Let"s Play... Have Fun and Learn With EduGames

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Let's Play... Have Fun and Learn with EduGames
What does one think when we mention the word game or games in education? There are several perspectives that come to mind when people hear about learning with games. Some people may associate games with fun and a great time while others may show disbelief or even disgust.

According to Webster's Dictionary, the word game is defined as "a physical or mental activity or contest that has rules and that people do for pleasure". Oh, I see for pleasure. Could this be the very reason why many educators view games as just that for fun and not for learning?

The question deserves much thought and consideration. Needless to say, it is a controversial topic that I happen to believe will take a long time to resolve, if ever. However, it is imperative that the education community seek a consensus on this topic and employ standards that may be of a learning benefit to the Digital Natives. Let me tell you why?

Who is Playing Digital Games?

There are 97 percent of children ages 2-17 that are playing digital games. Houston, "We have a problem." No, not really. The natives, talking about the Digital Natives, are restless.

Never mind if games positively impact student learning, the real question here is, "What do educators think about students using educational games to learn?" Despite some educators frowning on games to promote learning, it is projected that 95 percent of teachers incorporate digital games in their classrooms for learning purposes.

As a former elementary school teacher, I often invented games to reinforce a skill or concept with my students. True to form, it was fun and it gave the students the necessary motivation to participate in the learning.

My colleagues also engaged the students with games so, I can haphazardly understand why today's teachers are using digital games as a resource for learning. But, still, 95 percent is a significant number and as such I want to personally know what the rave is all about.

I asked Joshua,Nathan and Luis, my business partners, about playing games. They both love to play digital games and to my knowledge I failed to be surprised as I thought it was a "man thing" to do. To my astonishment, I found that was not the case.

Instead, I have learned that both male and female of all ages love to play video and educational games. I can attest to this fact as my very young nieces, sister, brothers and cousins enjoy playing digital games.

Before it is my turn to play, I am going to go back and address the question of "do games improve student achievement"?

Do Digital Games Improve Student Achievement or Not?
That is a golden question and one that needs to be substantiated by research. According to an SRI study funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the answer is yes in some subject areas.

A new SRI study released today suggests they do -- at least in the subjects of science, math, engineering, and technology. According to the report, which is an analysis of 77 peer-reviewed journal articles of students K-16 studying STEM subjects, "when digital games were compared to other instruction conditions without digital games, there was a moderate to strong effect in favor of digital games in terms of broad cognitive competencies."

More specifically, "students at the median in the control group (no games) could have been raised 12 percent in cognitive learning outcomes if they had received the digital game."

Another way to explain it: "For a student sitting in the median who doesn't have a game, his or her learning achievement would have increased by 12 percent if he or she had that game," said Ed Dieterle, Senior Program Officer for Research, Measurement, and Evaluation for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which funded the SRI report.

Want to Learn JavaScript?
If I am going to play a game, there has to be some type of learning as I want to use my time wisely. So, I told Joshua and Nathan that I wanted to play a game. They were surprised and curious as to why I wanted to play?

Joshua entertained my request and then suggested I play "Code Combat". Code Combat is a children's game designed to teach students how to code. To be quite honest, I had never contemplated learning coding much less giving it an opportunity to permanently dwell in my brain. But, alas, I wanted to play a game for the purpose of learning something new. So, my journey began with Code Combat.

The game allows you to program with a multiplayer live coding strategy. I begin by going through the tutorial whereby I started by becoming a wizard that engaged in spells using JavaScript to navigate throughout the game. I was able to dress and choose colors and name my wizard. Once, I finished customizing Dr Pezlo, I began to play Level 1.

Playing Code Combat

My job was to save Tharin and his troops from rogue ogres or rogres. At first, I was having a difficult time and I failed to succeed to the next level. Thus, I decided to start the game all over again.

This time I paid more attention and was able to exit the first level. Prior to my euphoric moment of achievement, Joshua asked if I was doing okay. My response was, "I'm all right, and I'm getting there."

