A New Community and Resources for Games for Learning


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 >


You knew it was coming, didn’t you? Edutopia has officially launched its new Games for Learning Community, and I am honored to be its facilitator. I’m excited to have a space where teachers can share best practices, ask questions around implementation and nerd out on gaming in the classroom.

If you are new to the conversation around games for learning, it is a large umbrella that contains many aspects of using games and game mechanics in the classroom. Whether you’re a seasoned gamer or a total noob, here’s an intro video and a glossary so that we can all have a common understanding. Please feel free to add additional terms in the comments of this post. (Yes, I said “noob”).

Serious Games
These games require learning in order to solve a problem. Often they are used in a variety of industries to train people. A serious game might even be a simulation. For example, I know that many simulations are used to train soldiers, firefighters and doctors. In terms of serious games in the education sector, these games require learning of core content and other skills like problem-solving and collaboration. Common examples of serious games in education are iCivics, which focuses on government and civic learning, and BrainPop, which has games on a variety of subjects from math to health

This is process of applying game mechanics to something that is not a game. These days, gamification is being used in a variety of areas, not just education. In fact, one of the seemingly funny but effective use of gamification is being used to keep people from speeding!

In terms of education, gameification has the capacity to completely transform the way students learn, how we assess them, and the criteria for success. Instead of a singular lesson, we are really changing the structure and paradigm of learning the classroom. Terry Heick did a great blog on the subject, and I describe overall structures and give further tips in two separate blogs about using the video game model to build units of instruction. Dr. Judy Willis gives some great specific tips as well. 3D Game Lab has even created a tool and professional development to help you gamify your classroom!

Game Based Learning (GBL)
This is also the blanket term you might see when reading or talking about games for learning. GBL and Games for Learning are almost synonymous. However, GBL refers to any practice that uses both Serious Games that balance gameplay with learning subject matter, as well as any instruction that also draws on “non-educational” games. In addition, games can range from a Kinect Game to a paper and pencil game. One might even include gamification of education in GBL. This may seem a little confusing, so let’s see how these different areas of GBL are used in context.

A GBL Approach
Are you going to use iCivics? Here, learning the content is required to be successful in the game. The game seamlessly pushes out content to students, which they must use to be successful. In order to achieve in “Win the White House,” students learn about the electoral college and elements of campaigning as they play. Through learning, trial and error, students can win the game

A Games for Learning Approach
Are you using Civilization? Here, the game isn’t necessarily used to push out content. Rather, it is used a space to apply and wrestle with the content in a new context. Teachers would pair other instructional activities with this game to have students learn, as well as create other assessments to check for learning.

A Gamification Approach
Are you creating a whole unit using the game model? Here, elements of games are applied to the overall model of instruction. Lessons become quests, and summative assessments become boss levels. In addition, multiple standards would be targeted in this unit. So instead of just learning about the electoral college, there would be many more standards and learning targets that would be synthesized in the boss level.

Additional Resources
Dr. James Paul Gee is a huge proponent of Games for Learning, being associated with many groups including the Games for Learning Institute, which also has many games you might use in your classroom. A blog recently posted by John Larmer reviews a recent talk he gave, but you can also watch Edutopia’s featured video. In addition, I encourage you to take a look at some of my past blogs on Games for Learning and look at the resources Edutopia has already collected. Let’s use these resources and the resources you can share with our community to engage students in learning critical content and 21st century skills. Game On!

Game-Based Learning and a Whole Child Approach


This post originally appeared on The Whole Child blog, an ASCD initiative to call on educators, policymakers, business leaders, families, and community members to work together on a whole child approach to education. View Original >


Game-based learning (GBL) is a current trend in education reform and, as it becomes more widely implemented, we must make sure we are not simply focusing on the tools. Using games for learning is a great tool, but only if the use is intentional and aligned to best practices for student learning. GBL can, in fact, be aligned to the Whole Child Tenets—healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged—further leveraging it as a legitimate instructional model to reach all students.


Each student enters school healthy and learns about and practices a healthy lifestyle.

