Gamification, the use of game mechanics and design to facilitate learning, is among today's hottest ed tech trends in K-12. This stems, perhaps, from a recognition that modern students — who have grown up playing video games and have been shown to have shorter attention spans than previous generations — may be more engaged by content presented in a format they're familiar with.
In September, Amplify Learning announced the launch of its first direct-to-consumer educational game, Twelve A Dozen, which aims to teach students Algebra in a fun, visually engaging way. Forbes praised the Amplify game division's goal of capturing the attention of students during their "free time," a move that required the company to enlist the help of commercial game developers as it sought to give its products the same appeal as popular non-educational alternatives.
“Our games are like nothing you’ve ever seen. We’re not designing homework here. These games will improve learning not because kids have to play them in school, but because they want to play them in their own free time," Amplify CEO and former New York City schools chief Joel Klein said last year when announcing the company's foray into edu-gaming.
Amplify, however, is certainly not the first or latest company in the gamification pool, as the following five examples demonstrate.
Creator: Filament Games
Announced last week at the 2015 TCEA Convention & Exposition in Austin, TX, Backyard Engineers is the latest offering from Filament Games to capitalize on the current STEM craze by teaching engineering concepts and problem solving tricks to middle and high schools kids. The game challenges students to compete with their in-game neighbors in a backyard water balloon battle. Concepts like the manipulation of mechanical components are taught as students play around with the range and accuracy of their catapult. Essentially, students learn math skills while trying to soak the neighbor.
Creator: NASA and students from BYU and UMD
Funded through various science grants from the National Science Foundation and aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards, this multi-player alternate reality game aims to engage middle and high school students, specifically girls and minorities, in science. In DUST, players must use real world knowledge, skills, and resources (like the Internet, museums, and texts) to navigate a fictional world where "mysterious clouds of dust" left in the Earth's atmosphere by a meteor have rendered all adults unconscious. The game is chock full of clues and hidden tasks to keep students engaged, ultimately reinforcing critical science concepts.
Creator: Stanford School of Education
While Motion Math has since expanded its repertoire, it began as one game that focused on helping students understand fractions through a digital number line that has students "navigating" bouncing balls to the correct spot. The company's first game suite now has lessons on everything from place value to mental arithmetic, multiplication, and fractions. All seven of its games are aligned to the Common Core, and there are over 400 levels, so they can meet students where they are.
Nonprofit iCivics aims to engage students in lessons about civics and social studies through interactive games. Many who grew up in the '90s will remember the feeling of losing a loved one to diphtheria while playing Oregon Trail, and whether that could have been similarly conveyed in a traditional social studies lesson is unclear. iCivics understands the need to engage students on their level with those kinds of experiences, allowing them to play a role in what they are learning.
For example,tudents are asked to run their own firm of lawyers in "Do I Have A Right?" Meanwhile, "Supreme Decision" teaches students how the Supreme Court works by letting them weigh in on a case about fictional character Ben Brewer, who is suspended after wearing his favorite band's t-shirt to school and breaking the dress code. Students can even take either side in the case. In addition, the game checks for understanding of the legal concepts presented by students to "classify all of the statements correctly in Tinker v. Des Moines."
Not exactly a game so much as an entire engaging educational website, BrainPOP brings hundreds of lessons to life. Science, social studies, English, math, engineering & tech, health, and art & music are all topics educators can choose from — and a multitude of subtopics are contained within each. For example, the social studies vertical contains lessons on culture, economics, geography, and U.S. and world history, just to name a few.
Whether it's the start of the school day or a post-lunch recharge, a BrainPOP video is a fun way to ease students into the learning mindset. The animated videos may remind students of Saturday morning cartoons — funny, charming, and well-drawn — but their informative content bridges the gap between Cheerios-and-pajamas time and school time.