Summertime: when the minds of students, parents, and even teachers turn to fun rather than academic endeavors. Thinking about strategies to incorporate fun into school time in meaningful ways can offer options for both classroom and outside-of-the-classroom activities to enhance learning and engage students.
Trending now and proven effective is gamification, which the research firm Gartner defines as “the concept of applying game mechanics and game design techniques to digitally engage and motivate people to achieve their goals.” The most valuable piece of this gaming puzzle is not the technology, but rather it is the application of gaming principles to curriculum goals.
We previously wrote about gamification in education in January. Here we take a broader and lighter look at gaming in the classroom and the many ways that teachers can leverage games to bring learning to students—particularly during times when they’re more focused on “fun” like during recess, after school and summer vacation.
Gaming is Growing
The gaming in learning is catching, and Project Tomorrow, a global education nonprofit organization dedicated to the empowerment of student voices, has the research to prove it. Its latest Speak Up report found that the use of game-based environments and online apps among teachers has doubled in the last six years at 48 percent, up from 23 percent in 2010.
“From Print to Pixel: The role of videos, games, animations and simulations within K-12 education,” a report of national finding from Project Tomorrow’s Speak Up 2015, focuses on digital technologies used in instruction based on input from teachers, parents, administrators, librarians, and students. Read more about self-direction of students beyond the confines of a classroom as well as the emergence and adoption of pixel-based technologies.
Making It Yours
When inclement weather keeps kids indoor for recess, making up for lost playtime is key in keeping them engaged for the remaining school hours. Apps like Room Recess are helping educators keep things interesting. Developed by an elementary school teacher, Room Recess offers a variety of games to help kids learn math, reading, and word skills while they play. They may not even miss the swing set.
Minecraft is the classic example here, but there are other equally engaging options emerging. Amazon calls the Twitch Club the beginning of gaming’s emergence into mainstream, and systems like Viewpoint School, a private institution out of Calabasas, have formed gaming clubs that meet during breaks. The Twitch app allows students to stream their game play for anyone to watch. Viewpoint’s Twitch Club, organized by a 13-year-old student, took administrators some getting time to get used to, but it has since gained incredible and unexpected popularity.
Simulations can be a great way to add fun to learning about important and practical topics that may not be accessible otherwise. Thinking beyond the clear advantages of virtual field trips, simulations can be used to teach important skills—like financial literacy—and added competition can make learning all the more fun. The Travis Credit Union sets up a simulation for students that teaches money management and generates a bit of healthy competition between teens in Solano County, California. During the summer months, simulations like this can also offer an opportunity for school systems to partner with community members.
Makerspaces—opportunities to come together to explore technology and other tools for creating and innovating—have become popular at all levels of education. While they are not likely to be something that takes the place of recess on a rainy day, Makerspaces can be created as after school or summer events, and again, community partners can often be called upon to add their support. Perhaps not “fun” in a digital sense, changing a classroom setup to be more interactive and less lecture-based can, in itself, add an element of contact that is more enjoyable for students.
A discouraging aspect of missing recess is the impact on students’ abilities to move around. Technology can help with that too. Microsoft XBox Kinect is a classic example that allows for a wide range of activities that students can engage in individually or in teams that require movement and play. With a plethora of gaming options for this system and similar ones, it is a good option for a physical recess period.
Let’s not forget classic games. There’s still room in the classroom on rainy days to pull out board games. The height of new technology does not always have to be the answer to gaming needs. Classic games like Risk or Monopoly are engagers for kids of all ages.
Think Outside the Sandbox
Gaming isn’t just reserved for rainy or snowy days of course. Many teachers are incorporating gaming into regular classroom activities, recognizing the power and potential of gaming to engage students in relevant ways. Relevancy is critical, of course. MIT mathematician, computer scientist and educator Seymour Papert has said that adding technology to a space is not adequate and holds little hope for success unless properly considered for potential benefits. Teachers must think strategically about the value that games may provide and ensure that these activities are tied to desired learning outcomes.
Takeaway: Recess, after-school, and summer school activities have always challenged both teachers and parents to be creative to effectively engage students when they are in playtime mode. Gaming options can help by providing an opportunity for children to play, while still learning fundamental skills or new information. A wide array of options exist, both traditional and digital, to serve varied needs based on age, learning preference, budgets, and space.
1. “Gartner Redefines Gamification” Gartner. April 4, 2014.
2. “The Gamification of the Classroom” MeriTalk. June 6, 2016.
3. “Nearly Half of All Teachers Now Use Games as Part of Instruction, Marking a Big Jump Since 2010” Project Tomorrow. May 5, 2016.
4. “Gamification in Education: Time to (Not) Get Serious” Lenovo Education. January 11, 2016.
5. “Teacher-made Learning Games & Apps” Room Recess. N.d.
6. “Math. Science. Recess. Minecraft? Twitch Club Brings Gaming to School” Los Angeles Times. May 13, 2016.
7. “Travis Credit Union Offers Financial Boot Camp for Solano Teens” The Reporter. July 7, 2016.
8. “Trends in K-12 Education: Gamification of the Classroom” Northcentral University. October 24, 2015.
9. “Beyond the Absurd: Maximizing Technology in the Classroom” Lenovo Education. May 9, 2016.