Use Game-Based Learning to Teach Civics


This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


Game-Based Learning (GBL) is another great pedagogical model for engaging students, and the term is more expansive and complex than you might think. It can range from pencil and paper games to massive online games like World of Warcraft to everything in between. Overall, it’s about balancing gameplay with the learning of important content. The focus is on retaining the information learned, and applying it. This application can take place within the game itself or outside of it.

So how can we use this model for civics education? Luckily there are already resources out there to use as tools, or you can also create your own GBL games for teaching important civics content.

First, you need to start with the standards — if you don’t know your learning objectives, it will be impossible for you to create or use a targeted GBL game. This is where a myth around GBL, and games in general, comes up:

“There are no defined learning outcomes.”

On the contrary, every game has a specific objective designed for the gameplay. Whether it’s collecting a certain item in a quest, defeating an enemy, or learning an important piece of information, games demand learning in order to succeed. In this case, the civics content needs to be at the forefront. The Center for Civics Education has specific standards that all teachers can use across all grade levels. Some of the questions to explore include, “What is government and what should it do?” and “What are the roles of citizens in American democracy?” Although specific to the U.S., they can be modified to meet civics education in all countries. Once you have the objective in mind, you can go in many directions.

Level One: Use iCivics to Teach the Content
If you are new to gaming, the games at iCivics are excellent and free for teachers to use with their students. There are also lesson plans! The games are broken down by topic from the “Separation of Powers” to “The Legislative Branch.” Perhaps the students play “Executive Command” to learn about the powers of the Executive Branch. You can easily align the games to the Civics Education standards. The next step for the teacher is to create a great performance assessment (although iCivics provides great reflective activities to use after the game has been played). This is a great novice option.

Level Two: Pair the Right Game with the Learning Objective
This is a little more challenging and requires either a gamer’s knowledge base or a colleague who is a gamer! There are so many games out there that it can be daunting to find the right one that meets your civics learning objective. As the instructor, you have to be comfortable knowing that the game may or may not directly push out the content you need. Maybe you’ll use a game to engage students, but wrestle with content in a parallel situation. Or you may get lucky and the game you use will actually demand direct learning of the content. Either way, you the teacher needs to create lessons to meet the situation. Perhaps you’ll use one of the many versions of Civilization to explore governmental structure, and pair it with important lessons and activities on American democracy. You would have to focus the gameplay itself, as well as make sure it explores the learning you need it to. Another idea is exploring races, classes, and worlds in the latest online MMO (massively multiplayer online role-playing game). Players could travel to various worlds and interact with different characters to explore personal freedoms and rights. Again, gameplay and paired lessons need to be designed carefully. This method is a more intermediate approach.

Level Three: Design a Game Yourself
If you are a gamer like me, or have a friend you can collaborate with, you might be able to gamify an activity from your teacher’s bag-of-tricks. The game will need to have specific aspects: leaderboards, incentives, and feedback. And of course, the game only succeeds if the student learns content. Another great resource I have is the Adding Play Toolkit. It provides cards describing a variety of game design must-haves — where you as game designer and teacher, choose what the game will be about. You will choose the motivator for the game, the game mechanics, the victory conditions, and the social mechanics. There are many options in each of these categories, which allow you to create a variety of games. I would recommend this option for an experienced teacher or gamer.

I would love to hear about the games you have created, paired, or used, and how it engaged your students in learning critical civics content. I’m excited that time and energy are being invested in a civics education strategy that works!

Tame the Beast: Tips for Designing and Using Rubrics


This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


Rubrics are a beast. Grrrrrrr! They are time-consuming to construct, challenging to write and sometimes hard to use effectively. They are everywhere. There are rubrics all over the web, plus tools to create them, and as educators, it can overwhelm us. Rubrics are driven by reforms, from standards-based grading to assessment for learning. With so many competing purposes, it only makes sense that rubrics remain a beast to create and to use. Here are some (only some) tips for designing and using effective rubrics. Regardless of the reforms and structures you have in place, these can be used by all educators.

