3 Ways Coding and Gaming Can Enhance Learning | Edutopia

Coding isn’t just for computer science any more. Educators are finding that teaching students to write code and design games enhances learning and creates engagement. These examples illustrate how coding and games are being used across the curriculum and at all levels, as well as why great teaching is at the very heart of this innovation.

Connecting With Each Learner: Inform7 (Interactive Fiction for High School)

Imagine a weather-beaten oak door. It has a heavy brass knocker and a tarnished handle that doesn’t look like it has been used in some time.

Now go to Google Images and try to find a picture of the exact door that you have seen in your head. Out of 200,000 images, you’ll be lucky to find one that matches exactly. This is what students who are designing an adventure game will usually do when looking for graphics.

Now imagine that as you approach the door, you notice deep scratches along the doorframe, as if something has been trying to get in . . . or trying to hold the door closed. Try to find a picture online that illustrates this. You’ll be searching for a long, long time.

Yet through the power of narrative description, we are all probably picturing the same door in our heads. Making the door green or adding a heavily cobwebbed window is as easy as simply writing it into existence.

The stumbling block for most students who are trying to write their adventure game is finding or creating graphics. But for my high school students who are writing interactive fiction using a programming language called Inform 7, the «graphics» are their text descriptions. It is a meaningful demonstration of the power of words.

One student created a House of the Seven Gables that you could walk through and explore. Another created a movie museum that allowed you to go back and forth in time depending on which theater you entered. Inform7 has also been a wonderful way to get many girls involved in programming, since it places an emphasis on the craft of writing and the development of story.

Using interactive fiction to teach programming allows students significantly more freedom in how they express their knowledge of the content, whether they are writing historical fiction about the Underground Railroad or science fiction in the style of Orson Scott Card. Because writing is so flexible and powerful, and because the natural programming language makes it interactive, my students think of programming as «creative coding» in the same way that they used to think of storytelling as «creative writing.»

Connecting Individuals: Minecraft (Community Resources for Middle School)

Imagine that you are dropped into a new world with a group of students, and you have to live together and survive. What kinds of rules should exist? How can you build a community based on trust? What are the ways of using your combined resources to keep each other safe? How will property and natural resources be collected and shared?

The Minecraft Compact 

Credit: Douglas Kiang

These are the same kinds of questions that Cheryl Durso’s class face each year as they study the history of the Pilgrims coming to the New World. Together, they draft the «Minecraft Compact» whose rules will guide their behavior and provide a way to settle disputes once they are all online on the same Minecraft server, sharing the same resources.

This experience gives students some valuable personal context for when they read the actual Magna Carta that was drawn up aboard the Mayflower. They are often surprised that the Pilgrims faced many of the same problems and asked many of the same questions. What is the proper role of government? What is the balance between individual freedoms and the rights of the community? Together, they build houses, construct a city and teach each other the skills they need to survive. Minecraft is more than a game to these fifth graders. It is a simulation, a learning environment and a morality play all wrapped up in one incredibly engaging, shared experience. It makes a powerful impression.

Connecting to Content: Arduino Processing («Survival Pants» for Elementary School)

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen is a required novel in Kris Schwengel’s fourth grade classroom. His students design «survival pants» sewn out of real fabric and incorporating an embedded Arduino microprocessor. The Arduino is connected to lights and sensors sewn into the fabric using conductive thread. They can flash an SOS signal, sound an alarm, or even change color. The nine-year-old children program using code blocks that can be dragged and dropped to create strings of commands, the same way you might create magnetic poetry with combinations of words.

Kris’ students take an imaginative story about being lost in the wilderness and make a real artifact that would have helped the protagonist survive. As a result, a story that seems hopeless becomes empowering as the children take action to do something constructive. It fits in perfectly with their electricity unit while the class is also covering language arts, science, and steps in the design thinking process (empathy, creativity and prototyping.)

Great Teachers

In each of these examples, coding and gaming create a powerful and engaging learning environment for students, but the technology facilitates and supports the learning — it isn’t the focus. The classes are not about teaching programming. They are about learning history, empathy and creativity, and about building writing skills. Coding is the language of critical thinking. It requires students to define problems, break them into parts, and be resourceful in finding the answers to their problems.

