Vgalt Richfield 2009

This day was centered around the idea that play is an important part of learning, and that we can leverage our natural learning state — play — as a portal to work, and work like actvities.
Engagement and motivation are crucial if we are to ever begin with standards and benchmarks, and putting mandates up as an overhead or classroom poster is not going to motivate kids to jump in.
The presentation and breakout offered nine ways that games can be used in the classroom, and these are built on the premise that play can motivate and engage, and the games that we build for learning are what help them sustain their engagement.


Learning is a game to Brock Dubbels and the students in his class at Seward Montessori in Minneapolis.

They spend their school time together playing off-the-shelf video games for the Nintendo Wii and other popular systems. But the 26 sixth- to eighth-graders aren’t learning from the games’ content. They’re gaining key skills simply by playing and studying the games.

“It connects to their lives,” Dubbels explained. “Research shows that kids want to perform where they have competence. Games are part of their lives.”

That’s where Dubbels’ Video Games as Learning Tools class comes in. Over a three-week period, the kids split up into groups and play video games. They also take notes. The goal is to explain how the game is played, how a player might win and how the game is designed. By the end of the session, the students will have created a multimedia presentation, including lots of writing, about their games that is then uploaded to the Web.

It’s the modern version of a book report.

Sure, the kids are playing. But Dubbels, who has a background in cognitive psychology, says they’re also improving reading comprehension, learning to work cooperatively, building technical-writing skills and incorporating technology into their studies.

That resonates with the kids who elected to take Dubbels’ class, such as Genevieve Paule, 14.

“I like video games a lot, and I thought it would be cool learning about how to learn from them,” she said on the first day of the class in the school’s media center. “It’s going to be really interesting, because all I’ve ever done before is play them for fun. But now I get to play them for class and actually learn about how they help people learn.”

As Genevieve confabbed with three other girls about what game they wanted to play, Simon Quevedo, 12, and Jess Sanchez, 14, worked together to set up an old Nintendo 64 system that Sanchez had borrowed from his dad.

“I like the part about learning how the games can help you in the future and how they’re made, instead of just playing them,” Jess said as he connected the game console to a TV. “It makes me think of them in a different way.”

Both boys said they might one day like to learn how to design video games.

“Oftentimes, kids don’t think very deeply or analytically about the video games that they play,” Dubbels said. “They don’t learn how to deconstruct; we don’t give them the time to seriously reflect and we don’t ask them to evaluate. I think that makes us helpless in a consumer vacuum, where we are inundated with so much stuff that we never get the time to think carefully and thoughtfully about it. And as a child, that’s your chance.”

Modern learners wired differently

Other educators want to explore that opportunity, too. Dubbels will spend much of his summer showing other teachers how the class works. His training projects include an online course for Minneapolis Public Schools, in-service training for Richfield Public Schools and seminars for a consortium of school districts in upstate New York. He also will be presenting at the Games in Education Conference in New York and at the Games+Learning+Society Conference in Wisconsin.

Dean Breuer, instructional technology coordinator for Richfield Public Schools, says he knows exactly where Dubbels is coming from in reaching out to kids through something they know well.

“These modern learners, their brains are just wired differently,” Breuer said.

He said that he also teaches with books, of course, and that there are times when discussions and lectures are important. But, Breuer added, “if all you do are more traditional methods of instruction, it may not be as clear to 21st-century learners that you are relevant, that you get that they are different.”

Andy Reiner, 33, executive editor of Minneapolis-based Game Informer magazine, likes Dubbels’ approach. Reiner said he was fed “a steady diet of book reviews” when he was in school. “In retrospect, you’d think I attended school in the 1800s,” he said.

Reiner clarified that he’s not diminishing the importance of books. But he pointed out that evaluating a video game, for example, requires a different writing style and critical analysis than a book review.

“This isn’t just about students having fun with their homework,” Reiner said. “By incorporating video games into his teaching, Dubbels is expanding his students’ technical-writing skills.”

He added: “And why shouldn’t school be fun? For one student, a fun review might be reading the work of Edgar Allan Poe. For another, it could be playing ‘The Legend of Zelda,’ watching ‘Star Trek,’ or listening to Green Day. We choose our occupation later in life. Why can’t we choose our homework if our teacher is willing to teach us the skills that go with it?”

The more complex, the better

Dubbels, 42, is a lifelong gamer who grew up in the shadow of Atari in Cupertino, Calif. In class, he has a PlayStation 2, an Xbox and a Wii — all his personal systems. The students bring in their systems, too.

The kids also can bring in any game they want, as long as it is rated Everyone or Everyone 10+ by the Entertainment Software Rating Board. Teen-rated games, which are suitable for players 13 and older, can be played with parents’ permission.