1) Use Parallel Language
Make sure that the language from column to column is similar, that syntax and wording correspond. Of course, the words will change for each section or assignment, as will the expectations. But in terms of readability, you need to make sure that the rubric can be easily read from left to right or vice versa. In addition, if you have an indicator described in one category, then it needs to be described in the next category, whether it is about “having” or “not having” something. This is all about clarity and transparency to students

2) Use Student Friendly Language!
Tip #1 hints at a larger issue. If the students can’t understand the rubric, then how do you expect it to guide instruction, reflection and assessment? If you want students to engage in using the rubric, they have to understand it. Make sure the language is learning-level appropriate. If you use academic language or concepts, then you’ll need time to teach students those meanings and concepts.

3) Use the Rubric with Your Students… Please!!!
You have to use the rubric with the students. It means nothing to them if you don’t. We’ve all had that time when we gave students the rubric and they threw it away, or the papers lay across the room like snow at the end of class. In order for students to keep a rubric, and more importantly to find it useful in terms of their learning, they must see a reason for using it. Students should understand that the rubric is there to help them reflect, self-assess, unpack, critique and more. Use it as a conversation piece during student-led conferences and parent-teacher conferences. If students and stakeholders use a rubric, they will understand the expectations and their relevancy to learning.

4) Don’t Use Too Many Columns

This has to do with organization in general. You want the rubric to be comprehensible and organized. We’ve all been in the situation where we feel like it’s a stretch to move a criterion in a rubric across many columns. Perhaps there are just too many columns? Pick the right amount so that the criteria flow logically and naturally across levels.

5) Common Rubrics and Templates are Awesome
Avoid rubric fatigue, as in creating rubrics to the point where you just can’t do it any more. This can be done with common rubrics that students see across multiple classroom activities, and through creating templates that you can alter slightly as needed. Design those templates for learning targets or similar performance tasks in your classroom. It’s easy to change these types of rubrics later. In terms of common rubrics, students need routines, and what better way to create that routine than with a common rubric for a department or grade level? Students feel more confident when they go into different classrooms with the knowledge that expectations are the same. The easiest rubrics I have seen are used commonly for practices that all teachers work on, such as reading, writing and 21st century skills. Figure out your common practices and create a single rubric your team can use.

6) Rely on Descriptive Language

The most effective descriptions you can use are specific descriptions. That means avoiding words like “good” and “excellent.” At the same time, don’t rely on numbers, such as number of resources, as your crutch. Instead of saying “find excellent sources” or “use three sources,” focus your rubric language on the quality use of whatever sources students find, and on the best possible way of aligning that data to the work. It isn’t about the number of sources, and “excellent” is too vague for students. Be specific and descriptive.

These are some useful tips for rubrics, and I’m sure you have many yourselves that come from your experience as educators. One of my favorite books for rubrics is Creating and Recognizing Quality Rubrics. It has helped me refine my rubrics and work with teachers to refine their own. It has great examples and non-examples, as well as a rubric for rubrics! Funny, huh? There are many books and resources out there to help you create rubrics, and many rubrics that are great. However, I encourage you all to not only create your own in order to practice and improve your abilities as educators, but also to avoid adopting a rubric instantly. Consider whether is has to be customized to fit your needs and, more importantly, the needs of your students. Be critical of the rubrics out there, but at the same time use the resources that are already available. Please share your best practices with the community!

An Introduction to Game Based Learning


Gamification Summit This post originally appeared at KinectEducation, a community that works on resources from not only effective use of the Kinect in the classroom, but also creating connected and engaging classroom.View Original >


Part of education reform is about terminology, but more importantly it is about being on the same page as other educators. Once on the same page, we can “speak the same language, and make a collective, cohesive argument for what’s best for students. At KinectEd, we want to provide resources, lesson plans, and also these tools for advocacy. I hope to write blogs to give educators the tools to articulate why using games in the classroom can be effective, how to ensure good implementation, and how to advocate to stakeholders how and why it works. Thus, I want to arm us all with clear language about Game Based Learning (GBL).

