Making School the Game

Book Keeper's Library Crew

When I first began thinking about exactly what I wanted to discuss with you this week, I was thinking about how games are incorporated into classrooms to help aid learning. While I will comment on this topic somewhat throughout our little discussion, I actually found that I want to focus on something else. So much is out there on the benefits of teaching through games in the classroom, that discussing it would seem a bit redundant. But from reading Reality is Broken, I found that there is a more extreme and radical option for gaming in the classroom — one that is not discussed as much. Make school the game.

The part of the book where this idea is mentioned is called “The Benefits of Alternate Realities.” Out of the many things discussed in this section, gaming’s place in education is one of them. The book mentions a school called Quest to Learn, a charter school in New York that serves Middle and High School students. At this school, they don’t just use games in educating students, for the students, their education is the game. A 100% immersive environment where students learn the same skills as any other middle or high school student, except they learn these things through actively participating in “the game” of their education.

In this school, units of study are called missions, made up of multiple quests. Leveling up is the equivalent of mastering standards and skills, which in a regular school would be like getting good grades. There are even secret quests that students can discover throughout the school year. And I mean like actually discover … somewhere in a library …  Harry Potter-style.

This type of school offers a radical approach to education that isn’t very common at all. Obviously, it is not without its weaknesses and drawbacks. Students apply to be a part of this school and are selected based on their willingness to participate in this type of educational system, which is one of the pillars of this type of school actually working. As with anything in education, for it to truly work, there must be student buy-in. They have to believe in what their doing.

This model of education is much more an outlet for better learning rather than a solution. This type of educational experience isn’t for everyone, but think of how many kids would benefit from a learning environment more like this.

Gaming on some level is prevalent in a majority of today’s youth, be it on a smartphone or tablet, or console and computer games. And while the amount of screen time a kid should, in my opinion, be monitored, maybe we should focus on why they like playing the games so much. I highly doubt it is that they just like to look at a screen. Could it be the engagement that the games offer for their young minds when other things might lack? Or perhaps it is the rewarding feeling of winning or solving the problem. Maybe it gives them some way to escape a reality that they are less than thrilled by, or want — and in some cases — need to escape.

When I was a teacher, I would have given anything to have more students who were engaged in learning as much as they were in the games they played, or who could take the same intrinsic value and feeling of completing, winning, or solving a problem and use it in class.

So where does that leave the rest of the world when it comes to education? What about public schools? What if a school can’t completely buck the system and revolutionize their entire learning environment to be like a game that the students live?

For starters, I think that one of the most beneficial lessons that we can all learn from Quest to Learn is the need for schools to innovate and make changes for the new generation of students. Students in school now are a tribe of “Digital Natives.” They aren’t like students of previous generations. They have different needs and different interests. But schools, for the most part, look and operate very similar to how they have for decades.

The biggest mistake educators can make is say “It worked for me, so it’ll work for them.” I’ve heard this before. In all honesty, I have probably said it before! Kids today have grown up with the internet. They’ve grown up in an ever growing interconnectedness that rewards those with the ability to problem solve and collaborate with others. So instead of fighting it and trying to preserve the ways of old, let’s innovate and embrace the challenge of teaching a generation that has grown with technology. We should take some notes on what keeps kids coming back to their games day after day, and try to implement those things into classrooms.