Great teaching is at the heart of all these experiences, as great teachers make connections to content, between individuals and with each child. They allow students to express their learning in their own unique ways. Together, great teaching and plentiful opportunities to code and collaborate transform the learning environment, boost engagement and build powerful skills for the future.

3 Ways Coding and Gaming Can Enhance Learning | Edutopia.

Game-Based Learning: What it is, Why it Works, and Where it’s Going


Deconstruct the fun in any good game, and it becomes clear that what makes it enjoyable is the built-in learning process.
To progress in a game is to learn; when we are actively engaged with a game, our minds are experiencing the pleasure of grappling with (and coming to understand) a new system. This is true whether the game is considered “entertainment” (e.g., World of Warcraft) or “serious” (e.g., an FAA-approved flight simulator).
The implications of delivering game experiences for education and training are enormous. In the US, nearly 170 million people played computer and videogames in 2008 , spending a record $11.7 billion . Harness the power of well-designed games to achieve specific learning goals, and the result is a workforce of highly motivated learners who avidly engage with and practice applying problem-solving skills.
Because of good game design, more than 11 million subscribers spend an average of 23 hours per week immersed in World of Warcraft. A growing core of game-based learning experts use the same design principles to make it compelling for surgical students to practice and hone proper laparoscopic techniques on a virtual patient , or inspire first responders to frequently rehearse and sharpen their training in a simulated hazardous materials emergency . The emerging truth: the same factors that make well-designed games highly motivating also make them ideal learning environments.

What is Effective Game-based Learning, and Why Does it Work?

When education or training feels dull, we are not being engaged and motivated. In other words, we’re not really learning. “Learning” doesn’t mean rote memorization—it means acquiring the skills and thought processes needed to respond appropriately under pressure, in a variety of situations.
We don’t need more time in the classroom to learn how to think and perform in the face of real-world challenges. We need effective, interactive experiences that motivate and actively engage us in the learning process. This is where game-based learning comes in. As it turns out, for many years, videogame designers have been producing and refining highly motivating learning environments for their players to enjoy.
Good game-based learning applications can draw us into virtual environments that look and feel familiar and relevant. According to Dr. Susan Ambrose, director of Carnegie Mellon’s Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence, this is motivational because we can quickly see and understand the connection between the learning experience and our real-life work.
Within an effective game-based learning environment, we work toward a goal, choosing actions and experiencing the consequences of those actions along the way. We make mistakes in a risk-free setting, and through experimentation, we actively learn and practice the right way to do things. This keeps us highly engaged in practicing behaviors and thought processes that we can easily transfer from the simulated environment to real life. Research supports the effectiveness of game-based learning in virtual environments—for example, according to a meta-analysis of flight simulator training effectiveness, simulators combined with aircraft training consistently produced training improvements compared to aircraft-only training .
In contrast, traditional, passive training approaches drill us on certain narrow procedures, and then evaluate us on our memory of what we were told. Even when we successfully retain the lesson’s facts and procedures, our behavior in true-to-life situations remains untested. In addition, even the most comprehensive training program cannot cover procedures for every complex eventuality that we will encounter—no matter how thick the binder is. In game-based environments, we learn not only the facts, but also the important, underlying hows and whys. This understanding of deeper, more abstract principles prepares us to perform consistently and effectively, even in new and unexpected situations.

Game-based-learning 2Game-based Learning vs. Traditional Training

The effectiveness of hands-on learning isn’t new—for example, the apprenticeship system traces a rich history from ancient times to the present day. But well-designed game-based learning has several advantages over traditional experiential learning methods. It is cost-effective and low-risk (unlike, for example, safety training using live machinery). Perhaps even more important, there are significant learning advantages. Learners can re-enact a precise set of circumstances multiple times, exploring the consequences of different actions. In addition, well-designed games permit learning experiences that aren’t possible in real life—for example, “designing” a dolphin to find out how body size and fin position affect how far it can swim , or deliberately causing the biggest possible virtual explosion to understand why gas line disasters happen.
Figure one compares three approaches: passive training methods such as classroom lectures and online “click through” tutorials; hands-on training such as apprenticeship programs; and game-based learning.


