of…”) to teach them geometry?

Learning by making games

Or even better: what if we applied a maker mentality in the classrooms? What if we let the kids build themed interactive stories or games? Let them build a fairy tale, or a game about a scientist in a bio lab? This way, they would learn the terms of the practice at hand (for instance ”a fairy tale always starts with “once upon a time”, it contains a “hero – villain” setup etc.). And they would do this while working socially with their classmates when building the storyboard, the gameplay, the visuals and implementing the simple games into template based game software. If kids got to work with games in this matter, they would develop communities of practice, which would include learning the right terminology while improving their social corporation skills.

Curriculum based learning objectives can be achieved through games that weren’t intended for learning. And they can be achieved through seeing games as a goal instead of a means to a goal. All the while training the hugely important skills like empathy and corporation at the same time. To me, that would be a win/win for kids, teachers and in the long run, society.

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