There are many games for learning out there that promote health and well-being. Superbetter was just released and it includes a learning platform with quests and challenges targeted toward various physical fitness and mental well-being goals. Another fun mobile example is Run, Zombies!, an app that turns running into a zombie apocalypse story. There are plenty more games to choose from out there, and again, the games can help engage students in healthy activities in a fun way.


Each student learns in an environment that is physically and emotionally safe for students and adults.

One of the essential design principles of GBL (and games in general) is the safety to fail. Often in education, whether through punishing students by grading formative assessments (or not replacing earlier failures with successful summative assessments) or lack of multiple drafts, we teach students that they only have one shot to get the right answer. Games on the other hand make trial and error a safe norm. We can use GBL to foster a safe space for learning in our classrooms.


Each student is actively engaged in learning and is connected to the school and broader community.

GBL’s intent is to create an engaging environment where students learn both content and 21st century skills. Games engage our students through careful creation. From leader boards and avatars, to freedom to fail and immediate feedback, games and game mechanics can provide another learning model to engage our students.


Each student has access to personalized learning and is supported by qualified, caring adults.

GBL aligns specifically to the “personalized” aspect of this tenet. Although games are often collaborative, all games have important, individualized quests and missions. In a game that requires learning of content, the game is highly personalized. Success is only achieved through the individual’s play and learning.


Each graduate is challenged academically and prepared for success in college or further study and for employment and participation in a global environment.

Games are often quite challenging. Game designers spend time making the “flow” of the game perfect, where there is just enough challenge, but not so much that the game is impossible. We can use GBL to create an appropriate challenge to learn and practice content.

Through intentional and careful implementation, educators can use GBL and various games to address and meet the needs of the whole child.

GBL as Disruptive Innovation – New Leaf in Learning 2012 Conference Reflection

I was fortunate enough to present on Game-Based Learning at Follett’s New Leaf in Learning Conference, an annual practice that arms educators with tools and best practices to increase student engagement and achievement. Many sessions pushed the thinking of participants, but most inspiring were the key note speaking. One particular talk resonating with me and drew connections with the materials I present on Game-Based Learning.

Ian Jukes provided a “swift kick in the assumptions” to participants about the way schools operate and their evolving purpose. After many comical examples on the challenges of change, including the size of two horses assess dictating the size of the road, Jukes provide examples of disruptive innovations. Kodak going bankrupt, postal service centers closing – all are examples of disruptive innovation. “It isn’t personal,” Jukes said, it’s just what happens. In terms of education, Jukes elaborated on the way technology and other forces are causing disruptive innovation. Information is being distorted to our students in different ways, and because of that, we can no longer tinker with the “information delivery business,” that many schools still hold on to. Schools with change or die.

GBL is a paradigm shift in how information is presented to and applied by our students. Games create situated learning, where content knowledge is seamlessly pushed out, applied, and assessed. Instead of games viewing the learner as a receptacle to fill, games are created to draw learners into wrestling with content in manageable ways that are assessed and reassessed in safe ways. Games allow for trial and error in a safe space, where mistakes are overcome in an ongoing basis. In addition, games not only value content knowledge, but also 21st century skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, and technology literacy. GBL helps us reframe how students learn, how content is learned, and more importantly what is valued in terms of learning. GBL is critical player in disruptive innovation for education.

Gamification of Health and Wellness – A Next Step for Physical 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 an educator and a person who struggles with regular physical fitness, I’m excited about the current rise of gamification of physical fitness, mental well-being, and overall self improvement. For me personally, I am bored by a lot of physical fitness and wellness activities, and struggle to find activities and routines that continue to motivate me. I also see this in many students. Physical Education is often antiquated, with little emphasis giving to engagement and relevance, not to mention personalization and self-motivation. Yes, the overall objective of physical education is to human beings who take care of their bodies and remain healthy, but for some students, getting them to that point may take a variety of instructional strategies.