Traditional Training (lectures, online tutorials)

Hands-on Training

Game-based Learning




Low physical risk/liability



Standardized assessments allowing student-to-student comparisons



Highly engaging



Learning pace tailored to individual student



Immediate feedback in response to student mistakes



Student can easily transfer learning to real-world environment



Learner is actively engaged



Fig. 1: Comparison of Traditional Training, Hands-on, and Game-based Learning

How We Learn

All games are not created equal. The games we give up on are the ones that let us down with regard to learning. They do a bad job of structuring our learning experience, leaving us bored or frustrated. To be effective, game environments must be structured around how we learn.
Carnegie Mellon’s Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence has amassed a set of basic principles that describe the learning process . Following are four of these key principles, with examples of how each plays out in traditional training and in game-based learning.
Principle 1: Students’ prior knowledge can help or hinder learning. Obviously, learners who have accurate prior knowledge of a given subject matter tend to have a leg up. But what about a learner whose prior knowledge is wrong? As an example, consider an experienced worker who is practicing loading dock safety procedures. He may “know” that he’s supposed to look behind him when backing up in a forklift—but if he’s worked on mostly quiet loading docks in the past, he may have developed the bad habit of merely listening for potential rear obstacles. In a traditional lecture-based setting, his buried misconception might surface only at test time, if at all—rendering unreliable his related “learning” up to that point. With game-based learning tools, misconceptions about core learning goals are quickly apparent. For example, in-game, his failure to look behind him before backing up would result in an immediate, negative consequence (e.g., crashing a forklift, hurting his virtual self or striking a pedestrian). As a result, he could rapidly self-correct and move on to more advanced learning based on a sound foundation.
Principle 2: Students’ motivation determines, directs and sustains what they do to learn. The digital generation that makes up a large part of today’s workforce is notoriously unmoved by traditional, lecture and tutorial-based training approaches. On the other hand, they are very comfortable with videogames and game-based learning. According to game-based learning experts, learners tend to be highly motivated by in-game feedback such as scores and evaluations. For example, many learners using the loading dock safety game play again and again until they achieve a perfect safety score. In the process (and sometimes without consciously realizing it), they learn how to operate within the game environment; actively think, experiment and learn how to safely accomplish their work; and practice their “lessons learned” to develop consistent and productive thought processes.
Principle 3: To develop mastery, students must acquire component skills, practice integrating them, and know when to apply what they have learned. Learning is a process that happens in bite-sized chunks, each learner working at a different pace. Thoughtfully designed, passive training programs follow this process, but primarily do so on a group basis. This means that slower students often struggle, and faster students become bored. The focus tends to necessarily be on learning facts or rules, with limited opportunities to apply them. In contrast, good game-based learning is tailored to each learner. For example, in the loading dock game, a learner begins with basic concepts such as putting on protective gear. She cannot advance in the game until she performs this step correctly. As she chooses actions that demonstrate her mastery of interim learning goals, she moves on to more advanced challenges. Even more important, because the game represents an active, realistic learning environment, the focus is on learning, through consequences, to apply the right knowledge at the right time.
Principle 4: Goal-directed practice coupled with targeted feedback enhances the quality of students’ learning. As discussed, traditional training cannot provide a constant, individualized and highly motivating level of feedback. In addition, traditional classroom and tutorial-type training methods do not give learners the opportunity to repeatedly practice thought processes and skills in a realistic environment. An effective game for loading dock workers establishes motivational goals relevant to actual loading dock work. As learners progress, when they make a mistake, they experience immediate in-game consequences (e.g., failure to put on a hard hat results in a falling beam to the head). Additional feedback, which comes through alerts, scores, and post-game reports, motivates learners to continue practicing until they master the game’s learning goals—and provides the information they need to get there.

