“Better late than never” has never been one of my favorite aphorisms, but I feel the need to invoke it now. I have been very fortunate to receive a Rowland Fellowship this year, and I have begun my adventure in earnest, but I am just now writing my first blog post. I want to begin with a sincere thank you to Barry and Wendy Rowland. Without their support and shared vision with Chuck Scranton, I would not be on this fantastic journey to bring the power of games and technology into more classrooms. The Rowland Foundation is now forty-four fellows strong, and amazing work is being accomplished throughout the small state of Vermont because of them. I step forward on this path in anticipation of making my own contributions, and will use this blog as a place to share my insights, ideas, and resources.
As a Rowland fellow, I will deepen my understanding of how the components of game-play are successfully applied to curriculum design and personalized learning. I plan to design two humanities games based on the themes of Identity and Survival, as well as to create a template for games-based lessons that will offer time-starved teachers a faster, more accessible path to game-based learning. My guiding principle will be to frame learning as an adventure as I increase the capacity of our Lancer One initiative and establish a mindset that embraces the wonder of games as powerful learning tools.
It is true that the world of game-based learning is ablaze with hot ideas and games being used successfully in the classroom, but from what I can tell, it’s only in pockets, and by no means pervasive. I have had to ask myself why more people aren’t using games in their classrooms, and one of the reasons I’ve realized is that somewhere along the line, the ideas of adventure and fun as an expected part of learning were dismissed as incongruent with serious learning. That conclusion is marred, and I will demonstrate that over the course of this blog. Let me first start with a game that’s likely already taken hold of your students’ personal lives: Minecraft.
Minecraft is something that made its way into my classroom by request of my students. During a unit on Utopia where I asked students to imagine their perfect schools, they asked if they could create the design in Minecraft. I thought it was a great idea, and given the collaborative nature of the game, agreed that it was a perfect fit. Students worked in groups to build their ideal schools in the Minecraft Pocket Edition on their iPads. What I observed was complete engagement, and even better, genuinely thoughtful discussion about what makes a great school. I should mention that I gave them no budget, so there were plenty of olympic-sized swimming pools and tricked-out dorm rooms, but the students’ conversation around what makes a great learning space (“We need more windows!” “I think we need a dome so we can control the climate,” and “Let’s make a place where we can just hang out when we get to school.”) was informed, insightful, and quite educational for me.
A colleague of mine used Minecraft in her class during a unit of study on colonies. Students were asked to create their own colonies, and they did so using the app. Again, teamwork ensued, and creative discussion around choices and compromises were regularly taking place. Minecraft offered us both the opportunity to encourage collaboration, creativity, and discussion in our classrooms. I can see so many uses for this game in the classroom–exploring cells in Science either teacher-designed or student-designed, tapping into Common Core goals in math, exploring Westward Expansion in social studies (stake a flag and get building!), recreating classic works of art in pixelated form in Art class…just a few ideas. Teachers might look at Minecraft as an equivalent to Legos, with the added bonus of collaboration built in, and no blocks to lose or clean-up when the bell rings. Enjoy exploring!
*Game piece rider art credit to the amazing Natalie Reed