Jane McGonigal, guru of gaming has recently released SuperBetter, a game committed to helping people reach personalized health goals. What is truly unique about this gamification of health and wellness, is is variety of goals. Participants can pick from a variety of goals including regular workouts to injury recovery. The game leverages and builds personal resilience through normal gamification methods, but allows the user to customize the ends and even the means. Participants can utilize power packs of quests or create their own, and even gain allies. I can see this being used in the Physical Education Classroom, to increase motivation for students to participant. In Physical Education, failure is often view publicly, which can sometimes lead to students losing motivation, depending on the climate of the classroom. With Superbetter, students could be given options to fail and given further motivation to continue their quests towards health and wellness, and provided a personalize option.

There are a couple more targeted games that have been released that also leverage gamification to engage people in physical fitness. Zombies, Run! is a new game, with app for the smart phone, that turns running into quests, collection of items, and building of fortress to protect participants from zombies. As a kickstarter project, it has yet to be fully released, but will be this spring. When participants run, stories are narrated, punctuated by personal music playlists, item collection, and random sprinting to avoid zombies. As running is a regular part of Physical Education, this game could provide and interesting way to engage students in regular cardiovascular workouts. Fitocracy is also garnering attention as a way gamification can increase exercise goals. Participants work in teams and in a community on exercise goals, with easy documentation of workouts and instant motivation and feedback to improve. A class could use this platform to reinforce not only exercise and fitness, but teamwork and collaboration on these goals.

Physical Educators can leverage gamification as a viable option to engage the non-engaged in the classroom. Teachers can align quest achievements and quests to physical education content standards. They can also couple lessons with other traditional forms of assessment. As these games are often collaborative, teamwork can be fostered as well as health and wellness.

Use PBL to Innovate the Music 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 >


Happy Music in Our Schools Month! I wrote in a previous blog, Visual Arts as Critical Thinking, that I was a vocal jazz nerd (and still am to some extent). Music was crucial to my growth. When I was going through some rough times as a high school student, it kept me in school. It was an outlet. We’ve heard or experienced similar stories. Music is crucial to a student’s education as a whole child, as it aligns to principles of social and emotional learning.

But I believe we can up the practice of music education a notch with project-based learning (PBL). PBL can further champion music education and continue to legitimize it as critical content, even as it is under attack by naysayers and budget cuts. In addition, music educators deal with the same concerns as core teachers, including student engagement, assessment and standards. Utilize PBL to address these concerns and embrace new possibilities for the music classroom.

PBL and Standards
It is important to know what you are assessing, as it drives what the assessment and project will look like. Music standards are quite targeted and quite rich. From music theory notation to understanding cultural connections of music, there is much that can be targeted in the music classroom. Unpack the standards by starting to look at the skills as well as the concepts that are contained within them. You might be surprised that the standards ask for more than you thought. Consider Standard 6 from MENC’s National Standards for Music Education: “Listening to, analyzing and describing music.” How are you teaching students all the skills embedded in this standard? In addition, you may have specific state standards that break these power standards in to smaller, unpacked standards. Regardless, examining the standards can make sure you create a PBL project that is targeted with in-depth inquiry.

PBL projects create the need to know critical content through an authentic purpose. After examining your standards, consider creating an engaging context to learn a power standard or multiple smaller standards. Let’s be honest. Not every kid you get in your class may want to be there initially. Therefore, you must create engaging contexts for learning — which is the essence of PBL. Perhaps to learn Standard 8, “Understanding relationships between music, the other arts and disciplines outside the arts,” students will engage in a project where they advocate for music education to their local school board by showcasing it as crucial to the curriculum in all disciplines.

Performance is the essence of the music classroom. However, these performances can have a variety of focuses, depending on what is being targeted. In addition, not every assessment for a PBL project in the music classroom needs to be a performance. In fact, if you were assessing Standard 6 above, you might create a project where students write music recommendations to people with heart problems. This fulfills an innovative and authentic purpose, and creates a relevance for learning the skills of listening, analyzing and describing music.

Music educators, please continue to do what you do, but consider taking it up a notch from time to time with a PBL project. There is much more to PBL than I have highlighted here. I recommend watching the Buck Institute for Education’s webinar on the Essential Elements of PBL to learn more. PBL can help focus your instruction, build authenticity and create purpose and relevance for reluctant students in your classroom. Look at their learning targets and consider new possibilities for assessing those needs and creating a PBL project that will engage them.