Characterizing Good Game-based Learning Environments

Linked to the general principles of how we learn are more specific principles that describe how we learn in the context of effective game environments.
James Paul Gee, author of What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy , describes 36 learning principles that well-designed games embody. Following are four:
Subset Principle: Learning, even at its start, takes place in a (simplified) subset of the real domain. For example, the setting for the loading dock game should represent an actual loading dock, so that players can easily map their in-game behavior to on-the-job performance. However, it must be a simplified version that omits unimportant details, so that players can focus on aspects of the simulation that are relevant to the learning objective—things like crosswalks and pedestrians.
Active, Critical Learning Principle: The learning environment must encourage active and critical, not passive, learning. In the loading dock example, this means players do not merely watch correct and incorrect examples of loading dock behavior, followed by a quiz—they actually think, act, experience consequences and pursue goals in a variable game environment.
Probing Principle: Learning is a cycle of probing the world (doing something); reflecting on this action and, on this basis, forming a hypothesis; re-probing the world to test the hypothesis; and then accepting or rethinking the hypothesis. For example, an effective loading dock game must present a functional environment in which players may choose from and evaluate many different actions. The goal is to find the right course of action via experimentation—making choices and experiencing the consequences.
Practice Principle: Learners get lots of practice in a context where the practice is not boring (i.e. in a virtual world that is compelling to learners on their own terms and where the learners experience ongoing success). For example, to encourage practice—and thus, development of good habits—the loading dock game must gradually increase the difficulty level of the in-game challenges. This keeps players engaged and encourages them to continually hone their skills.

Why Now?

Digital game-based learning tools are becoming widely accessible. With the demonstrated effectiveness of game-based learning vs. traditional, passive learning approaches, why have many organizations waited until now to adopt game-based education and training? Two factors are driving this adoption:

A Changing Workforce

Schools, office buildings and other worksites are filled with people who have never known a world without videogames, cell phones, and the internet. In the four years between 2006 and 2010, nearly one in five US workers is expected to retire , to be replaced primarily by 18-40 year-olds who grew up with videogames.
People habitually divide their attention among several things at once. Competition for the fractured attentions of trainees, students and audiences in general is tougher than it’s ever been. For example, the New York Times recently reported that a third of people in one poll said that they frequently check email during business meetings . In this environment, unidirectional training and communication approaches such as lectures, manuals, workbooks, videos, and online, click-through reading material can quickly “lose” their preoccupied target audiences.
The chronic problem of how to win students’ attention in order to teach has become acute. Well-designed digital games—complete with realistic settings and compelling narratives—are to this and future generations what adventure novels like Robinson Crusoe were to previous ones. Used for learning, well-designed games are able to cut through distractions and engage this audience in a way that few other methods can. As a result, increasingly organizations are seeing how funding highly engaging game-based approaches will bring significant returns.

Technological Advances

In the past, game-based learning environments were prohibitively expensive for most organizations. Traditional game- and simulation-based learning applications have typically entailed mainframes, special interface equipment, and a years-long design, development and implementation process. Only a few sectors—most notably, aviation and the military—were able to justify the cost, because the quality of training was a life-or-death issue. More recently, health care organizations and medical schools have begun to rely on games and simulations, and practice on these tools is now encouraged or even required. For example, the FDA now requires virtual reality training for placement of some stents , and many medical schools have established centers dedicated to simulation training.
Today, game-based learning is accessible in many different industries, for four reasons:
• The success of game- and simulation-based learning in the aviation, military and healthcare industries provides a powerful proof-of-concept, and an endorsement of learning effectiveness.

• Advances in raw processing power with an attendant decrease in cost have brought game-based learning within reach.

• The development of stable, flexible game engines and toolkits are driving down the cost of development and reducing the need for 100% custom, from-scratch application development.

