Game-Based Learning to Teach and Assess 21st Century Skills


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, and particularly serious games that teach content, are fast becoming utilized in the classroom. Frequent success stories are appearing, from Minecraft in the elementary classroom to games that teach civics. There is curriculum that pairs World of Warcraft with language arts standards, and many other variations where the gaming focus is on content. What about 21st century skills? Yes, games can be used to teach and assess 21st century skills! As the conversation in education reform moves forward, and educators are increasingly leveraging 21st century skills, we need to consider how to couple games with reform. Let’s take a look at what many consider the top three 21st century skills and how games can teach and assess them.

MMOs are hugely popular. As an avid gamer myself, I see a new MMO almost every month. The brilliance and appeal of games like World of Warcraft is the requirement for collaboration with others to complete quests, raid enemy territory and destroy bosses. In addition to MMOs, games with online team battles like HALO, Left 4 Dead and Call of Duty utilize the team to complete goals. You survive together, plan attacks and work together. These games, coupled with instruction and other assessments, could be used in and outside of the classroom. A teacher can “translate” the game experience to classroom teams through written reflections and discussions, as well as hands-on gameplay in a fishbowl, where the classroom observes and documents elements of successful collaboration.

All of the games above, which require collaboration, also require communication. Whether written in the chat window or via oral communication through a headset, gamers constantly communicate to each other. This is because there is a clear goal and purpose for the work. Why do students often appear disinterested about communicating in class? Because, to them, the purpose of the classroom situation seems inauthentic. By design, games create the authenticity that attracts them. Getting your point across in a chat window or generating effective team directions and communication can be used in the classroom as lessons to demonstrate the challenges and teach the skills of effective communication.

Critical Thinking/Problem-Solving
Well-designed games require players to solve a variety of complex problems, some of which require standards-aligned learning and some that simply require general critical thinking and problem-solving. Consider a couple examples. Angry Birds (which also doubles in teaching perseverance), progressively gets more and more complicated. Each level adds newer variables and aspects to increase difficulty, leveraging effective gameflow. Your brain must evaluate, analyze, plan ahead, try new ideas and more to solve these levels. You can use reflection and other techniques to have students demonstrate and document their critical thinking skills. Pocket Law Firm, a game which helps players learn civics content in the Bill of Rights, requires explicit critical thinking through the content learned. Teachers can use the game to teach the standards content, as well as critical thinking and problem solving. Through successful planning of the law firm, evaluation of incoming cases and more, players are using critical thinking to get the highest score. Great games require critical thinking with a great “flow.”

We must find time for students to play these games in and out of the class to teach content and 21st century skills. To make it easy and save time, pick a game that develops a relevant area of content learning as well as building 21st century skills. In addition, you can target one or two of the 21st century skills that you intend to teach and assess, as games require many skills to play. In the end, if students are successful in the game, hasn’t the game assessed the skills and content required?

One of the biggest misunderstandings about games, and people who play them, is that games don’t “teach” anything. It’s assumed that there is no value in the experience. Hopefully, others can see that the skills utilized in games can be translated from the gaming experience to the real world through a skillful teacher. When you plan to teach and assess 21st century skills in the classroom, consider games as a valuable method for engaging your students.

Can You Use Both GBL & PBL Concurrently?


This post originally appeared on Edudemic, a digital magazine and website committed to make people smarter. As they say, “That means not a university, not lengthy books, nor a constant flow of high-brow editorials. Rather, diverse forms of new thinking.” View site >


Click here to view the pdf of the June 2012 issue of the magazine and read the article on Page 38 of the document.

PBL and Standardized Tests? It Can Work!


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 >


It’s never too late to address this subject. Yes, many of us are gearing down from the epic standardized testing season, enjoying the freedom, released from the many pressures that come with the tests. However, these tests will keep happening. Whether a yearly course assessment, a six-week benchmark exam or a state-level competency test, teachers and students are inundated with testing. Because of the way that testing permeates education culture, I often hear some “pushback” from teachers and their implementation of project-based learning. Here are some tips and responses to that tension between PBL and standardized tests.

Don’t Wait!
“I’ll wait til after the testing season,” is one I hear often. I know where it comes from: the pressure. If you say this, you are defeating the purpose of PBL. PBL’s intent is to drive new learning, to engage students in learning critical content that is leveraged and tested. I’m not saying, “Don’t do PBL after testing,” just that if you truly want to leverage PBL and capitalize on its strengths, use it to teach content that will be on the test. What the PBL teachers often intend to do after testing is a culminating project or activity that will celebrate and review learning. This isn’t PBL. However, there is nothing wrong with this sort of project or activity. Keep doing it, because it does engage students. I simply want to make sure that you know the difference between a culminating project and PBL.

Power Standards/Learning Targets
Whether individually or through facilitated professional development, teachers spend a lot of time unpacking the standardized tests and the targeted standards and learning on which they’re based. When you design a PBL project, make sure it hits those frequently targeted standards or learnings. If you know a specific book or genre is a frequent testing target in the AP English Literature exam, use the PBL project to go in-depth on that content. If you know Linear Equations are tested the most often or weighted more in the state test, then use PBL to ensure that students walk away not only knowing their linear equations inside out, but also being able to think critically and make relevant connections.

Embed Test Stems and Questions in the PBL Project
Standardized test preparation does not need to go “out the window.” It can be embedded effectively into the PBL itself. When I create PBL projects, I make sure to look at related test questions and either use them in the project or use the stems to create my own. For example, I might create a project from the reading standard stems for whatever fiction or non-fiction text we happen to be reading. In addition, these test prep questions, whether short answer or multiple choice, can serve as excellent formative assessments for student learning. They can let me know if students need more preparation so that the test isn’t unfamiliar or intimidating, and they can indicate whether students have learned the content or skill. Look at the sample test questions and use them to create excellent formative assessments throughout the PBL project.

PBL Projects Where They Fit
Some of us have to deal with testing more frequently than others. If, for example, you have six-week benchmark testing, then you must focus the PBL on the content in that six weeks. Design PBL projects that hit multiple standards in that time period or at least hit a couple of power standards. I’ve said this before: “Don’t try to fit a square peg through a round hole.” We’ve all been in that place of “trying too hard” to make the project work. If it doesn’t fit, then don’t do it. Work within the structures you have if you want to find an opportune time for an in-depth dive into a PBL project.

Hopefully these tips will help you not only to relax, but also to focus when it comes to designing PBL projects within the world of standardized testing. Don’t let those tests hold you back from doing what you know works for students: in-depth, authentic and relevant work that engages all kids. Simply embed them and choose times for them that are appropriate and natural!