Our good friend Wikipedia, gives a good overview of GBL, and summarizes it as “a branch of serious games that deals with applications that have defined learning outcomes. Generally they are designed in order to balance the subject matter with the gameplay and the ability of the player to retain and apply said subject matter to the real world.”

Serious games are not a new thing. I think iCivics is a prime example of this in terms of learning Social Studies and Civics content. In many of these games, players and engaged in a game, but must learn content in order to succeed at it. In order to progress, the player must learn. All players learn, regardless of the game being played, but here the content being learned might be consider for mainstream “academic.” In the classroom, teachers can design these sorts of games, but it’s obviously a challenge. Teachers as Game Designers?!? It’s possible, but it takes work. (Looking forward to helping teachers design these games in later blogs).

Related to this, I would argue that GBL and Gamification of Education overlap in many ways. You are taking game design elements and applying them to your instruction. However, Gamification is more “global” in that it is applied to the overall classroom structure, rather than simply creating a serious game for the classroom. However, if you are gamifying your classroom, aren’t you in essence creating a serious game, the serious game being the entire structure of learning? Something to think about, as this conversation of Games for Learning and GBL move forward.

In addition, besides creating serious games as a teacher for learning, GBL is also balancing a game that might be unrelated to the academics, with academic learning. For example, you might take World of Warcraft and use it a method to integrate and engage learning in English Language Arts. Through careful lesson design, where gameplay is balanced with more traditional or “academic” activities, the game can create the entry point to learn critical content.

Don’t get me wrong, I personally believe that gameplay is academic. One of my staple books is James Paul Gee’s “What Video Games Have To Teach Us About Learning and Literacy?” In it, Gee expounds about the critical learning that takes place when we game. GBL is about merging this learning experience in gaming with the learning that needs to take place in the classroom subject areas. As you explain GBL to your colleagues, stakeholders, and education reformers, make sure to elicit its complexities in terms implementation and definition, while espousing its critical gains for engagement, learning and student achievement.

Gamification vs. Game Based Learning in Education


Gamification Summit This post originally appeared on the Gamification Blog, one stop for the latest news, insight, research and commentary on gamification.View Original >


As the debate and discussion for games and learning continue in the field of education, there needs to be some clarification in terminology. Educators and Advocates may think they are speaking the same language, but this is not certain. When I read the many blogs, articles, and resources on the subject, I see some lack of clarity, as well as oversimplification, when it comes to Gamification of Education and Game Based Learning.

So let’s start with the terms:

Gamification is the process of using game thinking and game mechanics to solve problems and engage users. The key takeaway here is that this is a process. You take something that is not normally a game, and make it so (nerd reference intended.) Gamification of Education is exactly what it sounds like; taking these games elements, from incentives, immediate feedback, rewards, and more to classroom instruction. It requires looking at the full package of instruction and changing the paradigm. In classroom instruction, it takes multiple instances, and a depth of time to see the full extent of gamification. As in, one visit to a gamified classroom will not allow you to see the entire extent to which that class has actually been gamified. You might see a specific mini quest with a formative assessment, but not the entire pedagogical structure, An classroom unit or a classroom in its entirety must be gamified. A prime example of this is Quest2Learn, a school in NYC where the entire structure of learning over the course of the unit, and year, is gamified. From boss levels and quests to avatars and incentives, the entire learning process is a game.

Game Based Learning or GBL is a a branch of serious games that deals with applications that have defined learning outcomes. GBL balances subject matter learning and game play with the objectives of retaining and applying said subject matter in the real world. Things get complex when juxtaposing GBL with Gamification. GBL is using games in the classroom. In a previous post, Andrew Proto, mentioned iCivics and TimeZ Attack as examples of great serious games. These games have clear learning objectives, from civic common core standards to math common core standards. These games can use a high degree of technology or it might be pen and paper.