• A growing crop of designers and developers literate in the medium of games have amassed a critical level of knowledge regarding what works and what doesn’t.
There remains an important place for virtual reality simulations that require specialized hardware. When “feel” is important—for example, the sensation of a needle in a certain type of tissue—it’s necessary to use motion control devices that provide feedback about how instruments respond to small movements. However, when the learning goals involve thought processes about actions and their consequences, special motion devices such as virtual reality helmets and gloves are unnecessary and potentially even detrimental—they can distract learners from the core objectives. Games that focus on if-then, choice-consequence learning typically run on standard PCs, require no expensive peripherals, and can be downloaded and installed in minutes. Interestingly, while both hardware- and software-based games have become much simpler and more accessible for end-users, the underlying game design has become significantly more sophisticated.


The ideal of interactive, highly-engaging training and education is ancient. A Chinese proverb says: «Tell me, and I’ll forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I’ll understand.» However, the gap continues to grow between antiquated, passive training methods and a workforce that lives an ever more interactive, multimedia, user-controlled lifestyle. With game-based learning tools to bridge that gap comes the promise of vastly more productive and engaged students and workers—ones who embrace learning rather than view it as a disruptive burden.


Game-Based Learning: What it is, Why it Works, and Where it’s Going.

Teaching and Learning with Minecraft: Liam O’Donnell | DMLcentral

Κι όμως είναι δυνατόν, ένα pc-game να αποτελέσει σημαντικό εκπαιδευτικό εργαλείο. Διαβάστε το παρακάτω άρθρο.

By Howard Rheingold

Playing with blocks certainly predates constructionist theories of learning by playing with “tangible manipulatives,” but the culturally universal practice is probably as old as human social learning. What is new is the ability to use simulated blocks to teach comparative religion by enabling students to construct navigable models of famous houses of worship. Or explore biology by assembling giant DNA molecules, or manifest millions of blocks by performing the proper calculations and applying appropriate logical operations. Manipulatives aren’t containers of knowledge, but can be used as “objects to think with,” as Seymour Papert noted more than thirty years ago – inexpensive, abundant, available, safe components that even a young child can control, adjust, build with, and above all, experiment and hypothesize with. Just as blocks have no inherent curricular power other than experience in making big things by stacking smaller things in the right order, the ability of computer-controlled pixels to convey important knowledge depends entirely on what (and how) they are used. That’s where teachers come in…and why some are beginning to use an inexpensive online game to teach everything from philosophy to biology: Minecraft.

If you didn’t know what it is about, you might – as I did – conflate the popular “sandbox” game “Minecraft” with the popular online adventure game, “World of Warcraft.” Within the last year, however, my radar started picking up signals from educators who were introducing Minecraft to their students. I’m taking a MOOC on programming in the Python language, and when the instructor (Professor Joe Warren from Rice University) said, “If there is one game I could recommend that could get you into the frame of mind of computer programming, it’s Minecraft,” my antennae started quivering. Following my usual learning method of nosing around, stumbling into and over things, then inquiring into those stumbled-upon phenomena that awakened my curiosity, a quick search led to Minecraft’s website, where I learned that Minecraft is about building stuff – a “sandbox” in which the object of the game is up to each player. Yes, you can raise protective structures and create armor to protect against the monster hordes. You can also build a city, a factory, a molecule, a temple, a playground. Players dig up dirt, stone, and wood, combine these basic materials to make swords and microscopes and build castles, rollercoasters, spaceships, Parthenons, planets.

Players can fight monsters, but nothing in the environment compels any one kind of play. Those who don’t want to be warriors can be architects, engineers, navigators, scientists, playwrites, community-builders. Creating an elaborate environment is only the beginning – then you need to attract others to come socialize in your world. Like a physical sandbox, a Minecraft server can (but doesn’t have to be) a social environment as well as a laboratory for individual exploration.

Some of the first signals I detected came from my friends at Ryerson University’s Edgelab. Edgelab researcher Melanie McBride is enthusiastic about Minecraft’s potential to empower autonomous learning where students seek out teachers, texts, and peers to solve the mathematical problems necessary to turn a blueprint into a three dimensional object, to perform the historical research necessary to make a simulation of a Mayan temple or Greek theater look authentic. She also warned me that with autonomy (i.e., the students are free to choose how to act and are not following explicit instructions) and a social arena, the same problems that can arise in any youth environment are possible – bullying, cliques, “griefing” (deliberate destruction and/or mockery of the work of others).