Any game will do, Dubbels says. His classroom favorites include the cerebral first-person shooter “Metroid Prime 3: Corruption,” sports games such as “Tiger Woods Golf” and “NBA Live,” and movement-based titles such as “Shaun White Snowboarding” and “Dance Dance Revolution.” The Xbox 360 version of the latter is what Paule and her group decided to do.

“The more complex the game, the better — because the deeper we can dig into the game, the more I love it,” Dubbels said.

Parents must sign a permission slip for kids to take the class. But Dubbels acknowledges that traditionalists might not like his video-game approach to teaching basic skills.

“To be quite honest, most parents have bought their kids game systems,” he said. “There are some people who are a little bit up in arms, but they just don’t understand about games and kids.”

What I Want to See in the National Gallery of Writing

By now, you’ve probably heard about the National Gallery of Writing that NCTE is building online by inviting people to select and post one thing they have written that is important to them. Anyone can share any composition. It can be any format—from word processing to photography, audio recording to text messages—and any type of writing—from letters to lists, memoirs to memos.

I found a great example of the kind of writing that belongs in the Gallery. Read “Video Games: Play and Learn” from this week’s Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune. The article describes a project, created by at the Seward Montessori, that tackles reading comprehension, STEM, analytical skills, and community building:

Over a three-week period, the kids split up into groups and play video games. They also take notes. The goal is to explain how the game is played, how a player might win and how the game is designed. By the end of the session, the students will have created a multimedia presentation, including lots of writing, about their games that is then uploaded to the Web.

Students at Seward Montessori and their teacher Brock Dubbels describe the fun and engagement that are part of this video game unit, but there’s more than just fun going on. Jess Sanchez, one of the students, explains that he likes “learning how the games can help you in the future and how they’re made, instead of just playing them. . . . . It makes me think of them in a different way.” Could a teacher ask for a better recognition of the critical thinking behind a classroom activity?

Dubbels has designed a great assignment, and what makes it work is that underneath it adheres to the basic principles outlined in the NCTE Beliefs about the Teaching of Writing. The students in the middle school class are positioned as authorities in an authentic research project. Their project is personally relevant, and they have a real audience of peers who want to hear what they have to say. The presentations students publish at the end of the unit are precisely the kind of work that belongs in the National Gallery of Writing.

So why do I want to see those presentations in the Gallery? The Gallery invitation asks writers to share one piece of writing, anything that they “deem important or significant.” Those multimedia presentations are perfect because, in them, the writers are exploring something that they know and care about. The presentations are “important or significant” because they matter to the people who wrote them. That’s the kind of writing I hope people will share—and the kind of writing I hope all teachers will encourage others to submit.

Do your part. Register a local gallery in the National Gallery of Writing today, and make plans to submit your own writing and to encourage students, families, colleagues, local community members, and even your state and federal politicians to do the same. I want to see compositions that you really care about in the Gallery when it opens in October!

Schools Get in the Game

Schools Get in the Game

Ok, it’s time to submit your school reports. Did everyone play Mario Kart at the weekend? Good. Let’s begin with group discussion, what is the games premise and objective?
This may sound a little strange but for one Minneapolis teacher video games have become learning tools for his class of sixth to eighth graders. Brock Dubbels of Seward Montessori in Minneapolis designed his ‘Video Games as Learning Tools’ class to span a three week period. Requiring children to create detailed multimedia presentations from video games played in groups. He explains that the children are not just learning from the games content but also gaining key skills from playing and studying the games. Dubbels, who has a background in cognitive psychology, goes on to say “It connects to their lives, research shows that children want to perform where they have competence.” Brock Dubbels will be spreading the word throughout the summer period with training seminars and online courses designed to show other teachers how his three week course works.
The children split up into groups and play video games. They will take notes whilst playing, with the goal being to explain how the game is played, how a player might win and how the game is designed. It is said to be a modern version of a book report. But is this new take on the rising popularity of video games a healthy and positive attitude? Or will it just teach children that they can just goof around playing video games and call it learning?

Read more

vgalt crawl

This course is an online introduction to Video Games as Learning Tools, a comprehensive course based upon five years of implementation and research. The course builds from three concepts:

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  2. Games
  3. Motivation

The course offers innovative ways to learn and connect engaging instructional strategies, research, and resources for educators, instructional designers, game makers, and people with an interest in games and learning. The course is built from an instructional framework that lists five ways that games can be used for instruction (figure 1).


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This framework is intended to offer a range of experiences for a variety of learners and familiarity with games, as well as purposes and objectives. The introductory course offers beginners a range of experiences for developing comfort and competence, as well as approaches to using games for instructional purposes, and it offers game enthusiasts and game designers opportunity to gain introduction to research, learning theories, and design techniques.

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Video Games as Learning Tools

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