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| December 19, 2014

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Kerbal Space Program and Edutainment

Kerbal Space Program and Edutainment
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Edutainment – the crossroads of education and entertainment. Basically, it’s the process of making education easy for students that don’t learn as easily by means of textbook readings or chalkboard dissertations. Previously, edutainment has been confined to the VCR, DVD player or teacher made Bingo Cards that relate to the subject matter. However, video games have a lot to offer in this space of education at varying grade levels.

Perfect examples of games that do edutainment well are “Minecraft,” “Kerbal Space Program,” “SimCity” and “Oregon Trail.” These games are perfect for educational purposes because they lack story. They lack a narrative that could otherwise constrict a lesson plan or distract students from the educational objective.

Kerbal Space Program is a complicated physics simulator sandbox game with no expressed storyline in its current build. The unexpressed objective of the game is to explore the solar system given to the user with the tools prescribed. It sounds easy, but even getting into orbit is a difficult task for first time players. Students must manage fuel, weight, speed, and angle of escape to achieve an efficient and useable orbit.

Getting a ship into orbit is a unique lesson because it requires one of two things – great mathematical ability coupled with a basic understanding of physics, or brute force trial and error.

For the nay-sayers that say, more often than not, that students will use brute force because it is a game, look at math classrooms today. Students who can solve the problems by described methods and ones who guess blindly make themselves apparent by not answering questions correctly. The same will be apparent in games, except it will be denoted by the negative reinforcement of a crash and explosion, which can be a more powerful motivator than a red ‘X’ on paper.

“Kerbal Space Program” requires basic knowledge of math and physics for successful operations. That’s easy enough to understand. How do “Minecraft” and “SimCity” relate to the classroom? These games do not offer inherent arithmetic opportunities, however, they are great for generating creativity and improving reasoning and problem solving abilities that are the basis for all other curriculums. Both games offer an open world, a blank canvas, a clean slate to work with.

Now, the slate isn’t entirely clean.

“Minecraft” comes with monsters and the need to gather resources. This is an organic way to generate obstacles for students to overcome. Creating a need for cognitive elasticity and quick reasoning. “Minecraft” is essentially a logistics management simulator in that the player needs food, shelter, weapons, and needs to avoid monsters. Once this is achieved, and a student is in a position to survive, the game changes. It becomes a world building exercise where the student will affect the landscape, sometimes creating their own cities or other immense structures.

ODU student and teacher Michael Duffey uses “Minecraft” in the classroom.

“I will give students a certain number of blocks and ask them to create a shape or an object… this is to help them with special awareness and planning,” Duffey said.

“SimCity” is slightly different in that the goal is to build the largest most efficient city possible. Students will encounter things that will counteract this goal such as theft, pollution, fires, and overdevelopment. “SimCity” is a much more intense logistics simulator than “Minecraft” and would likely suit an older audience better, but it can be used to flex a student’s planning and special awareness abilities just the same.

Games aren’t just games anymore. Games are tools. They teach pilots to fly and they teach kids to count. Games are tools as much as they are recreational outlets now, and the educational system is already benefiting from their use. Creative teachers like Michael Duffey are using these new and inventive ways to educate without boring the class.

By Sean Burke

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