Onward, I continued on my adventure and played for about an hour and a half. Hooray, I finally reached Level 3. To my delight and amazement, I found that I thoroughly enjoyed playing Code Combat. So, in the end, did I really learn from playing Code Combat? Yes, I did. Below, are some of the basic and valuable principles that I learned.

Objective: Programming
Method: What We Want To Run
Semicolon: End of Statement
Dot: Connects Object and Method
Parentheses: Makes the Method do its Thing
JavaScript Example: Line 1 this.moveDown();

This meant that I could move Tharin down. To further move Tharin, I would type up, right, left or whatever command I needed to give him to move and perform. I had to figure out what to type next to help Tharin on his journey and help him out of his dilemma.

Did I learn basic programming by playing Code Combat and would I recommend it to anyone wanting to learn the basics of JavaScript? Absolutely!

I invite you to try something new. Have fun playing Code Combat...

E-Ducation Benefits

Although it is only one educational game that I played to acquire the basic skills of computer programming, I am convinced that games may and can bring value to student learning.

While navigating through Code Combat, I found that my hand and eye coordination and motor control were instrumental to the success of doing well in the game. It greatly helped when I was able to break down the tasks which afforded me the chance to pace the game at my level. Thus, learners are allowed to navigate at their own learning pace. Further, I found that my visual-spatial skills came to the forefront to keep me in control of the game.

As I exited levels, I found that my working memory capacity and knowledge retention increased. I was able to better navigate as the game progressed given the skills that I had learned in the previous levels. I had not realized that I had been playing over an hour until I received a text from my sister. I was thoroughly engaged in the game.

I can see why 70 percent of teachers say that games increase student engagement and 60 percent ascertain that it helps to better assess knowledge and collect analytics to personalize instruction.

E-Ducation Concerns
Earlier, I deliberately neglected to mention that Tharin, my wizard, was destroyed a couple of times before I got the hang of the game. Yes, unfortunately, many people see the violence that many of these games portray. However, just about all curricula should teach "Fiction and Non-Fiction".

Violence is a fact that is all around us whether it be on TV, the neighborhood, parties, gatherings, home, concerts, sporting events, news, movies, videos, music, etc. It is critical that we protect not only our young but all humanity from violence. Thus, it is essential that we teach our children what is fiction and non -fiction. Students must have a clear understanding of this phenomenon.

Other concerns educators have is that there are other priorities such as books, materials, teacher resources that take precedence over games. Still, others believe that students play too many games as it is. There are teachers that find it challenging to figure out the level of difficulty for each student to engage in real learning.

Last but not least, cost, lack of technology training and resources contribute to the concerns. The cost is said to be the number one obstacle to deter 50 percent of teachers from using educational games and 46 percent revealed that access to technology resources is an enormous problem.

"Play is the Highest Form of Research." Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein, a brilliant physicist, believed that the best form of research (learning) was through play. You and I can relate to playing games as a child and in our adult life. Some games are just for fun while others have been designed for learning and pleasure.

Personally, while learning the basics of programming I really got involved and was highly interested in learning JavaScript through the mode of the delivery of instruction. I very much doubt that I would have even wanted to learn by direct instruction. The game was lively, entertaining, engaging, involved and fun.

So whatever the game be it hide and seek, baseball, monopoly or Code Combat, I believe that they do have a role in learning and that it is up to us as educators to integrate it wisely in the classroom. As can be seen by the sheer number of users playing games, gaming is here to stay.

I would like to recommend the following site that has experts, teachers and students sharing their thoughts and views on learning with educational games. http://www.teachthought.com/technology/video-games-in-learning-these-50-videos-explain-whats-possible/

Your Thoughts?
This article concludes a 6 part series on Students and Learning with Technology. I thank all of you that took the time to read and comment on my blog articles. I invite, encourage and challenge you to play an educational game. Believe me; it will probably change your perspective on learning with games in education.

I continue to welcome your thoughts and look forward to hearing from you. I am very much looking forward to my next 7 part series on Educators and Technology. Until we meet again, stay safe and always have a positive attitude.
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