“Because Minecraft allows folks to have their own servers (like having one’s own blog or Ning perhaps) there is the sense of entitlement to an audience,” McBride told me. “The attitude is ‘If I make it, others will play.’ This of course is not always or even often the case. The very ingenious or already socially savvy are able to amass a following without the knowledge or social skills or literacies or time or energy to make a community work. So you have a lot of kids moving from server to server until they find one that is ‘popular’…unfortunately, in a kid-run server culture, popular doesn’t mean inclusive. And many of these servers harbor trolls and bullies. So when the kids come to a well-governed server it’s a shock. People are nice and the grown ups don’t allow them to bully. It’s a safe space – though it’s not always a ‘popular’ space.” In other words, not only does Minecraft work best when teachers set boundaries, model behavior, pose challenges, answer questions – and let the students work out the rest – it can also go south in the absence of explicitly stated behavioral norms and expectations.

Melanie introduced me to Liam O’Donnell, a Toronto educator who has been initiating other teachers as well as students into the educational potential of Minecraft. He hosts Gamingedus, a wiki for Minecraft-using educators and a Multi-school Server for four different Toronto area schools, educators, and students. In our brief video interview, O’Donnell and I talk about “messy learning” and more. (In the next part of this series, I will talk with an elementary school teacher in Southern California whose students have built elaborate models of famous places of worship for the world’s major religions).

Teaching and Learning with Minecraft: Liam O’Donnell from DML Research Hub on Vimeo.


Game-Based Learning Ideas from ISTE | Edutopia

Andrew Miller’s Blog

I had a great time at this year’s ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference, as both a presenter and participant. Of course I was excited to hear Jane McGonigal again as she engaged us in thinking about games for learning and other amazing purposes. As ISTE closes, there are many free resources that I saw either introduced or highlighted around game-based learning (GBL), from educational games to gamification in the classroom. I’m always looking for free! (Aren’t we all?) Some of these tools and concepts have already been featured in news reports about education, but following are a few ideas as you consider using them.

SimCity Edu

We have all been awaiting the release of SimCity Edu, and you can now pilot it this summer in anticipation for use in the classroom this fall. Although applications for this pilot close on June 28, I’m sure there will be more to release soon. In the meantime, you can still log in and create your own lesson and ideas as well as browse other sample units and lessons. One sample unit has students focus on creating civic engagement in SimCity, aligned to civics learning objectives and essential questions. Many of the other lessons are aligned to common core standards and other content standards like business, math and science.


Newly announced from GameDesk is Educade.org, a huge database of games and game lessons that teachers can use in the classroom. It’s free, and you can even create your own lessons to share with the PLN they’ve created. It’s a great way to get your own GBL ideas out there for feedback and collaboration. The lessons are aligned to content, grade level, and even 21st century skills like critical thinking and collaboration. You can also add lessons to your «backpack,» «like» and comment on lessons, and share them on social media. I especially liked the lesson idea of using statistics to predict and plan outcomes for the board game Settlers of Catan (one of my favorites). Educade’s mission is to «zap» boredom, so if you’re using the tools, consider joining the Twitter hastag PLN #EducadeZAP.

Quest Designing Tools

Dr. Chris Haskell of 3D Game Lab has put together some great resources on designing effective gamification environments for learning. One of the best articles I’ve seen on this site — and on this subject — is «Understanding Quest-Based Learning,» which goes over effective usage of game mechanics in the classroom, as well as quest design, incentives and assessment components. 3D Game Lab also has paid Teacher Camps that allow participants to use their learning management system. However, the resources on the site also provide a great framework for ensuring quality gamification in the classroom.

It’s clear that there are more and more tools and resources out there to help support implementation of GBL in the classroom. As you consider some of these resources, don’t go crazy! Make sure to start small. Along with that, be intentional in terms of student learning outcomes. Build or use assessments appropriately, and give feedback to the organizations creating and providing the lessons, resources and tools — because we’re all in this together! I would love to hear how you are using these in your classroom and more.

Game-Based Learning Ideas from ISTE | Edutopia.