GBL and Gamification overlap often. In a Gamified classroom, you make be using smaller games throughout the unit. You might, for example, use a game on iCivics to help teach one component of larger unit, to arm students for a boss level. On the flip side of this, if you are creating a intensive Gamified unit, then you are actually creating a large serious game. So we see that GBL can be a small component of the learning, or a descriptor of the entire pedagogical model. Gamification, on the other hand, refers to changing the entire model of instruction to be a game or game-like.

Both GBL and Gamification of Education want the same thing: student engagement. They require students to wrestle with critical content as well as learn 21st century skills. They require a paradigm shift of the educator from “sage of the stage” to “guide on the side.” Regardless of which method or pedagogy you employ in your classroom, you are providing an opportunity for students who may not have been reach to engage in learning that will allow them to achieve success.

Using Graphic Novels and Comics in the Classroom


This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


I know many teachers use graphic novels and comics in the classroom. There are amazing books on the subject that include useful tools on how to effectively implement these resources for learning. The main thing teachers need to consider is purpose. I know, we love books and tools, but just like with technology, sometimes we get wrapped up in the tool instead of first thinking about the purpose. Here are some specific strategies to ponder as you select a graphic novel or comic to read, or as you consider how students might create their own. Thinking about them will help you focus your purpose in your instruction. All of them are useful, as long as the purpose is clear to the teacher and the learner.

1) A Tool to Differentiate Instruction
Graphic novels and comics can be a great way to differentiate instruction for learners in terms of reading and also in terms of assessment. Perhaps you want to offer your students a graphic novel to support their reading of a chapter in a rigorous text. If this text is a classic, there are many graphic novel adaptations of classics out there. Maybe you’re doing a project-based learning (PBL) project where you want to provide voice and choice for the student assessment. Students might be choosing between a letter, comic or podcast to answer a driving question, such as: how can we debunk myths and stereotypes about world religions?

2) Build Critical Reading Skills
Reading standards around Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) can be built through the complex analysis and evaluation of graphic novels and comics. Have students look at how the authors and illustrators use colors, textures, words, text boxes, frames and camera angles; then make connections between these elements and evaluated their effectiveness.

3) Assess Student Learning
PBL calls for the creation of authentic products that are useful and credible to the group. You can have students create comics or graphic novels, or components of them, as a useful formative assessment tool to check for understanding of important content. If used as a summative assessment, the comic could be made to combat bullying, such as the suggestion Suzie Boss made in an earlier post. Make the graphic novel or comic a product that students create to meet a need. Don’t just make it a regurgitation of knowledge. Instead, give it an authentic purpose.

4) Study the Genre Itself
Scott McCloud, in his book Understanding Comics, asserts the legitimacy and complexity of comics and graphic novels as a genre. Pairing selections from his work with a graphic novel or comic can provide interesting discussion and inquiry into the elements of the genre itself. Genre study is an easy way to utilize literature circle groups and instructional lessons, where students get to pick from a variety of options.

5) Examine Literary Elements
In addition to traditional literary elements like symbol, character and plot, graphic novels take these elements and modify them, where characters become heroes and villains, where symbols are actually drawn and created. Consider this clip from the movie “Unbreakable,” where the “normal” arch villain and hero confront each other, not in a fantasy, but in real life.

There are many other purposes for graphic novels in the classroom, from looking at different cultures and backgrounds to utilizing technology in authentic ways. Just make sure you select the graphic novel or comic with a clear purpose in mind. Perhaps you have multiple purposes, as there are many instructionally sound purposes out there.

I will leave you with some favorite graphic novels and comics that I’ve used in my classroom! Trust me, I have read plenty more than this list!

Persepolis, a memoir of a girl growing up during the Islamic revolution in Iran, was recently made into a motion picture.
Maus, a top favorite for many, explores themes of the Holocaust through a memoir characterized by mice and cats.
American Born Chinese is the tale of three characters: Jin Wang, the only Chinese-American in the neighborhood; Chin-Kee, the ultimate Chinese stereotype; and the Monkey King, ancient fable character.
X-Men Annual #4 – Uncanny X-Men Volume #3 In this issue, the X-men travel into Dante’s Inferno.
What are your favorites and what are you favorite purposes?