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Mace & Crown | December 14, 2017

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Learning Through Video Games

Learning Through Video Games
Audra Reigle
Contributing Writer

For some students, education can be boring, and they may not be particularly invested in some subjects. The issue spurs educators to find ways to make lessons more engaging for students. These days, video games are not just for entertainment but, for education too. Games most people wouldn’t expect to be educational, can be just that. Video games could be the solution to student boredom.

The job market is changing. Jobs in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) areas are becoming increasingly popular, though there is not as much interest in the field from students. An article on the US Army website states, “only 16 percent of high school seniors are interested in becoming STEM professionals.” These jobs do not even require a high school degree, according to a ValueWalk article. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, referenced in the ValueWalk article, says that professions in this area “will expand 1.7 times faster than non-STEM occupations between 2010 and 2020.”

On the surface, Minecraft looks like a game where the player uses blocks to build structures. However, Minecraft can also be used for coding lessons by using a system called Blockly, according to Quartz. Students will learn basic concepts such as program loops and “if” statements by dragging and dropping instructions in order on the screen. This, along with videos within the system, will allow the students to learn these more complex principles as part of the game. MinecraftEdu, a software developed by Teacher Gaming, is also allowing Minecraft to make its way to the classroom, according to CNN. Microsoft has plans to launch a version of Minecraft for schools over the summer as well as offer free trials. These systems are already in use by over 7,000 teachers worldwide. The game also offers a multiplayer mode so students can collaborate and learn about Great Britain, according to PC Gamer, and Denmark, according to GameSpot.

Sim City, a game where the player is the mayor and creator of a town, also has an educational version, according to USA Today. It also has an online community with lesson plans and sample assignments for teachers. These sample assignments ask students to prioritize the creation of public works projects in their cities and to figure out why the electricity has been turned off in a pre-created town. The educational version teaches students problem solving, and since the public works assignment has a writing component, it allows them to improve their writing skills.

An article by the Christian Science Monitor says, “studies have found that creativity-minded video games can increase student engagement and teach substantive concepts.” With no limits to what the students could create in Minecraft or Sim City, they can learn valuable skills, such as problem solving, while having fun. Video games have been in the classroom since 1979, the article states, starting with the Oregon Trail, a game that teaches students about the westward expansion of the United States. A 2014 survey referenced in the article states that 55 percent of teachers who use video games in the classroom use them at least once a week.

On the other hand, a Scientific American article says that because there isn’t much proof of video games correlating with better test scores or cognitive development, people question whether or not video games in the classroom is a good idea.

“The improvements in game scores for children with low levels of working memory did not extend to broader skills,” Darren Dunning of the University of York said in a 2013 study conducted by the University of Cambridge.

Children’s performance in brain training video games only improved when playing similar games. Essentially, practice makes perfect.

“Digital games cannot be treated like the latest quick fix to the education system,” Brian Waniweski, a social entrepreneur and the former managing director of the Institute of Play, said. Therefore, while the games can be helpful, they are not a one-size-fits-all approach.

While there are mixed reactions towards video games in the classroom, there is hope for them sticking around. With video games becoming more than just entertainment, students can enjoy learning. If there’s a child who doesn’t like school, but loves video games, their learning experience could be tailored to suit them. The students can be tested on their skill in the game as well as what they’ve learned from it. It’ll also allow for communication and collaboration between the students as they discuss the game and help each other when they’re struggling. The games are not guaranteed to fix the education system, but they could help.