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Game-based learning takes the sting out of failure

By Team ISTE
November 12, 2015
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Embedding game-based learning into the curriculum is a playful way to help students embrace the idea of failing forward.

Not only do games present failure as a challenge to overcome, game-based learning helps students better retain information and offers an engaging way to meet learning outcomes.

What makes game-based learning work is that games are built on a system of rules, which helps teachers keep things running smoothly and gives students a sense of order and direction. At the same time, as kids follow the rules, they are learning a number of skills that will benefit them when they leave the classroom.

Game-based learning is collaborative, engaging and entertaining, all things we want to bring into the 21st century classroom, adds Douglas Kiang, computer science teacher and speaker at Punahou School, Honolulu, Hawaii. Games model a specific way of learning and, in many ways, are more closely patterned to real-life situations.

“Take Monopoly, for example,” Kiang said. “The risks in the game are small … and you can fail without losing.” Many students today are afraid to take risks, he added, because their successes and failures are so closely tied to grade point averages. A single wrong move or poor score can be devastating to a student with an A average.

Failing without dire consequences is just one of the many benefits that educators like Kiang are seeing from game-based learning. Here are some others:

A focus on soft skills. There are plenty of ways to teach students specific content, but far fewer opportunities to teach the soft skills they need to work well with others and build relationships. Games give students the chance to learn how to collaborate and cooperate as teammates, which carries over to a host of classroom situations. Kiang discovered that students who worked together in the virtual world of Minecraft were more likely to help each other out on other projects.

Improved critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. Escape games – the kind where players are locked in a room and must follow clues to find a key to the exit door – are gaining in popularity. This type of play has moved to the classroom and, according to experts, promotes critical thinking, problem-solving and collaboration, which are skills embedded in the ISTE Standards for Students.

Opportunities for teamwork. Rather than going solo at their desks, game-based learning allows students to share ideas. “Playing games reinforces the idea of helping and coaching,” Kiang said. No one wants to ruin the puzzle solution for someone else, so students aren’t giving away answers, but are guiding each other toward a solution. And this helps the teacher to define that fine line between help and cheating, Kiang said.

Another way to differentiate. Game-based learning engages different types of learners, giving all students an opportunity to succeed.

ISTE members can get an in-depth look at game-based learning and its engaging cousin, gamification, in the latest issue of entrsekt. Not a member? Join today!