Many teachers are excited about trying games in the classroom but don’t know where to begin. The landscape of learning games is vast and confusing — and it’s growing and changing rapidly. Moving at the pace of the software industry, games are often updated and iterated so that new versions replace familiar ones before you’ve even had a chance to implement them in your classroom routine.

And teachers have busy schedules. We have barely enough time to complete our prep or even to provide students with as much written feedback as they deserve. Exploring such unfamiliar territory as games for learning takes a considerable investment of time and energy. For over-scheduled and underpaid teachers, available time and energy is already scarce and face-to-face classroom time is our top priority.

On the other hand, not exploring, updating and reinventing our teaching strategies can cause us to miss valuable opportunities to reach students. We all chose teaching because we love it, and a good teacher is constantly motivated to improve the classroom experience. Games are a great tool that can add a spark of new vitality. But how do you go about choosing the right game? What criteria should you use to pick a game for your classroom?

Is It Fun? Or, Is It Cool?

Selecting the right game can be like walking the teachers’ tightrope. Both engagement and academic rigor need to be priorities, but there is often tension between them.

This is the same tension an English teacher might be forced to mediate when picking a text. For example, as much as I might want to assign James Joyce’s “Ulysses” to a class of sixth-graders, the chance that it will engage them is pretty slim. They would likely struggle with the complexity of the language and we would hardly be able to address the thematics. It would be an uphill battle against student boredom that would not serve anyone.

Children’s creativity was also enhanced by playing any kind of video game, including violent games, but not when the children used other forms of technology, such as a computer or cell phone, other research revealed.

Simple games that are easy to access and can be played quickly, such as “Angry Birds,” can improve players’ moods, promote relaxation and ward off anxiety, the study said.

“If playing video games simply makes people happier, this seems to be a fundamental emotional benefit to consider,” said Granic.

The authors also highlighted the possibility that video games are effective tools to learn resilience in the face of failure.

A great literature curriculum considers the particular students in the class and chooses books that are simultaneously fun to read, academically challenging and provide important canonical touchstones that can help contextualize future learning. Satisfying any one of these criteria, without the others, is problematic. The same is true for learning games. But for some reason, when it comes to games, many teachers are confused about the difference between “cool” and “fun.”

Cool and fun are not the same thing. Cool has to do with a game’s aesthetics: the art, sound design, characters, narrative, et cetera. But a game does not need to be cool in order to to be fun. Don’t be seduced by the spectacle. Making coolness a priority is tantamount to choosing to teach literature with “People” magazine because the students like to read it. Sure, pop culture gossip would satisfy the engagement criteria, but it wouldn’t satisfy any of the other academic criteria.

Originally published on; written by. Read the full article here.

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